Changing Sales Training Methodology (Part 1)

Every interaction between salespeople and clients should serve to further the client’s understanding of the services on offer—and what makes them unique.

These days, more and more customers want to see sales training results that reflect a real change in their salespeople’s behavior.

Our team was tasked to create a new type of sales training that not only helps salespeople learn relevant theoretical knowledge, but changes their behavior almost immediately after the training.

Over two years, we met and talked with more than 300 companies from different European countries, representing different industries of different sizes and different salespeople’s profiles. From small family companies to large international holdings, one way all customers were united was that they all wanted to see the results as quickly as possible. Not only that, they wanted results that would last for a long time and demonstrated effective behavior rather than just general sales knowledge.

Discussing the main difficulties clients face when training staff, we were able to highlight the primary problems in traditional sales training. Among these, we identified several disadvantages of the traditional sales training methodology, which included salespeople’s lack of engagement in the educational process and content issues.

In solving these problems, we have created an updated sales training approach with a new attitude toward salespeople, making the whole process more effective. This three-part series of articles will describe the problems and possible solutions of sales training with a view to improving the results.

Emphasis on Marketing

Often, in traditional sales training, there is a notable lack of emphasis on marketing. Every interaction between salespeople and clients should serve to further the client’s understanding of the services on offer—and what makes them unique. Here are three key problems along with solutions that can be employed and taught in a way that salespeople will be able to both remember and implement them:

  1. Lack of “marketization” of sales techniques during training.

PROBLEM: Despite the abundance of knowledge and regular training, many salespeople do not know how to communicate their company’s message to the client and impart their corporate values and beliefs. Often, they are unable to spontaneously, or even appropriately, use their sales training knowledge in everyday contact with their clients.

The process of “marketization” of the sales activity is to create a link between knowledge about the company, the product, the market, the customer, and the skills for the effective use of all that knowledge in daily communication with the customer.

It can be difficult for salespeople to improvise, using all their newly acquired knowledge with the client, while adhering to the task of presenting their company. To be effective, the right and appropriate information for the customer should be delivered by the same salesperson, who also has the relevant marketing knowledge.

SOLUTION: A practical solution is to develop communication guidelines within the company to help salespeople carry out their communications and communicate correctly and effectively. This will need to be an organized project within the company, involving a variety of experts, from marketers and senior management to external sales and marketing consultants. The organization then can be assured that each salesperson’s message corresponds to the company’s general brand promise.

  1. Lack of a ready-to-use solution to memorize the material and the subsequent use of the knowledge in practice.

PROBLEM: There is a need to outline the CORE CONTENT from the training and make sure it is memorized. Two people will remember different things about the same lesson. According to investigations on how the brain functions and the details of memory, after seven days, an audience recalls a small and random portion of the content. How can we be sure participants remember the most important information in order to improve their activity?

One answer lies within the science of memorization. Ten percent of our memories is formed through what we read; 20 percent is formed through what we have heard; but the highest retention rate is achieved through teaching. We recall 95 percent of what we teach. Trainers, therefore, should provide the tools that will be highly visible at almost all times by participants after the course, as well as include “teaching sessions” in training sessions, where salespeople can teach each other the knowledge.

Content should be 100 percent relevant to the real everyday activity. It is important to provide a tool to help participants permanently retain the core content. We also know our memory needs signals to start to look up information in passive memory. Trainers, therefore, should provide a constant cue in the salesperson’s field of vision to prompt the searching of the training content from the passive memory.

SOLUTION: In this training method, the “core meaning” is identified and determined. “The core meaning” of the course is the part of sales and marketing theory that is most common to use for the company’s exact sales model. Core meaning should be agreed upon with sales management before being presented to salespeople.

Memorable visual content needs to support the memorization of “core meaning” at the end of the course. Salespeople need to practice and transform the theory into a practical tool during the course to use in their day-to-day life as sellers.

  1. Lack of support from sales managers in the incorporation of new knowledge to real skills.

PROBLEM: The new trend argues that operational sales managers should coach their salespeople, and thus have an additional impact on the change of sales behavior in their daily activities.
Do direct managers have sufficient knowledge to professionally coach salespeople? There is a need not only for an understanding of coaching but also basic sales knowledge from the courses—in which operational managers do not normally take part.

SOLUTION: If possible, operational sales managers and direct managers should take part in at least the most important training sessions and be a part of the team collaborating on the practical tool. That will help to foster a common opinion with their direct reports and reduce the chance that the theory of sales will be lost when the sales are taking place.
Information also could be lost in the process of operational communication with the manager, as the skill will not be formed if the direct manager does not support its practical use in the real business world in communication with the salesperson. It also will help to further motivate the salesperson to follow the practice developed in the presence of the manager. And the leader can help by pooling resources to develop joint strategies.

When it is not possible for managers to take part in sessions, there should be short and understandable course material for managers for their next opportunity to use this knowledge in their daily professional communication with salespeople, as well as when coaching.

By applying these solutions, there will be a real impact on salespeople’s day-to-day work. The company will be better represented and understood. Its core message will be clearly defined and imparted to its clients. This is an invaluable point of contact for a company, and there are huge potential rewards for taking a proactive approach to their marketization.

The second article in this series will post February 19.

Natalia Kutkovich, BSc, MBA, has more than 20 years’ experience in sales and marketing. She has been instrumental in achieving multimillion euro sales increases over her career. In 2014, Kutkovich became a certified Sales Trainer and she now works as Training director of Sales Progress (Barcelona, Spain) where she designs, implements, and manages innovative sales training techniques for businesses across Europe.