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Training for Bullish Sales

By Jack R. Snader and Marsha Wells

When sales are up, it's easy to believe your team is top-notch. The budget expands, the company's on the upswing, and everybody's happy. But it's easy to forget that missed sales targets will invariably follow at some point. You hope the next industry-wide shift or economic recession will be years away...but everybody know that sales slump periodically. Ironically, when sales take a dive, salespeople often end up sharing the blame.

Clearly, there are many factors contributing to corporate sales figures besides the skills of the sales force. Selling skills are only one of several factors in the bigger picture. It's as important in an up-cycle as it is in a down-cycle to attribute sales figures, in part, to outside contingencies, and it's only fair to do so.

Nevertheless, whenever there's a down-cycle, sales managers feel the pressure to hunt for the newest sales training approach or the latest gimmick they hope will bring increased sales fast-in spite of the fact that it takes time for people to master new skills. And when sales are good, sales managers may not see the need for training. Although understandable, these are ineffective, reactive, emergency-centered management strategies.

Maximize Your ROI

To avoid ineffectiveness and maximize your ROI, consider these guidelines when selecting a training program:

  1. Focus on the business problem. When profits are high, the training that often takes place is more enter-train-ment than performance improvement. But when the budget turns bearish, every allocated dollar is carefully scrutinized. It's too late to begin a process of generally improving the selling ability of the sales must be targeted to obtain very specific results.

    On the other hand, when times are good and sales are up, a focus on the business problems requires a different strategy. For the long-term, training should be focused on the areas of weakness for each individual, and should involve individual ownership of the process. Instead of enter-train-ment sessions to reward your sales team, think about ways to teach, challenge, and strengthen or reinforce basic selling skills-listening, probing, and analyzing needs-as needed by each individual.
  2. Keep sales training relevant. To be successful, a training effort should relate to what actually occurs in the field on a regular basis. Sounds obvious, doesn't it? But it is not as obvious as you might think. Often salespeople report that they enjoyed their training, but it was irrelevant in terms of what they really do. What a waste!
  3. Maintain open lines of communication. If you have just taught your salespeople how and why to do something that they haven't been doing before, stay in touch with them. The illusion is that if the training has been given, the training has been accomplished. To avoid being fooled by that illusion, actively look for what problems they are having after the training. How is it working now? Maintain a continuous follow-up process.
    Here's an idea that has worked for lots of companies: After salespeople are trained, they keep a two-week diary of how the training concept they learned is working for them in the field.
  4. Use balance. Don't put all of your training budget into the training or just the materials. Allocate half the total amount for follow-up. Without that kind of balance, you'll be investing in a whiz-bang event that will have no lasting effect. Look for a program that makes the follow-up activity easier, not more difficult

So if you are considering a sales training initiative, take the time to learn about Systema's programs and comprehensive development systems focused on solving those challenging business problems you are facing.

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