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Sales Training: The Lost Art of Discovery

As I finalize a program for a client of mine, I thought I might share some of my thoughts on sales training. While Acumen isn't a sales-training firm, as a sales leadership consulting firm, we get actively involved in designing course work and helping sales managers develop their sales training programs. Regular blog readers know we believe that sales managers should plan their sales-training programs on a quarterly basis, listing dates, times, topics and individuals responsible. Today, I wanted to share another important aspect in salesperson development.

The paragraph below is from this article by Dave Kurlan, a noted sales trainer, titled "Get Your Veteran Salespeople to Take Baby Steps." It highlights something I have noticed over the past 10 years: Salespeople have moved into a product-pushing rather than a relationship-building style. Why is that? Perhaps it's the e-mail technology we now have, our short attention spans, or simply the stagnant level of professionalism of our sales teams.

We expect newer salespeople to be sales challenged, that is, not very effective when it comes to listening and questioning. But the reality is that for at least 74% of the sales population, veteran salespeople aren't very effective at this either. Here are some of Objective Management Group's additional statistics from assessing more than 500,000 salespeople:

  • 58% talk too much
  • 58% don't ask enough questions
  • 84% present too early in the sales process
  • 85% offer quotes or proposals too early in the sales process
  • 86% take prospects at their word -- they trust enough to not ask a clarifying question

I like to recommend that you "video tape" your sales teams at least twice a year -- once to validate they can effectively sell your company in less than three minutes, and twice to record them as they perform a role play around discovery or asking questions. A salesperson's ability to ask key questions and then -- based on the prospect's answers -- probe deeper to fully understand the individual's needs and business challenges are the key to improving sales.

The questions I have for you today are:

  1. When was the last time you simply went on a sales call to observe a salesperson's skill level?
  2. How are you building the skill level of your team? (If you want a Salesperson Development Tool, send me an e-mail at [email protected].)
  3. Have you trained your salespeople to listen, ask business-focused questions and build relationships?

I would enjoy hearing from you on your reactions and thoughts on sales training. Leave a comment below.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on July 22, 2011