Continual Sales Training Is a Must

by: Ken Thoreson

“I hire people; they should know what to do! Why do I need to train them all the time?”

Recently a prospective client uttered almost that exact phrase during an initial meeting. And it raised a red flag not only about training, but about other potential corporate challenges.

When sales leaders have that view about training, we find four essential elements failing:

When new employees are hired, there is a limited, at best, new-employee training program.
Ongoing sales training programs are sporadic and not focused on the key elements required to compete.
Ineffective or nonexistent role-play scenarios are run in sales meetings.
Sales management does not coach or mentor salespeople in the field during routine sales calls.
The result is uneven knowledge levels and a lack or discipline by sales management to reinforce training programs.

It is critical that companies of all sizes focus on continual training of employees. Training does not need to include expensive, sophisticated programs. If you keep to the basics, you can achieve significant results.

To ensure success, three basic components must be in place:

1. A plan that defines the goals and components of a training program
2. A defined ongoing training process
3. Proper execution

The Training Plan

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

One element most organizations miss in their training plans is the belief aspect of employee training. While it’s important to train on new skill development and product/service knowledge, maintaining employees’ interest and motivation is critical in today’s competitive economy. This focus on developing employees’ mental commitment and aligning their personal motivational interests is called re-recruiting.

As new employees enter into your company, it is the perfect opportunity to set the tone. If you have letters of reference, they should read them. If you have awards, make sure they look at them and understand how you earned them.

Next, make sure all new employees have a lunch or a meeting with the highest-level position in their division—or if you have a small organization, they should meet with the president of the company. It is at these sessions that commitment, attitude, and loyalty can begin to be developed.

We believe in creating a detailed three-week new-hire training plan. The format is simple yet complete. Each week is broken down into specific training and knowledge transfer components that include homework. Everything must be covered: legal documents, marketing case studies, how to use the phone/Fax/CRM, lunch meetings, as well as learning to sell/present your organization using your company’s brochures, PowerPoint, and other collateral.

It is critical that each aspect of your new-hire training program is defined. And as the salesperson completes each section, the person responsible for the area signs off on it and confirms that the new person has “passed.”

The Process: It’s Ongoing

The process again can be a simple program. In designing a training plan, take into consideration the follow elements:

– Sales skills
– Product/services knowledge
– Company operations
– Industry awareness
– Vertical industry awareness (if appropriate)

Once a quarter, plan a sales meeting and a sales training event. By pre-planning, you can incorporate each of the five items into a comprehensive plan.

In addition, each salesperson should have a six-month personal program that allows him to set his personal goals. This document begins the process of ensuring each person’s goals are aligned with the overall corporate goal.

Hint: monthly company meetings and semi-annual employee gatherings (picnics/parties) should also be utilized to reinforce employee development. Rather than simply “getting together,” bring in customers to share success stories or hire presenters to help employees work on team concepts or industry awareness.

One of our clients has taken this concept and built a process within their sales organization that sets the bar quite high. Each salesperson must pass several certification levels—each year.

For one of those certifications, the salesperson has 15 minutes to review a case study and present to a client (a professional actor). Three independent professionals evaluate the salesperson’s performance during the role play. The salesperson must receive a passing grade before he moves to the next level.

Execution

Develop a written three-month sales training plan. Having a predefined schedule will prevent appointment conflicts and eliminate the problem of the salesperson not being prepared for the training.

Assign salespeople to topical training (product knowledge, market knowledge, company information, and sales techniques). And schedule outside training or resources at least once a quarter.

Having a short-term plan and agenda ensures that current issues are addressed and reinforces the fact that continual training and employee focus is a company goal.

Employees are a critical asset. Most software systems have regular maintenance check-ups and support agreements to keep them at current levels; do the same with your employee assets. Keeping your employees’ personal and professional objectives aligned with your corporate goals by “training and re-recruiting” will create huge dividends.

Ken Thoreson is President of Acumen Management Group, Ltd., which has offered consulting, advisory, and platform services to organizations throughout North America for 14 years. His latest book is SLAMMED! For the First Time Sales Manager. You may read more from Ken at YourSalesMangementGuru.com, and you may email him at Ken@AcumenMgmt.com.

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