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Down to the Wire: Sales Training and Education

As we move into the final months of the year, it's critical to ensure that your sales teams are professional and properly trained in order to meet -- and exceed -- your goals. With that in mind, here is an excerpt from a chapter in my latest book, Leading High-Performance Teams. The key takeaway, as I write in the book, is that "Developing well-coordinated training programs for new salespeople and existing salespeople alike can provide tremendous ROI." 

In working with clients, we at Acumen Management often find that sales-training programs suffer from problems such as inadequate new-employee orientation, sporadic and unfocused ongoing training  and nonexistent or ineffective role-playing scenarios. Many clients also lack any type of coaching or mentoring in the field, during or after routine sales calls.

The good news: Sales-training programs don't have to be sophisticated or expensive. To ensure success, you need only a few basic components: a comprehensive plan that spells out your training program's goals and components, a clear ongoing process and, above all, effective execution.

A Comprehensive Plan
Your plan should contain an outline for initial employee training on functional job requirements, company product and service offerings and corporate benefits, along with recurring plans for training existing employees.

Many organizations' training plans are missing one key factor: making sure that employee interest and motivation levels remain high. This process, which involves helping team members commit to the organization and align their personal and professional interests, is known as "re-recruiting."

The perfect opportunity to set a lasting tone is when new employees join your company. If you have customer letters of reference, have the newcomers read them. If you have awards, explain how you earned them. All new employees should have lunch or a meeting with the person at the highest level in their divisions; in smaller companies, that would be the president. Commitment, loyalty and the right attitude will begin to develop at these sessions. 

At Acumen, 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! The plan must cover everything, including:

  • Legal documents
  • Marketing case studies
  • Using the phone, fax machine and customer relationship management (CRM) system
  • Presenting and selling your organization via its brochures and PowerPoint presentations
  • Scheduled lunch meetings with key executives

...and more, based on your organization's specific needs.

It's critical that you clearly define each element of your training program and that the people responsible for each area sign off as each new hire has successfully completed the training.

 A Clear Long-Term Process
To ensure success, your training plan should be designed so that you're continually updating your team's abilities. The plan should cover the following areas: sales skills, product and services knowledge, company operations, industry awareness and, if appropriate, understanding of key vertical markets. 

Plan and organize your sales meetings for the entire quarter. Develop a comprehensive plan for repeatedly touching on each of the elements listed above over the course of the quarter (although not necessarily addressing all of them at each event).

The plan should also include personalized six-month programs that allow salespeople to set their own goals. This process helps ensure that individual and corporate goals are fully aligned. One of my clients requires its salespeople to attain several certification levels each year. In one instance, the salesperson has 15 minutes to review a case study before walking 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.

Effective Execution
To get your training program off the ground, first develop a written three-month sales training plan. Include a mandatory, predefined schedule; emphasize that employees must schedule their other meetings around it. Assign sales team members to present most training topics (if salespeople have to train others on a topic, you can be sure they'll know the material cold). Schedule sessions with outside trainers at least once per quarter. Establishing a short-term plan and agenda ensures that you address current issues while meeting the goals for providing ongoing training.

Bottom line: 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 at least as much attention. Keeping your employees' personal and professional objectives aligned with your corporate goals through training and re-recruiting will ultimately result in huge dividends. 

Posted by Ken Thoreson on August 25, 2011


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