Identifying Weaknesses in Sales Training
A lot of money is spent on sales training. But with your hand on your heart: how many salespeople only participate in these training sessions reluctantly and how many sales managers think that the expenditure on training is a waste of money? A survey of 60 companies set out to shed some light on where the weaknesses in sales training lie.
The first question to be investigated was the abilities a salesperson needs to be successful in sales from both the salesperson's and the sales manager's point of view.
The assessment of the requisite abilities was made on a 5-stage scale ranging from "1 = extremely important" to "5 = completely unneccessary".
On balance, the importance of product knowledge and the ability of salespeople to see things through is underestimated by sales managers and the credibility, integrity and correct frequency of visits is, on the other hand, overestimated by sales managers.
To what extent are sales training sessions taking place in the companies which took part in the survey? These results are shown in the following table:
No training, 37% 3-6 months, 23% 6-9 months, 13% 9-12 months, 15% 12-15 months, 7% Longer than 15 months, 5%
These results show that there are still a surprising number of companies which let their salespeople loose on clients without giving them any training whatsoever. After all, to the client the salesperson epitomises the company they work for and are the number one image and confidence-building factor! Salespeople also have to learn how to convey their knowledge to the client.
The next table lists the areas sales training sessions usually concentrate on. A training intensity of 1 = always and a training intensity of 5 = never:
Product knowledge,1.64 Market and branch knowledge,1.97 Commitment to the company, 2.00 Passive sales techniques (eg, dealing with objections), 2.07 Active sales techniques, 2.25 Problem-solving skills, 2.32 Knowledge of competitors' products, 2.32 Client care/relationship management, 2.32 Field management, 2.52
If you compare the assessment of salespeople's abilities by purchasers and the main emphasis of training areas, you will see that there are several discrepancies.
The results point to five suggestions for improvements of sales training:
Establish an official training programme. Occasional instructions from the sales manager and sporadic seminar visits cannot take the place of a systematic training programme.
Gear your training programmes towards the needs of your clients. Do not be afraid of asking your clients what it is they really need: What do you expect from a salesperson in our branch? Do our salespeople meet your expectations? Which supplier do you think has the best salespeople? What distinguishes these salespeople from ours?
Concentrate on the areas of time and field management when training new salespeople. Beginners in particular tend to waste a lot of time planning, place emphasis in the wrong areas and spend too little time on active selling to the client.
Train your salespeople in the area of client care/relationship management. Nowadays, the creation of a long-term, stable client - supplier relationships must be your number one sales goal. Priorities include assessing the client correctly, visiting the client regularly, dealing with objections and complaints efficiently and promptly and constantly proving the reliability of the salesperson and the company they represent.
Emphasise in your training sessions that salespeople should be able to combine all their sales skills. Try not to isolate the areas you are focusing on (eg product knowledge). Instead, transpose the content into concrete sales situations and discussions. The best product and branch knowledge will be of no help to your salespeople if they do not know how to convey this to the client.
Your salespeople have to learn to recognise various different sales situations and categorize various client types and from this deduce the appropriate product knowledge and presentation technique. Only regular sales training will hone the skills necessary for them to do this.