For more than 35 years, I’ve enjoyed the privilege of being in the sales trenches, as well as facilitating sales-training seminars for hundreds of thousands of sales professionals in various industries throughout North America and beyond. Whether training a large group of sales executives or a small wholesale or distributor sales group, there are truisms that are revealed with all salespeople, regardless of industry or profession. Here are my top 10 truths about sales training that sales leaders should bear in mind as they plan their training initiatives.
TRUTH #1: Training is the vehicle to communicate sales strategies and initiatives.
All too often, sales training is provided without a common focus or goal. Communicate your strategic initiatives through training for better acceptance and successful implementation. Let your sales team know exactly what is expected and the outcome to achieve. When you communicate this to your sales team, everyone is in alignment with your sales objectives, so progress can be tracked accordingly. Structure must follow strategy, so use the training format and disciplines to help explain the “why,” and your sales goals will be better accepted and executed by the sales team.
TRUTH #2: Sales culture is dependent on a standardized selling process.
One of the biggest mistakes sales management makes is not adopting, structuring, or standardizing a process for precall planning. A sales process provides a common sales language to which reps can relate. You get consistency of message in the field, and best practices start to evolve with repeated use and preparation. Overall, you deliver a better value story in a shorter amount of time so you can call on more customers. Productivity and performance are enhanced, which leads to increased market share.
I worked with a food service manufacturer that attributed its sales growth and national footprint to using our 6 A’s selling process for more than 10 years. It helped my client’s team members stay focused to achieve sales plan and raise the bar on sales excellence throughout the industry.
TRUTH #3: Relationship selling first, product selling second.
Sales leaders, why are your reps in such a hurry to give their pitch? I was recently in the field with a salesperson, and the buyer said to him, “Let’s cut to the chase and give me your pitch.” The seller was astonished, looked up at the customer, and said, “Not yet. Right now I’m catching.”
What’s the hurry? After hello, the salesperson goes right into a sales pitch and ends up “puking” it all over the customer. Remember, it’s not about the seller; it’s about the buyer. So salespeople should take the time to establish rapport and get to know their customers. When your reps create mind share and the customer thinks of your company first, your salespeople have done their job. Discipline reps to develop relationships in order to sell deeper and wider in existing accounts. That’s where the low-hanging fruit is, ready to be picked!
TRUTH #4: Understand customer needs first before providing recommendations.
When I train rookie salespeople, I say, “Listen first and talk second, and you never go wrong.” Why do salespeople continually disregard this practice? How can we make recommendations without diagnosing? We’re “doctors of selling.” So no more sales malpractice! No more recommendations without an analysis first. It’s our due diligence as sales professionals.
TRUTH #5: Asking questions is our finest selling skill but is weakly applied.
There is an art to probing. Why do so many reps start out with close-ended questions, giving the customer an easy opportunity to say no? Question as a servant would, not as an attorney. My dad was a master at probing. He could carry on a conversation just by probing, allowing the customer to respond freely and willingly. He developed a concept that I call the layering technique in probing: OPEN – OPEN – CLOSED – OPEN – OPEN – CLOSED. He got the customer accustomed to saying yes, thereby creating the right selling environment with probing. Sales leaders, develop your top open- and closed-ended questions, document them, and provide them to all of your sales reps. Their calls-made to calls-closed ratio will improve.
TRUTH #6: Salespeople continue to sell features but not benefits.
This is the big difference between transitioning from a seller perspective to a buyer perspective. Emphasizing benefits is not passé. Talking about them still creates value in the customer’s mind. Without benefits, all the customer thinks about is price, and the battle begins.
I was on a call with a rep who handed the customer a benefits sheet and went through the presentation methodically, talking benefits and advantages, and ended with the product features that were specific to the customer’s needs. By the time the rep finished, the customer had his hands out, saying, “Give it to me!” Leaders, think about it. When was the last time you had a “benefits clinic” on your products and services?
TRUTH #7: Salespeople must learn to sell value and not price.
Consider the old saying, “If you live by price, you die by price.” Who created price sensitivity? We did! I always talk with the purchasing team while training in sales organizations and ask, “What don’t you like about sales reps?” The response is that salespeople talk too much, are not prepared, and cave on price.
One buyer shared with me that she handed a rep a competitive quote and said, “Match this price, and you’ve got it!” The rep not only matched it but went back to management for additional discounts and concessions that the buyer didn’t expect. Never lay your cards down until you ask, “What do you want?” The customer’s expectations may be less than what most salespeople are willing to give away. How much money have you left on the table?
TRUTH #8: Eliminate the fear of answering objections.
I love watching and critiquing salespeople as they handle objections in the field and role-play while being recorded. The skillful ones go right to the answer immediately and end up defending it while being cornered by the customer. Why do we fear objections? Don’t we ask the customers questions? Why can’t they ask questions? Objections are opportunities that lead to buying signals, which means you go for a trial close. When you create this positive mind-set, you welcome objections, anticipate them, and even come to expect them.
Do you use an objection-handling method or technique to develop best-practice responses, document them in a book, and distribute them to all salespeople? Shame on you if you don’t! Sales leaders, here’s a topic for your next sales meeting: develop best-practice responses to your most frequent objections, especially ones on price. Eliminate this fear factor once and for all and be ready to close!
TRUTH #9: It’s never too early to ask for the order or commitment or go for sales action.
I’ll never forget what a buyer once told me about a salesperson: “I would have given her the purchase order if she had just asked me.” The end results of that lost opportunity were a plant shutdown because the needed parts weren’t obtained, a reprimand and relocation for the buyer, and a dismissal for the sales rep. Never feel that it is premature to ask the customer for a commitment. Remember, interaction dictates our actions, so close and keep closing until the customer says yes. How many times can you ask? As many times as you want, as long as the customer continues to interact through the stages of the buying process. If you feel you’ve asked enough, change the subject, go back to relationship building, and keep the door open. But before you leave or hang up the telephone, set the next call objective with that customer to keep the stages of the buying process moving. Too often, we miss the opportunity when the customer says, “Let us think about it, and we’ll get back to you,” and later you can’t even get back in the door. So during the call, set the time and date for the next meeting with the objective to close the sale.
TRUTH #10: Training brings the sales team together.
I have enjoyed watching Urban Meyer, coach of the Buckeyes, who seems to bring out the top performers both on and off of the field. His training philosophy and leadership are symbolized in his huddle concept. So many of us base our success on material things, such as how much money we have, how big our house is, how fancy our cars are, and whether we can take exotic vacations. But when we come together, none of this matters anymore. In the huddle, professionals come together: one team, one goal.
Sales leaders, have you run a sales-training boot camp lately? If not, maybe it’s time to bring ‘em together and ignite your sales reps to exceed their sales plans for 2014. Today, we don’t train just for skills and knowledge, we train for high performance and sales excellence, just like the pros do, week in and week out. Remember, the team that executes wins. Mastering sales fundamentals takes skills, practice, and repetition: TRAINING + PRACTICE = HABIT. Are your sales professionals able to sell their value story instinctively? It’s never too late for a refresher!