How To Set Up An Optimal Sales Training For Sales Representatives
If you’re running a business in retail or sales, a huge bulk of your operations will rely largely on people skills, specifically the skills that help your employees relate well with people. You might have the best products in the market, and you may even have the most elaborate and ambitious advertising campaigns, but, if your sales staff is weak, do not expect those sales figures to go up any time soon. At least, not in the way that you expect them to.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that much of the success of your retail enterprise is hinged on the skills of your sales representatives.
But what steps are you taking to ensure that your sales representatives are at the top of their game? After all, no one is born with skills in sales or, even if they were born with a “gift” for it, there is still a need to hone it to perfection, so that they can actually bring in the sales.
MEET THE SALES REPRESENTATIVE
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let us first acquaint ourselves with the Sales Representative. Who is he, and what does he do? And why is he a very important member of the organization?
Snagajob put it in a pretty straightforward manner: a sales representative sells retail products, goods and services to customers. This usually involves working closely with end consumers in order to facilitate the whole sales process, which begins from finding sales leads and understanding customers’ wants and needs, all the way to the point where the products, goods or services are delivered to the customers who, in turn, pay for them.
That sounds very broad, doesn’t it? It makes sales representative seem like they do everything that we know of in sales.
Well, that’s because, essentially, they do. That’s why they are an integral part of a retail business’ organizational structure. If you see someone from a retail company or store doing any of the following, then you have just come across a sales representative. Usually, a sales representative does the following tasks:
- “Cold-calling” clients, or making unsolicited calls to clients, to sell goods or services.
- Going on-site, or visiting prospective and existing clients to talk to them about the products or services being sold.
- Showcasing or selling products or services directly to clients or customers, often by conducting product demonstrations and long and detailed lectures or explanations about what is being offered.
- Going through various sources to find new sales leads, such as poring over business directories and ramping up possibilities of generating or increasing client referrals.
Depending on the industry where the business belongs to and the nature of the business (and products or services) being offered by the business, a sales representative may make anywhere between $38,750 and $153,940 annually. The Occupational Employment Statistics report of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2015 pegged an average annual wage of $76,190 for sales representatives in wholesale and manufacturing of technical and scientific products. Sales representatives in industries that are highly technical and scientific are obviously getting paid more than those in less technical fields.
This explains why many are looking to get a job as a sales representative, especially in the electronic and chemical industries. But for businesses and organizations, quality trumps quantity. In the long run, having a large number of sales representatives will not do the business any good if they don’t have the premium skills that will allow them to perform their functions well.
Most businesses will then prefer to have a “lean and mean” sales force, composed of sales representatives that may be few in number, but are highly qualified and trained to do the best job they can.
And what should companies focus on in order to ensure that? From the get-go, they should be hiring only those with high potential as sales representatives. But it doesn’t stop there. Once they are on board and already employed, it is important for the company to have in place a mechanism aimed at improving and honing its human resources. In this case, we’re talking about initiatives to make sure that your sales representatives are always in top form.
One way to do that is by conducting sales trainings that are aimed at developing and improving on the various skills of your sales representatives.
SKILLS THAT SALES REPRESENTATIVES MUST POSSESS
Briefly, let us go over the core skills that a sales representative must have in abundance, and must be the focus of your sales trainings.
Customer service skills
As a sales representative, you’d be mostly working with customers or clients, or the people you are selling the product or service to.
This interaction is often up close and personal, which means you have to be able to connect to your customers in a comfortable and friendly manner. Otherwise, they won’t even give you the time of day, and you won’t be able to go past the 1-minute mark of your sales pitch.
Sales representatives are seen to be naturally possessed with the gift of gab. Meaning they can talk in great detail and at great length and, often, for prolonged periods. You’ll basically be convincing potential customers to buy your product, so you’d have to be very informative and descriptive.
They are bound to have several questions, and you are supposed to field these questions and answer them accurately, all while convincing them to buy your product.
You’ve probably been approached by sales representatives several times before. Do you remember how you reacted, or even treated, them? Depending on the circumstances that time, you may have entertained them and listened to what they have to say. But there may have also been times when you were in such a rush that you openly ignored them or, worse, rudely brushed them off. Well, it also takes great skill to deal with being treated in that manner.
Imagine yourself in the shoes of the sales representative you just told off because you weren’t interested in what he had to say. How would you have reacted? As a sales representative, you should have persistence, with the ability to bounce back even after an unsavory experience with a client, and maintain an optimistic attitude as you move on to the next client to make your pitch to.
Often, the job of a sales representative is similar to that of a doctor. There may be regular work hours, but the nature of his job basically means he’s on call at any and all hours of the day. After all, sales is not restricted from 9 to 5. The hours of a sales representative can be quite long, extending late into the night and to the next day. Sometimes, even the weekends aren’t spared, anything to ensure that he makes a sale, or he reaches his quota for that period.
These skills may be acquired initially through education and other formal trainings. Sales representatives with backgrounds in marketing and economics are expected to at least have the basics down pat. It’s just a matter of honing the basics and improving on them, and much of that responsibility is left in the hands of the company, via its human resource management and development programs.
SALES TRAININGS FOR SALES REPRESENTATIVES
Sales trainings are developed with one primary goal, and that is to make sure that the company’s sales representatives are at the top of their game every single time. This is to ensure that they will be more effective as they go about their work of generating sales for the company.
But you do not randomly gather your sales representative in one place, call up an expert, and make them listen to hours and hours of lecture by that expert, and immediately conclude that you are conducting a sales training for your sales representatives. To a certain degree, that approach might work, but are you achieving the objectives that you have previously set?
But here’s a better question: do you even know what those objectives are?
To make sure you get a return on your investment – both on your sales representatives and on the sales training – you want to have an optimal sales training – one that will give the most favorable results. One way to ensure that sales trainings are optimal is to have a sales representative training program in place.
Large companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year on their sales training programs for their sales representatives. According to Training Magazine, an average of $30.2 million is allocated to the training budget. Granted, we do not know how much of that estimate is devoted specifically for sales trainings of sales representatives, but even if it were just 10% or less, it’s still a significant amount, which indicates the weight that companies put on the importance of continuously training their sales representatives.
Training Magazine also ranked the top 125 organizations that excelled at training and developing its employees for 2016 and the top-ranked company happens to be in retail/sales. It is Jiffy Lube International, a provider of automotive preventive maintenance service in the United States and Canada. For sure, a huge chunk of the training budget of Jiffy Lube was spent for its sales representatives.
But how do you set up an effective sales training for your sales representatives? That’s what we’re going to talk about next.
SETTING UP SALES REPRESENTATIVES’ TRAININGS
We’re going to divide it into three phases: pre-training, during the training, and after the training.
It all begins with a plan. If you already have a Sales Representative Training Program in place, this part should not be all that complicated. In fact, most of the activities conducted during the pre-training phase will largely be lifted from the guidelines set forth in the Training Program, with only a few tweaks here and there, if necessary.
The pre-training phase covers the planning stage and setting up the stage for the sales training. What are the activities conducted in this phase?
Set the objectives.
You can hope to get the results you want from conducting the sales training only if you know what you want to achieve. Therefore, it is important to be as specific as possible with the objectives, so you can target it better when planning and conducting the training.
Usually, the objectives of sales trainings include:
- To improve sales representatives’ knowledge about the company. Whenever sales representatives go out there, they are basically the face and voice of your company or your brand. Therefore, every move they make and every word they say will reflect on your company or brand. If they are asked a question about your brand and your sales representative is unable to give a ready reply, what impression will that make? The credibility of the sales representative will go down. The customer will have a hard time believing everything else he says when he doesn’t even know the first thing about the company he is working for.
- To improve sales representatives’ knowledge about the products and services they are selling. Your sales representatives must know what they are selling or offering. Otherwise, they will do poorly trying to convince customers to buy. Customers feel more assured and comfortable buying a product that the sales representative is obviously very familiar with, so if your sales representative is just reading off a flyer or product brochure, or constantly peeking at a product manual, that does not inspire any confidence in the customer. It is imperative that your sales representative knows the product like the back of his hand. More importantly, he should also believe in the product or service, so that he does a better job at getting other people to believe in it as well. It goes without saying that the sales representatives should also know more – and keep learning – about the systems and processes of the company, especially those that are directly related to the product and service they are selling.
- To enhance key sales skills of sales representatives. Earlier, we enumerated the core skills that must be possessed by sales representatives. Every now and then, there are new techniques and tools introduced on how to sell or market products. Make sure that your sales representatives are also updated about these so they can utilize them fully and effectively. This is one way to keep your sales representatives fresh and current. They already have the basic skills; your job is to let them improve on these skills.
- To boost the morale of sales representatives. If your sales representatives see that you are dedicated at keeping them on top of their game, then they will feel more motivated to do better at their job. If you just set them loose and expect them to bring in the sales, but you do not do much else, then they will feel neglected. Neglected employees will definitely feel as if they are not getting the respect they deserve, and so they will only do what is expected of them, even if they have the capacity to go above and beyond that, and bring in better results.
- To reiterate the duties, roles and responsibilities of the sales representatives. It is a given that newly hired sales representatives have to undergo requisite trainings before they can be sent out on field to do their work. What about the other, older, sales reps? Well, they, too, should also undergo trainings.
Sometimes, there is a need to remind sales representatives about their role in the organization, and what is expected of them. They may have clarifications about their tasks and duties, especially if there are new rules or policies introduced. For example, a change in sales targets or quotas is bound to raise a lot of concerns, and these could be grounds to conduct a sales training, mostly for clarification purposes.
Outline the core areas of development that will be addressed during the training.
The areas of development that will be identified will depend on the objectives you previously set.
If your objective is to improve the knowledge of sales representatives about the company, the areas that must be focused on during the training include the company’s history or background, its mission and vision, as well as its various business policies and procedures.
If your objective is to improve their product knowledge, your focus during the training is on the product itself. Perhaps you’ll have them witness firsthand how the product is created, or allow them to experience how the product works.
If you want to motivate them or enhance their skills, you’ll be bringing in motivational speakers and other resource speakers who can teach them a lot about improving their sales skills.
Identify the training methodology and plot the timeline.
The training methodology must be aligned with the goal or objective, and the need you are trying to fill with the sales training you are going to conduct.
The great thing about conducting trainings is that there are a lot of training methodologies that can be employed. Trainings are not limited to seminar- or lecture-type formats, where the sales representatives are virtually strapped to their seats and simply listening to someone speak for hours and hours in front. There are other, more interactive and definitely more fun and creative ways to encourage learning in a training setting.
The methodology also involves identification of the resource people or those who will conduct the training. You may have to invite experts from outside the organization, or you may choose to do everything in-house. The important thing is to make sure that they are all qualified to conduct or lead the training.
It is also during this stage that you have to establish a training timeline, addressing issues such as the duration of the training and when you should conduct it. Again, depending on the objective, the focus areas and the methodology, the training can go from one day to several days or, for some, even weeks.
II. Conducting the Training
This is where you will fully implement the training plan you prepared during the pre-training phase. The success of the implementation will depend on how solid your planning was.
Here are some tips that may help you during the conduct of the training.
- Use practical instructional design. The mode of instruction must be practical and encourage learning. It should engage their interest, instead of just letting them soak in all the information passively. As much as possible, make sure there is a hands-on element to it, so they can actually apply what they are learning. Facilitate the training by using tools and technology that will make the learning process more interesting and the information being delivered bring more impact.
- Encourage involvement of sales representatives. In fact, rep to rep trainings are highly encouraged, since its hands-on nature makes the experience more personal and, therefore, more effective. This will also allow you early on to identify the sales representatives with potential leadership and managerial skills.
- Utilize experts and professionals. If your objective is to improve their product knowledge, the best people to talk about the product are the developers and the ones involved in the manufacture of the product. If it is a service, the person in authority is the one who actually provides the service. In that area, there shouldn’t be a problem looking for persuasive mentors or teachers.
It becomes tricky when it’s about improving their sales skills. It’s a good thing that there are a lot of agencies and professionals offering sales training program development services.
You just tell them what you need and what you hope to achieve with your sales representatives, and they will come up with a training program, which they will also implement. Examples of such training programs include sales coaching training and sales negotiations training.
Of course, this is bound to cost more, so you have to be prepared for that.
Post-training evaluations are always conducted every time a company wraps up trainings. Mainly, this is to check whether all the plans set out during the pre-training phase were carried out. However, there is a more important point of concern in this phase, and that is to evaluate whether the desired results, or the objectives of the sales training, were achieved.
But that cannot be seen or evaluated in one, two, or even three weeks. Definitive results will come in once the sales figures come in, and only then will you be able to tell whether your sales training worked. Does this mean that the post-training phase will take a very long time?
Yes, that is exactly what it means. To be honest, training for sales representatives is really never finished. When the numbers came in, and they show that the sales representatives did a good job finding more sales leads and increasing sales, you’d be more motivated to conduct another training, this time, to keep their morale up. If the numbers aren’t what you expected, you may set another one on enhancing their sales skills.
So you see, it is a continuous learning process, and that is what you should incorporate in your sales training program.
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