Selling Microsoft

The Essence of Training

Achieve success with your sales training program.

In our work with Microsoft partners, we often find employee training programs that suffer from a range of problems: inadequate new employee training, sporadic and unfocused ongoing sales training, ineffective or nonexistent role-play scenarios and a lack of coaching or mentoring in the field, during or after routine sales calls.

Most Microsoft partner organizations focus on ensuring that certification levels for their technical teams remain current, but they invest little to "certify" sales teams. Sales training programs don't have to be sophisticated and expensive. To ensure success, you need only a few basic components: a plan that defines the goals and components of a training program; a defined ongoing process; and, most importantly, proper execution.

A Proper Plan
The plan should contain an outline for initial employee training on functional job requirements, company product and service offerings, company benefits and recurring plans for training existing employees.

One element most organizations miss in their training plans has to do with ensuring employee interest and motivation levels remain high, which involves developing a mental commitment and aligning their personal and motivational interests. This process is called "re-recruiting."

The perfect opportunity to set a lasting tone is when new employees join your company. If you have letters of reference from customers, they should read them. If you have awards, make sure they understand how you earned them. All new employees should have lunch or a meeting with the person at the highest level in their division; in smaller companies, that would be the president. It is at these sessions that commitment, attitude and loyalty can begin to develop.

We believe in creating a detailed three-week new-hire training plan. Each week is broken down into specific training and knowledge transfer components— with homework! Everything must be covered: legal documents, marketing case studies, how to use the phone, fax machine and customer relationship management system, how to sell and present your organization using its brochures and PowerPoint presentations, even the scheduling of lunch meetings with key execs. It is critical that each aspect of your training program be defined and that the person responsible for each area sign off that the new hire has completed and "passed."

Long-Term Process
To ensure success, you need a program by which you can continually update sales skills. This training plan should address the following elements: sales skills, product and services knowledge, company operations, industry awareness and, if appropriate, vertical industry awareness.

Plan to have a sales meeting or training event once per quarter. Develop a comprehensive plan such that you repeatedly hit on each of the elements listed above over the course of the year, although not necessarily all of them at each event. In addition, the plan should have individualized six-month personal programs that allow salespeople to set their personal goals. This process helps ensure that each person's goals are aligned with the overall corporate goals.

One of my clients asks each of its salespeople to pass several certification levels each year. In one instance, the salesperson has 15 minutes to review a case study, then walk into a room where an actor plays the role of the client. Three independent professionals evaluate the salesperson's performance, which may be videotaped for later review. The salesperson must receive a passing grade before moving on to the next level.

To get your training program off the ground, first develop the written three-month sales training plan. Include a mandatory, predefined schedule and make it clear that your employees must schedule other meetings around it. Assign salespeople for most of the training topics (if salespeople have to train others on a topic, you can be sure they will know the material cold), and schedule outside resources at least once a quarter. Establishing a short-term plan and agenda ensures that you address current issues while meeting the goal of continuous training and employee focus.

Employees are a critical asset. Most software systems have regular maintenance check-ups and support agreements to keep them at current levels. Your employees require the same attention. Keeping your employees' personal and professional objectives aligned with your corporate goals by training and re-recruiting will pay huge dividends.

About the Author

Ken Thoreson is managing director of the Acumen Management Group Ltd., a North American consulting organization focused on improving sales management functions within growing and transitional organizations. You can reach him at