Sales training is a process by which an attempt is made to develop the selling skills so as to increase the ability, knowledge and experience of the salesmen.
Sales training is a process of providing the sales force with specific skills for performing their task better and helping them to correct deficiencies in their sales performance.
According to National Society of Sales Training Executives, USA, “Sales training is the intentional and sound application of ordinary sense to the problem of helping the sales personnel to make the most of their talents.”
1. Introduction to Sales Training 2. Definitions and Characteristics of Sales Training 3. Principles 4. Objectives and Importance 5. Execution 6. Theories 7. Methods 8. Process 9. Role of a Trainer 10. Challenges.
Sales Training: Definitions, Characteristics, Theories, Principles, Importance, Methods, Process, Challenges and Other Details
Sales Training – Introduction
Sales training is a process of providing the sales force with specific skills for performing their task better and helping them to correct deficiencies in their sales performance. When a new product is introduced into the market, the market situation undergoes a change with the entry of a new competitor or a new technology.
In this case, the new product either moves across the life cycle or salespeople are asked to perform the job in a new way. The sales force needs to be trained to meet these new kinds of situations. Training provides the necessary skill to the salespeople to perform a job better and correct any lacunae in the sales force while executing their job responsibilities.
Training and development are processes that are closely related and serve specific purposes in an organization. Modern organizations spend a large part of their revenue on training their salespeople so that they can contribute towards the achievement of, organizational goals. If the training policy of the organization is not sound, then employees feel demotivated and spend more time on closing a sale.
Development, on the other hand, refers to the processes and strategies by which a sales organization provides the sales force with abilities that’ the organization will need in the future. While training focuses on the current job of a salesperson, development stresses on the current as well as the future job that the salesperson is likely to hold in the process of succession planning.
Sales training becomes more and more an essential tool of sales management because of the changing nature of selling, which is shifting from mere product or service selling to the study and satisfaction of customer’s needs. Added to that are the growing pressures of competition, which require that every salesman, from cub to veteran, continually be brought up to date on new market conditions, rehearsed in productive selling methods, and inspired to meet or beat quota.
But there are two more reasons why sales training is growing in importance. One is the ever-escalating cost of recruiting, equipping, and supervising a salesman before he or she becomes productive. The other reason is the risk a company takes by exposing a recruit to prospects and customers before he or she is ready, endangering the company’s competitive image and undermining the morale of other salespeople on the staff.
Traditionally, sales training consisted of studying the product and its merits, reading a book on how to sell, and getting some coaching from the sales manager or supervisor in the field. In many small firms, this is still the way it is done. But in larger and more progressive companies, the emphasis is on a more formal and scientific approach, with psychological and technical training, practice selling under simulated conditions, and continuing appraisal of training results.
Perhaps in no other field of business administration is there such a welter of “new” techniques, courses, outside services, and bulletins. This is because even a small increase in the productivity of each salesman can sometimes spell the difference between profit and loss, so that sales managers are ever on the lookout for ways to get their salesmen to “sell smarter.”
But there are two basic principles of sales training that never change:
(1) It must follow the classic method of teaching, testing, and grading; and
(2) The training programme must be continuous.
Many companies now prefer that sales recruits have a college degree because they are considered more receptive to the disciplines of learning.
The more sophisticated training programmes have these features:
(1) A customer-oriented approach to the learning process rather than the old system of rules and rote that spawned the “canned” presentations.
(2) Division of trainees into small groups to encourage active participation and independent thinking.
(3) Simulation of selling encounters with coaching, role-playing, and sometimes video-taping, so that the trainees can observe and correct their faults.
(4) Frequent use of such teaching materials as programmed instruction, by use of which the trainee must master each step before going on to the next games, often with computer assistance to show quickly the result of decisions; and sales films and bulletins available from numerous consulting and service organizations.
One relatively new development in sales training is instruction in the art of listening. Most salesmen are by nature talkative and inclined to dominate the sales interview, with the result that they often miss the prospect’s real objections, buying motives, and needs. Training them to “shut up and listen” is no easy task, but it is being done with gratifying results.
Another recent development is training in the use of the telephone as a sales tool. With the cost of a sales call continuing to soar skyward in recent years, the telephone can be used more effectively to make and confirm appointments, reducing travel and waiting time. It can also be used as the primary selling tool, especially with smaller accounts. Some companies have achieved marked success in selling only by telephone.
Who does the training? In small companies, it is the sales manager. Large companies usually have sales training specialists to do the job of teaching company policies and procedures, product knowledge, selling methods, territory orientation, and work organization. Formal training is usually done at company headquarters or in a hotel or training facility where trainees can better concentrate.
Training in the field is generally done by the branch managers, who occasionally accompany the salesmen on regular calls and give them “curb-side” advice, but never interfering with the salesman’s presentation in the presence of the prospect unless absolutely necessary.
Before organizing a sales training programme, it is wise to make a survey of the sales force to find out any weak areas. Are these product knowledge, mastery of selling techniques, use of time on the job, knowledge of company advertising and promotions, how to keep records? This review should be done at least once a year, so that sales management may know what areas to emphasize in its training. The review can be by the sales manager in smaller companies, or by field managers or outside consulting firms in larger companies.
There is one more rule that every successful sales trainer keeps in mind – Conduct the training programme for profit-oriented reason—to lower selling costs, raise sales volume, reduce expenses, get more active accounts, reduce salesman turnover. This not only keeps the training on target but is impressive to top management if the value received for money spent on training should come up for question.
While the scope of the training programme focuses on the performance of the individual salesperson, development stresses on the long-term goal of the organization. Training is specific to the job and addresses the performance problems of the salesperson, whereas development is concerned with the sales force value and skill and adaptability to the future organization’s goals and challenges.
Sales Training – Definitions and Characteristics
In the words of George R. Collins, “Sales training is an organized activity involving fact finding, planning, coaching, practicing and purposive attempts to develop selling skill and to add these skills to selected native ability, casually acquired knowledge and experience.”
According to National Society of Sales Training Executives, USA, “Sales training is the intentional and sound application of ordinary sense to the problem of helping the sales personnel to make the most of their talents.”
Thus sales training is a process by which an attempt is made to develop the selling skills so as to increase the ability, knowledge and experience of the salesmen.
1. Sales training is imparted to develop selling skills of the sales persons.
2. It develops principles and practice of selling.
3. Sales training is a planned and organized activity of the sales department.
4. The sales organization and the salesmen, both are benefited from the sales training.
5. Training programmes are organized for the interests of new and old salesmen.
6. Its aim is to provide maximum satisfaction to customers through the knowledge gained by salesmen.
7. Training is given to find out solutions to various problems related with sales.
Sales Training – 15 Important Principles
A good training programme must contain the following features/principles:
1. Principle of Objectives:
Training is a purpose oriented process. Therefore, the objectives of training must be clearly defined. According to Hagarty, the objectives of training can be divided as trainee objectives, managerial objectives and objectives of the training department. The classification of objectives may help the beneficiaries to understand the training objectives more clearly.
2. Principle of Subject Matter:
When plans are made for a training programme, the subject matter of the training should also be decided in accordance with the needs of the organization.
Generally, the contents/subject matter of a good training programme constitutes the following:
(i) History of the organization.
(ii) Its policies and objectives.
(iii) Information about the products
(iv) Consumer psychology.
(v) Buyer behaviour.
(vi) Selling process and sales policy
(vii) Credit policy.
(viii) Distribution channels
(ix) Sales reports.
(x) Pricing, billing and Government policies, etc.
3. Principle of Training Period, Timing and Place:
While planning for a sales training programme, it may be decided whether the training be organized for a specific period of time, or to a specific category of sales force, or on the basis of job contents. Although training is a continuous activity, the timings for training be fixed keeping in view of the demand situation of the products, as well as the time to be devoted by each salesman in the business. The place of training can be either within the organization or in any outside agency.
4. Principle of Scope of Training:
The scope of a good training programme should be extensive and be provided to all the employees working at different units of the sales department.
5. Principle of Training Methods:
The success of a training programme depends on the selection of good training methods. Therefore, the methods of training are determined with great care keeping in view of the training objects and the contents of the programme. Usually the training methods are categorized as individual training methods and group training methods. But the methods selected for training should not be so expensive. It should be economical and be most beneficial to the salesmen.
6. Principle of Responsibility:
It should be decided in advance whether the organizing of the training programme is the responsibility of the enterprise or of the sales department. An outside agency can also be entrusted with this job, but generally this responsibility is undertaken by the sales department itself, with assistance firm any outside agency, if necessary.
7. Principle of Efficient Trainers:
The service of the managers and supervisors can be used as trainers, as they are familiar with the real situations and problems. But, certain experts are of the view that trainers appointed for giving training must have the knowledge of latest training methods and techniques. It would be better, if the training programme is planned and implemented by the direct control of the Sales Managers and Sales Supervisors.
8. Principle of Diversity:
A good training programme must provide diversified knowledge to the salesmen relating to their sales activities. Practical and objective oriented knowledge be given through the training.
9. Principle of Simplicity and Practicability:
A sound training programme should be simple to understand and practicable in use. A complex training programme never creates interests among the salesmen and cannot be beneficial to them. It will only be wastage of resources.
10. Principle of Formal and Informal Elements:
A good sales training programme must include the contents of formal and informal elements. Formal elements are helpful to frame and design the programme. Informal elements are helpful to create good relationship between the trainer and the trainees.
11. Principle of Motivation:
Training is a process of learning. A good training programme always motivate the people to learn and acquire knowledge.
12. Principle of Participation:
The knowledge and practice gained from training is useful when a person is put to work in the real situations. Sales persons may be given sufficient opportunity to participate in the selling jobs and other non-selling functions for better utilization of knowledge and skill learnt through training.
13. Principle of Practice:
Even a difficult thing can be learnt through practice, but the practice should be regular. The knowledge achieved through training is used in the real situations.
14. Principle of New Ideas/Knowledge:
The training programme must have the contents of new ideas and new techniques that are helpful to increase the knowledge and skill of the trainees.
15. Principle of Progress Report:
This principle suggest that the knowledge gained by a trainee through training, be evaluated from time to time so that any deficiency in the training programme could be detected and corrected if necessary.
Sales Training – Objectives and Importance
The objective of a sales training programme is to improve the performance of the salespeople, while that of the process of development is to enrich the organization’s sales force by preparing the salespeople for future jobs and challenges. Training leads to a better performance in the current job, while the process of development provides benefits in terms of a more capable and flexible sales force in the long run.
A sales training approach for a long-term issue will be futile as salespeople tend to solve the current problem through training. A development approach to tackle performance problems will also be futile as it only looks at problems in the future. Computers, the Internet, and information technology (IT) have introduced an altogether new set of challenges and barriers to performing a sales job. The problems associated with human relations and individual behaviour have remained as they are in a sales function.
So a combination of individual differences in the choice of products, the organizational complexities in buying, and the adoption of information technology has made the job of a sales force more complex and challenging. These challenges can be met through training and development programmes in sales organizations. The environment is also changing fast, and a dynamic and competitive environment calls for constant up gradation of performance of salespeople and an improvement in the skills of the sales force.
1. Importance to the Organization:
The sales organization have many advantages; such as – (i) increase in sales, (ii) stability of customers (by their satisfaction), (iii) low supervision costs, (iv) stability of salesmen, (v) lowers advertisement costs, (vi) develop better relations between the customers and salesmen, (vii) organizational stability, (viii) increase goodwill of the firm, (ix) availability of able persons, and (x) sales employees will be loyal to the firm.
2. Importance to Sales Personnel:
They includes – (i) increase their efficiency, (ii) more remuneration- by way of commission, (iii) promotion chances- due to increase in efficiency, (iv) high morale- due to increase in remuneration and other benefits, (v) selling maturity- develops thinking power, (vi) others- such as, opportunity for personal development and advancement, increase in the product knowledge, etc.
3. Importance to Customers:
On customer’s point of view, the advantages include – (i) proper use of money- proper attention towards the customer’s problems, by the salesmen, (ii) customers get proper advices from the salesmen in their buying decisions.
Sales Training – Organizational Decisions for Execution of Sales Training
The execution step requires four important organizational decisions, namely (1) Who will be the trainees? (2) Who will do the training, (3) When will the training take place? and (4) Where will be the training site be?
(1) Who will be the Trainees?
Identifying the trainees is more complex step. A company identifies the trainees for its initial sales training when it hires sales job applicants. While continuing sales training programmes, all sales personnel are prescribed in some companies. But the general practice is to select trainees according to some criterion. The criteria in common use are – (i) reward for good performance, (ii) punishment for poor performance, (iii) convenience of trainee and trainer, and (iv) the seniority.
(2) Who will do the Training?
(i) Initial Sales Training:
Initial sales training is a line function in some companies, a staff function in others. If a line function, responsibility for initial training is assigned to the top sales executive. If a staff functions, responsibility for initial training is given to the personnel director and sales management has an advisory role.
(ii) Continuing Sales Training:
Responsibility for continuing sales training vest with the top executive. Introduction of new products, adoption of revised sales policies, perfection, of improved selling techniques, and similar developments call for training.
(iii) Sales Training Staff:
Top sales executives usually delegate sales training programme to sub-ordinates. Large sales organizations often have a sale training director reporting to the top sales executive. The director conducts some training and coordinates that given on a decentralized (usually part-time) basis by regional and district sales managers.
In smaller organizations, some top sales executives, handle training themselves, but they rely upon assistant sales managers or district managers, to conduct the training. The large-scale organization makes efficient use of a full-time sales training director and sometimes even full-time staff.
(iv) Outside Experts:
Many companies hire outside experts to conduct portions of sales training programmes, specifically the portions relating to sales techniques. Numerous outside training consultants present sessions on sales techniques (for instance, in prospecting customers, selling by telephone calls or basic ways to meet objections. The outside experts are true professionals charging substantial fees.
(3) When will Training Take Place?
When there are large numbers of new personnel, group training is the way to training at the lowest cost per person. Group training is more effective when supplemented by individualized field training.
Individualized training is conducted in the field office or in the trainee’s home. On-the-job training features personnel conferences of the trainer and trainee and demonstrations as the trainer explain “this is how to do it.”
(4) Where will be Training Site?
Some companies held initial sales training programmes at the Central Office, and others conduct separate programmes at branch offices. Each practice has advantages and disadvantages.
The centralized programme generally provides better product training, but higher costs are incurred in bringing trainees to the central point. The separate programme at branch offices has to advantage to train new sales people near their future territories and acquaint them early with field selling problems. However, this method of training often requires the substitution of motion pictures, slides, and working models; the absence of these, the training may be less realistic, less interesting, and less effective than centralized training.
The manuals (Work books, etc.) and other printed materials (industry and general business magazines and journals), training (graph, projector, screen, etc.) and advance assignments, reading assignments, preparation of plans of action for use in a scheduled session, etc.) are used as instructional materials and training aids.
Sales Training – Theories
Training is based on the process of learning a sequence of programmed behaviour and the appreciation of this knowledge to the work environment for the smooth conduct of the desired activity in the context of the sales organization. Training is a process of making people aware about the desired way of functioning in organizations.
It also attempts to improve their performance in the current job and prepares them for an intended job responsibility in the future. Training is thus necessary for improving the quality of job performance, helping the company fulfil its manpower requirements, improving the organizational climate, improving safety in the workplace, and bringing in a more professional environment for higher organizational success.
Training also helps employees in personal growth and prevents human obsolescence. Training is purely based on the ability and intent of a trainee to learn the skill and concept imparted through a training programme.
It has been observed that people are responsive to training programmes when they realize that the training programme will helping them in carrying out their jobs in a better way and enhance their performance in the organization. An individual who perceives training to be the solution for his problem tends to be more responsive to training than the others.
Learning is more effective when there is some level of reinforcement in the form of rewards and punishments for noncompliance. Individuals do things that are psychologically pleasurable to them and avoid doing things which have a potential for giving them pain.
This means that after the training programme is over and if the employee is satisfied with his improved job performance, he is likely to show a better performance. Awards rather than punishments tend to be more effective for changing behaviour and increasing one’s learning in the long run.
When the application of acquired behaviour through training quickly leads to the desired performance, there is a greater chance of the desired behaviour to be reinforced. Training programmes where a trainee is expected to change values, beliefs, and attitudes usually achieve better results as they encourage a sense of participation from the trainee.
The trainee should be provided with the feedback on his adaptability to the new methods of performing the job. If the trainee evaluates its effectiveness on his performance, then value of training will increase.
He should also be informed about what aspects of his performance have changed and what the areas where he feeds further improvement are. The process of feedback should be fast, frequent, and immediate. The development of new behaviour and norms is facilitated by practice and repetition.
The training tools and methods make an individual learn and apply skills in the context of the job, the organization, and the market. People acquire new knowledge and skills for the definitive purpose of improving their performance in the sales organization. Learning in itself is a human process by which skills, habits, attitudes, and knowledge are acquired and are utilized in such a way that behaviour is modified.
Training results in learning for a desired behavioural change in the context of the job and the organization.
There are various theories that explain the concept of learning and are broadly divided into two schools, namely conditioning and cognitive schools.
The conditioning or connectionist theories are based on the assumption that there is a desired response to a stimulus. This theory believes in the laws of associations, such as assimilation, frequency, continuity, intensity, duration, context, acquaintances, composition, individual differences, and a cause-effect relationship.
This theory is based on the assumption that when any action causes satisfaction, it will be associated with a particular situation and the same act shall be repeated when a similar situation arises. If the act produces psychological or physical discomfort, people tend to avoid this behaviour in similar situations in the future.
For example, Pavlov conducted experiments with a dog to propound the classical conditioning theory. Whenever the dog felt hungry, it salivated. Every time food was served to the dog, the experimenter sounded a bell in front of the dog. After some time, each time the bell was sounded, the dog started salivating. In this case, food was the unconditioned stimulus and the bell was the conditioned stimulus.
The unconditioned response was the salivation of the dog. The dog could thus correlate the bell with food for the desired response. In this experiment, the experimenter controlled the changes in the treatment and the response was the only variable in the control of the subject.
Skinner conducted another experiment, which is popularly known as ‘operant conditioning.’ Here, he used a pigeon in a cage. Food was served to the bird outside the cage. The bird, upon feeling hungry, tried to reach the food. There were switches through which the bird tried to open the cage. After some time it was observed that the bird pressed the correct switch that led it to the food. In this way, the bird was able to associate the switch in the cage with the desired result of reaching near the food.
This experiment had more scope of learning for the bird because it was a spontaneous effort by the bird to reach near the food, and learn the association between the desired food and the switch. The experimenter, unlike the first case, was not controlling the response treatment. Both the experiments try to establish a connection between the desired results with a certain sequence of action of the subject in the experiment.
Wolfgang Kohler is the proponent of the cognitive or gestalt school, which believes that for any learning it is not necessary to establish a previous history of connection between the desired response and the stimulus. He is of the opinion that people learn by applying their own judgments and insights, which he grouped as gestalt. According to this theory, all learning leads to a goal and all behaviour has a purpose.
Cognitists believe in latent or collateral learning, which leads to the formulation of enduring attitudes, and like and dislikes. According to them, training is goal-oriented and must take into consideration the goals of the trainee. The trainer should design the structure of the learning situation in such a way that relationships among stimuli, responses, and individual goals or motivations are emphasized.
Training helps to develop a correct response reinforcement. This is an action that makes a learner repeat his/her behaviour often. The drive that maintains this process is called motivation. The completion of a training programme, may thus mean higher sales, better performance, a raise in salary, and better living conditions.
Various learning theories are taken into consideration while designing industry-specific training programmes. It assumes that every human, irrespective of his position in the organization, is capable of learning. Everyone has an intellectual capability and the ability to learn from training programmes. The trainers should follow six steps during the training programme to make the training content more meaningful for the trainees to remember.
This includes providing an overview of the training programme at the beginning of the programme so that the trainees get a holistic picture of the programme. This helps in understanding how each part of the training programme augments the learning of the trainee.
The training content should include a number of relevant examples so that the trainees can relate to the training programme and their jobs. The material should be designed and arranged in a logical manner and should be presented in meaningful sections rather than in one go. The material should use language familiar to trainees and visual aids in the training material to explain the concepts in the material.
The training programme should be designed and executed in such a manner that each succeeding step builds upon the previous one. Here, the probability of success will increase because a trainee encounters the steps in sequence. The previous experience of an individual trainee also affects the learning experience. New material related to his previous knowledge should be provided, which will guide in the formulation of a new behaviour based on experiences.
Different training methods are used for different types of learning. Cognitive learning, for example, stresses visual and audio experiences to gain understanding. It may involve reading, lectures, audio-visual presentations, case problems, etc.
Affective learning such as attitude, values, and interest acquisition are best learned through field trips, open discussions, and role plays. Psychomotor learning is acquired through practice, drills, behaviour modifications, simulation games, demonstrations, and internships. The value of a multisensory learning exercise should also be emphasized.
A successful sales training programme should be designed by taking into account the three components of learning namely, the cognitive, the affective, and the sensory motor components of behaviour. In a typical sales training programme, a salesperson is expected to have the knowledge of the company, product, competitor, knowledge of the market, of himself, and his personality. This is the knowledge universe of the salesperson.
The knowledge of the product includes the manufacturing, physical, and compositional knowledge of the differential advantage of the product, as also the net benefit that each feature delivers to the customer. The competitor’s knowledge includes knowledge about the competitor’s marketing programme, its sales staff, market coverage strategy, and the promotional strategy followed by competitors in the market.
Knowledge about the market includes the nature of competition, the buying power of various buyers and their buying processes and strategy, their past credit history and payment norms, and the persons in the organizations responsible for order placing and payments.
Knowledge about the self includes the understanding of one’s own self and the abilities to handle customers, skill level in handling customers, and the ability to make sales calls within the framework of company norms.
The knowledge of the self also includes the ability and expertise to communicate and present the unique selling proposition of the product, and the ability to convince the customers about the differential advantage of the product through a presentation of the feature, advantage, and benefit (FAB) analysis.
Sales Training – Top 7 Methods
Selection of the right training method is vital. Before choosing a method, it is essential to know which method will offer the best skill and learning development to the trainees. The training method is also geared to generate the right attitude in the trainees that would enhance the acceptability of training.
The details of the training methods are explained below:
1. Lecture Method:
The lecture method, basically, presents the needed information on selling skills and techniques to the trainees. Sales trainees learn ideas about selling as a functional component, managerial practices of selling, different underlying problems of selling, creativity in selling, role of selling in cross-functional interaction, etc. A participative environment is created in the lecture method, where trainees can be actively involved by listening to the lectures, writing notes, asking questions, clearing doubts, and getting suggestions.
Often written materials and instruction manuals are handed to the participants. Some instructors take help of the audio-visual aids to animate the lecture sessions and arouse a deep interest among the trainees. Company executives, senior managers, professional trainers, guest lecturers with huge experience in the marketing discipline are invited to act as speakers in the lecture sessions.
Conference is a platform for discussing various issues on a topic. As a training medium, it provides the right ambience for interaction between the trainees and the trainers. It is a group meeting which has pre-planned items for discussion. The discussion can flow on multiple tracks revolving around the issue. The conference coordinator or the leader presents the connective link between these different points of discussion.
In sales training, conference method gives opportunity for an all-round discussion veering around specific product(s) or service(s) that sales trainees will sell in future. Sales management and territory management are also discussed in the conference proceedings. The entire session is controlled by a chairperson who sums up the discussion in the conference.
Case study is a written description about a real life or hypothetical selling situation or a sales problem that is discussed in a classroom. The trainees have to sincerely listen to and understand the various issues in the case. After this, they need to relate to these issues with personal selling concepts and principles which they have already learnt before they take part in the case study. The case discussion tries to highlight the problem areas, diagnose the inputs of personal selling discipline and offer solutions to the problems. Salespeople are allowed to throw their views to gain confidence.
On-the-job training (OJT) is a popular technique that gives opportunities to new employees to gather hands-on learning experience. In the selling context, newly recruited salespeople get a scope to observe the approaches of senior salespeople, sales supervisors when they interact with customers. These new salespeople are asked to minutely watch the discussion from where they can get an idea of how to deal with the present and prospective customers.
Next, the sales trainees are allowed to make sales calls in the presence of senior sales personnel. After the completion of calls, the seniors discuss the mistakes of the salespeople and advise on how to improve a specific sales situation. This, in fact, motivates the trainees to sell more, and learn from their faults. Modern day training programmes are more interactive in nature. Particularly in the field such as – sales, these newer methods have proved of immense use.
These training methods are lively and interesting demonstration of films, power points, audio cassettes, videos, etc. It gives the trainees a chance to have a look at the charts, graphs, tables, slides, talk show, buyer-seller interaction, interview of a marketing expert or consultant, a meeting session with the dealers, some realistic buying-selling situations, etc. These methods, when integrated with lecture-based trainings, create a highly stimulating training environment where trainees get the opportunity to learn both theoretical and practical applications of selling.
Newly recruited salespeople are exposed to computer-based training (CBT), DVD systems or other multimedia applications that simulate unique buying-selling situations. These training devices, though expensive, are highly effective because of the practical orientation and the short learning time available. In fact, multimedia applications have revolutionized the simulated training methods where the sales trainees get advanced training through e-learning modules and e-performance support system (EPSS).
Videoconferencing is becoming popular today and is effective for long-distance communication. This training method combines video presentations and computer-aided questioning techniques. In this technique, questions are displayed on computers regarding how to manage a particular sales situation, how to take decisions in problem-oriented situations, etc. Web-based training and video conferencing are useful in a decentralized training technique where trainees stay geographically dispersed and both make possible the live demonstration combining audio and video effects.
Computerized management games are used by some firms where trainees are divided into groups with each group having five to six participants. Games take place amongst these groups after creating a simulated marketplace situation. The competition judges the teams on the most effective decision taken on sales budget, selling expenses, sales turnover ratio, etc.
In role playing, an artificial environment of the realistic sales situation is created and salespeople are asked to sell a product to an imaginary prospect. Trainees are asked to assume the role of salespeople and prospects in rotations. So, the trainees find an opportunity to replicate the buying-selling session that they will face in real-life situations. Trainers closely monitor the session and guide the trainees on how to improve in different scenarios. The objective is to develop skills in trainees in managing and controlling the sales situations. Trainees also learn to handle problems.
Sales Training – Process: 6 Step Process
Like recruitment and selection, training is also a managerial function. The management is responsible to induct, socialize, train, develop, and make new employees who can work in the company. Training is an organized process to extract the best from the employees and to use it for the success of the organization. Sales training is a systematic process consisting of a number of steps to achieve training goals.
The steps are discussed as follows:
Step # 1. Identifying Training Needs:
This is the starting point for designing an effective training programme. Identifying the training needs refer to determine the weaknesses of new as well as existing employees that affect the performance negatively and to find out the gap between the actual and the desired performance of the current employees. It aims to identify the specific knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviour that are lacking amongst employees, particularly at the entry point. Identifying training needs, therefore, entails analysing the latches amongst employees that prevent the organization to attain its goals.
The strengths and weaknesses of the employees are adjudged against the parameters of job descriptions and job specifications that are set before the recruitment process begins in the organization. Therefore, one can say that training guidelines are outlined based on the criteria contained in the job descriptions and job specifications. For example, a job description for a senior sales executive demands socialization and motivation as the major areas of the training programme rather than knowledge and skill development.
But for rookie salespeople, training starts from scratch where knowledge on the business environment, company, job, peers and management, technical skills, personality development, etc., are given a major thrust. Personality correlates positively with communication skills and therefore, nurturing of communication skills is important to develop personality.
Training also bridges the gap between what salespeople know and what they need to know. A job analyst collects information from the newly engaged sales hires through interaction or observations of their selling behaviour on a trial run. Psychological tests such as – aptitude or personality tests also help in providing the dearth areas of the salespeople.
Selection of a salesperson is also very important because if appropriate candidates are selected, the content of the training programme as well as training costs can be greatly reduced. Good selection also means inviting more or less equal potential sales employees, so identical training programmes can be prepared for them to fulfil the objectives of training.
However, training needs to vary from time to time. A change in the marketing environment can alter the course of the training programme. For example, a sudden rise in the price level of the product or doing some innovations of the existing product requires sales persons to handle customers cautiously so that the latter can admire the cause for such changes.
The company, sometimes, feels the need for retraining of the existing employees to cope with unknown market situations. For current salespeople, if performance analysis indicates any discrepancy between the desired and actual sales performance, it is corrected through retraining.
Step # 2. Setting Sales Training Objectives:
Assessment of training needs is the starting point of setting the training objectives. Training objectives are formulated on the basis of the types of product or service to sell nature of selling jobs, types of salespeople that undergo training, types of customers to deal with, and environmental conditions that the salespeople will confront.
Suppose, the product to be sold is a fire extinguisher. This is an emergency product, where the salespeople need to teach the customers the importance of the product and necessity of owning it for one’s safety. Here, it is important for the seller to know all the legal and safety norms, technological developments, etc., of the product. This would help them sustain against the competition better.
The nature of selling job also depends upon the type of customer the product is to be sold to. For an industrial or institutional customer, the urgency of having the fire extinguisher and having more than one in number is immediate. At the same time, the business potential with such customers is high. So knowledge, experience, and persuasive skills of the salesperson become very vital to facilitate the increase in sale as well as customer size.
Sales training objectives are laid down to make salespeople comfortable with different selling situations. Indeed, they should gear up to make customers feel that they are getting value for money by taking purchase decisions. Moreover, they are also expected to put a positive image of the company in front of the customers. And hence, it is important that the salespeople should learn the company’s core missions, values, philosophies, and goals during training so that during practical selling, they can raise the company’s image high by popularizing the company’s cherished image.
Before assigning territories to salespeople, they should also learn how to manage and handle their territories. So, understanding basic principles of management and organizing capacity is also a part of the training objectives. Again, measuring the market potential, sales forecasting, mapping out sales strategies, analysing the strengths and weaknesses of competitors, etc., are the operational aspects of sales management that salespeople need to learn during training.
Training objectives should be goal-directed and performance-oriented. Successful accomplishments of training objectives allude the generation of a well- trained salespeople who require no major supervision or management control to perform their jobs. Moreover, they emerge to be polite, emotionally balanced, and enthusiastic human beings who can apply their best potentials. At the same time, they can derive job satisfaction both from the company’s internal environment (job context) and sales performance (job content).
Setting training objectives require deft handling from the sales managers. Right training objectives can serve the purpose of the firm to produce the right type of salespeople who bring success to the firm through the ‘right performance’. Besides, these objectives are formulated to develop competence among salespeople while using different marketing tools such as – customer-relationship management software, sales forecasting techniques, marketing research, etc.
Training objectives are also purported for salespeople to learn certain functions such as – planning, organizing, directing, and controlling with a view that they will be entrusted to manage the sales territories and become the future managers of the organizations. Setting up the training objectives is the guide post for designing the sales training programmes.
Once the company has decided on the objectives of the training, they need to evolve appropriate training methods to fulfil them. A suitably devised training method also entails how the training will be conducted. For example, for imparting knowledge about a product or service, lecture methods are most useful. To understand the applications of a product, demonstration is an ideal method. Places where salespeople work as team, methods such as – group discussion or role playing are quite useful.
A company can choose either a single training method or a set of methods to carry out the training sessions. It is important to note that the methods chosen should be coherent with the training objectives and should be executable as well. For instance, financial resources, infrastructural support, cost effectiveness of training, etc., are major points to consider while deciding about the economic viability of training
. Keeping the training objectives in mind, few training methods are initially chosen and training costs along with its consulting effectiveness of different methods are compared before a right training method(s) is suggested.
Step # 4. Designing the Training Programme:
After analysing the training needs, determining objectives of training, and suggesting training methods, designing the training programme is a critical step for the success of training. The benefits of sales training cannot be achieved, if there is a flaw in its programme or is not correctly laid down to satisfy any one of the training needs.
Planning a training programme is preceded by accurately analysing the training needs. This is required, both, for newly recruited salespeople and employees already working at different stages of their career cycles. Apart from this, it is important for sales managers to track the movements of their employees along their career cycles. A career cycle is a stepwise progression of the career of a salesperson covering four stages. These stages are initial training or grooming, development, maturity, and diminution. Figure 10.4 depicts the shape of the career cycle.
Grooming is the starting phase of a salesperson’s career. It begins with an orientation of the salesperson with the company. During this stage, the salespeople are made aware of the corporate mission, their objectives, marketing goals, products/services portfolio, and products/services to sell, markets to cover, selling expenses to incur, selling techniques to follow, sales budget, performance criteria, etc.
The time period for this orientation depends on the type of salespeople hired (experienced or new), company training policy, budget allocation for training, types of customers to interact with (say, industrial customers), market situation to confront (say, oligopolistic market), etc.
After his induction/orientation, a salesperson is assigned a sales territory and asked to engage in the sales operation. As the salesperson starts generating sales, sales productivity begins to move upward. However, the salespeople need to monitor and control their performances closely. Whenever faults are identified, corrective actions must be taken by managers. This is the development stage where a person gets to know about his job profile and learns from his mistakes.
Maturity refers to a salesperson reaching the peak of their performance. Further increase of productivity in their performance is not observed. The sales level at this point remains steady. These problems occur with the old employees of the organization also. It happens when –
a. The market is saturated,
b. The market is not saturated, but no new customers are developed for the company,
c. Intentions of the current customers are to continue business at the same volume as earlier, and
d. Change in the business environment is very slow.
Sometimes, after reaching the peak, the employees suddenly loose interest in their job. In such a case, retraining is one of the means to charge up the existing employees.
The diminution stage finally creeps in the career cycle. In spite of all efforts, sales level starts declining, causing a downward slope of the career cycle. Here, the company, usually, withdraws from the territory where the problem is grave. But if the slump in productivity is felt everywhere, the company can liquidate the particular business despite the presence of knowledgeable and skilled sales force. If the problems emerge from the inefficiency of the sales force, retraining can be tried out to reverse the declining trend.
Once the training needs are analysed, the sales managers have to plan a programme in which they have to set the objectives, determine the budget, the time and the venue of the programme. This is followed by actually developing the training programme. During this phase, the manager must decide on the contents, applications, and methods for evaluating the effectiveness of the programme. Accessing the effectiveness and reviewing the success of the training programme completes the finalizing of the structure of the training programme.
Unless, a person evaluates the training process, it is difficult for anyone to judge the effectiveness of the programme. Also, this helps in coming up with a more comprehensive programme for the next time.
Sales Training – Role of a Trainer
A trainer plays a significant role in sales training. The sales training programme is conducted both on the field and off the field. In both the cases, it is necessary to understand the role of a trainer because the success of the training programme depends largely on the ability, skill, and motivation of the sales trainer. In some companies, the company staff gives the initial sales training.
In a line function, it is the responsibility of the top sales executives to train the sales staff. In a staff function, this is done by the personnel director. Here, the sales manager is only present in an advisory function. The decision to choose one of the options is a cost consideration for the company. From the cost point of view, the human resource department takes care of initial training in many organizations.
In continuous sales training, the responsibility for training rests with the top sales executives. They train the salespeople on the introduction of new products, adoption of modified sales policies, sharpening of selling skills through new selling techniques, and countering the short- term selling tactics of the competitors. The top sales executives keep a tab on the market movements and are aware about changes in the market. They are thus in the best position to train other salespeople.
Sales training is a continuous process and regardless of who owns the responsibility of training, it is the job of the top sales executive to keep his sales force informed and up-to-date about market conditions. In large corporations, the responsibility for training is delegated to the subordinate staff who are trained by the training director. The director conducts training programmes at his centre and delegates training programmes to the regional and other sales executives.
In small organizations, training is handled by top sales executives, outside experts, or hired salespeople. Sections of the programme related to selling techniques are conducted by hiring the outside experts in many organizations. Usually, companies send trainers to professional training institutions and colleges to acquire training skills so that they can impart them to the salespeople in the organization.
Sales Training – Challenges (With Example)
While developing a training programme for salespeople, a sales manager should try to find answers to questions like will the training programme be effective in solving a problem, what is the level of realism involved in the goals for the training programme, will the investment in the training programme be justified, and will it produce the desired or intended results. If answers to these questions are in the affirmative, then organizations can build, training programmes for their sales force.
Training attempts to eliminate deficiencies in the job performance and helps in correcting problems in performance. Not all problems in sales performance require training. Problems in performance may occur for other reasons such as low morale, poor-quality products, poor compensation and incentive plans, and strict and inhuman supervision.
Some of the problems of performance can be solved by developing better compensation and incentive plans and bringing changes to the methods of supervision. If salespeople are intrinsically demotivated, then training programmes cannot solve the problem of performance.
In such a situation, a sales manager needs to analyse the real problem behind poor performance and then decide whether or not there is the need for a training programme that addresses low performance in the job.
Another issue is the clarity in the goals of a training programme. If the goal is clearly stated, it would guide a sales manager in designing appropriate training content and measures to test the effectiveness of the sales training programme. For example, if a deficiency is observed in the skill of closing a sale among a group of salespeople, the sales manager can develop a training module on how to close a sale, and also decide on measures to test whether the training programme has yielded the appropriate result or not.
Training programmes, therefore, should be in tune with specific skills required by the sales force. Training programmes are costly for organizations. There are two kinds of training costs involved namely, the cost of the programme and the cost of analysing and evaluating the programme.
A sales manager must weigh how much the current problem will cost vis-a-vis the cost of eliminating it through a training programme. If training costs more than the cost of poor sales performance, the sales manager should search for a less costly alternative to an expensive training programme. The potential benefits of the training programme should also be considered while evaluating the cost-effectiveness of the training programme.
A sales manager is free to choose between various training methods depending upon their effectiveness and relevance to the training need. Some training programmes are effective in certain situations. For example, listening and presentation skill-related training programmes work better for salespeople rather than training on motivation skills, which is more suited for the supervisory level salespeople.
Along with the type of training programme and its content, a number of other contextual issues determine the effectiveness of a programme.
For example, the success of a training programme depends on the organizational structure and culture and on the form of the inherent support available in terms of learning and improvement for its sales force. It will also depend on the participants’ attitude and interest in the programme. Training will only work if it is related to both the individual and the organizational goals. A successful training programme can raise performance, improve morale, and increase an organization’s potential in achieving the goals.