Why Sales Training Is More Vital Than Ever Before
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Sales Training Is More Important Than Ever

They say the serpent is the first sales professional. It did sell Eve the apple. I wonder if the serpent also gave Eve some basic sales training to convince Adam to take a bite. Amusing as the thought is, I believe the first salespeople must have been early creators and producers. They did not have any option. They had to sell to survive. They also must have become the first trainers when they recruited people to go around and sell on their behalf.

When they came on board, apart from all the good things about the product, the trainees must have also imbibed a bit of the owner’s philosophy, the culture, and their vision as it were. Beginning to sound familiar?

Those were the times when the buyer bought not only what you sold but also what you told them. They did not have too many alternative sources of information. Fast forward to 2020 and there is no escaping the information deluge.

They Know It All And Are Not Talking

Studies say that thanks to the spread of the internet, 70% of the customers have already done their relevant research before the salesperson opens their laptop. And nearly 60% would rather not talk to the salesperson at all. One can only wonder if they see the old serpent in every sales guy.

All those figures pertain to the pre-virus era. It is a crowded market. Technology is everywhere. For the customer, the market as well as market intelligence are a swipe and a click away.

For the sales professional, more than the proclaimed USPs, it is more important to know the customers, their compulsions, and their preferences. No longer do you sell what you have, you cater to what they need. You cannot hope to sell a brand when you are blind to customer perception about the brand and (increasingly in these socially supercharged days) the brand owner.

Your new team is young, bright and smart. Great starting point! However, if you want them to go out in the big bad world and sell for you, you will have to train them fast and well. Welcome to sales onboarding!

The Train Does Not Stop

The term onboarding conjures up an image of some kind of a train in perpetual motion where everyone has to work to reach a destination. Many want to get in; some have made it to the platform, running along. You spot the ones most likely to help you keep going and extend a hand to help them aboard.

The fellow travelers (and drivers) already inside extend them a warm welcome. As the newcomers settle in, they are given a quick brief about where they are headed and what they need to do to help everyone reach there. The new passengers tend to be young and eager. They tend to have one ear in and one leg out. They need to be given a good reason to settle down and learn first.

As Jim Mikula stated in his book Sales Training, “Salespeople are active; they want results fast; and when it comes to training, they want the answers to the challenges. That’s the good news. The bad news is that these qualities can hinder adult learning.”

He goes on to point out that customers frequently make emotion-driven decisions “and later rationalize them based on explicit, logical reasons.” Clients will not reveal those but expect the salespeople to know these “conditions of satisfaction.” This requires learning and, if your team is coming from another domain, possibly some unlearning.

Mark A. Stein and Lilith Christiansen, authors of Successful Onboarding: Strategies to Unlock Hidden Value Within Your Organization, point out that “Successful onboarding is far more than traditional orientation in new clothes; it is an innovative strategic program that can boost a company’s bottom line and improve its future prospects.”

What the authors say about all new hires is relevant to sales onboarding too: “A well-structured onboarding program can reduce turnover, increase workers’ productivity and make your company more attractive to potential employees.” They recommend that a well-designed onboarding program ought to have four elements: cultural assimilation, help with developing an interpersonal network, early support for professional growth, and strategic immersion and guidance (which should tell them how they are an important wheel and not an insignificant spoke).

In short, the sales force needs to be enabled before you unleash them to go forth and conquer. And this enablement is not a narrow responsibility of one department but an important driver of growth. It must be embedded in the macro corporate strategy.

When The Stalled Engines Begin To Rev

COVID-19 halted that train mid-journey. There is fog ahead and we cannot see the tracks and what lies beyond. We had to let many de-board because we were running out of food and water. Some got off as they were not comfortable with uncertainty. So, do we stop helping more passengers on board? Or must we continue, but be more selective?

The answer probably lies in inviting L&D into the corporate strategy den. Because we will need L&D more than ever, onboarding being one of the imperatives. Most passengers will need to quickly move up as drivers while others lay fresh tracks to new destinations.

As Ben Durst puts it, “Your team is looking for tools that will help them enter a conversation with a prospective client during this difficult time. The more customized and prescriptive the [learning] content, the better chance your sales team will have at prospecting at full efficiency.”

“Let’s be honest,” trainingzone puts it bluntly, “no one is going to fly around—or even get on the train—as much as before (if at all), so we need new ways to engage in collective endeavor and problem-solving.” The physical classroom might have vanished, but “teams and individuals still want to talk about capability issues. They still want to discuss how to do things better. Now, untrammeled by time and distance we can do this, not just with the cohort in the hotel meeting room, but with a whole bunch of our colleagues from Sao Paolo, Singapore, and Southampton. Having experienced that, why would anyone want to go back to a smaller pool of ideas, insights, and experience?”

If Eve were around, she would probably go back to the serpent for some training. Because now Adam wants more. He wants an apple that has been sanitized and can provide immunity from infection. She is welcome to call him when she is ready. And he would rather have it delivered home.

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