How to Train a Large Sales Force

Alison Rombough

I often hear from readers/listeners – telling me sob stories about the miserable sales development their company is forcing them to go through. Sorry about that. It’s not unusual for training companies to go about the whole training gig in the worst way.

In fact, I suggest to companies that unless you’re going to do it correctly, don’t do it at all. It will waste a gob of money – and may even do more harm than good.

As you might guess, I’ve taken our team’s strategies and tactics in large group training, and boiled them down to a few. Thought you might enjoy. (Remember, this is not some PR department writing this. It’s me, and sometimes I’m politically incorrect – in the worst way.)

1 GET A THOROUGH UNDERSTANDING OF THE ISSUES.
This includes not only the management opinions and insights, but also the insights of the sales team (to be trained). Adults learn better when they are sought out for their opinion on what skills they need to get better at. Do you know how many times I’ve heard the training company doesn’t even ask the sales team what they need/want/desire? Tons.

How absurd is that? The person to be trained doesn’t even get to name their biggest issue?

Also, denominate the issues you want to work on. Very little behavior change happens unless there is a good economic reason to do so. If “not calling at the right level” is a problem for your team, then take a few hours to denominate what that means to your company. If you got the right level, would you close an additional 5% of proposals? If so, what would that mean, economically, to your company? If you can’t come up with a cost, then training won’t work. (By the way, each of your people should be able to denominate what it costs them not to be trained.)

2 ALLOW TIME FOR SHARING BEST PRACTICES.
Most training companies are so eager to impart their agenda and fill meetings so full of crap, they don’t allow time for the group to share what’s working. What could be more valuable than Pete learning from Lisa how to do something in the field that yields business – whether it’s part of the “curriculum” or not?

Sometimes I wonder if the training firm is there for themselves or the client. The jury is out for me on that one.

3 CONSTANT REINFORCEMENT.
There MUST be ongoing reinforcement of the message. This can come from audio podcasts, telephone calls, and management support. Adults don’t learn by hearing something once. They learn by hearing, applying and feeding back – over and over again. This is especially true of material (like we teach) where there is a thinking change that must accompany behavior change.

More and more businesses are using the multi media function of private blogs/podcasts to reinforce the message. If your company doesn’t have a training blog/podcast series, then shame on you – especially if your team is spread out all over a region or a nation.

4 THINKING CHANGE.
Content should change how people think-and how they see the world. Don’t expect people to be motivated to learn if you’re just giving them a rote process to go execute. Great training changes people at their core. Also, make damn sure your training isn’t just about how to sell more stuff for the company. You heard me. The best training is TOTALLY focused on helping the individual salesperson get better. Period. The economic value comes when your focus is totally on growing people. (Most companies miss this completely. It’s probably the best kept secret in training.)

5 PROBLEM SOLVING ORIENTATION.
The content must revolve around how to bring value to clients-not just how to sell more stuff. Consequently, the content must help the learners become better problem finders and solvers-since that’s where value is delivered to the customer. Unfortunately, this is not the case with most training. Most sales training is full of tricks and tactics (some quite manipulative) that have at their center point, “What do I need to say to get the customer to say ‘yes’?”

[Sales managers: If you want to de-motivate your sales force, then teach them sales tactics that make them look like clowns in the sales process. Reduce them to script-reading monkeys. Teach them how to overcome objections – in those old, antiquated ways. If you do those things, you’ll get a bunch of people who give lip service to the content you’ve taught – and who will question their very existence in the profession of sales. Hardly motivating, huh?]

6 PRACTICAL APPLICATION.
Training should NOT be all theory. It’s OK if there is some, but great sales training must have a practical application side that each person leaves with. Something to go do. Have a trainer that is available to work on key deals-real life sales scenarios. If your training right now does not have a component of accountability to it – where the constituent is accountable for behavior in the field, then you might be wasting resources.

7 COACHING AND GUIDING.
When you ask people to change their outlook, perspective or philosophy, there must be a coach along to guide them when they hit personal roadblocks. I ran into a guy the other day who should have known how to do something (quite simple). It reminded me that I can’t assume anything about one’s competence when coaching them. I have to tell them exactly how to do something – word for word if need be.

8 USE A KICK OFF MEETING.
When starting training, we recommend some type of a face to face kick off of large programs. We realize much of the deliverable will be remote, but the first session should be face to face. In that session, make sure the Senior Sales Executive stands up and speaks from the heart – telling the constituents how important people development is for the firm. And how sales training is a competitive differentiator in the field.

These are a few of the things that are important to us when we get invited to train large groups. I thought you might like to see these so you could assess your current training. Or, if you’re considering bringing in someone like us to work with your team, this might be of value.

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