Sales Training – Four Focus Areas for Success

Ask any sales person during their annual review what they need from the company to hit their figures next fiscal year, and usually “training” comes out top of the list. Ask them what sort of training or coaching they need within this broad area and the response is usually a spattering of different fields including presentation skills, closing techniques and structured sales processes. 

The reality is – rarely does any organisation, however big, train their sales team in a consistent manner. This is understandable because within any team, you have differing levels of experience from the newbies to the “sales veterans”. In the case of the latter, these people have usually been with the company for many years, know everyone and rely on contacts and repeat business. For the sales fledglings, or those in the middle of their sales career, they are fighting for whatever success and recognition they can get. Maybe some just aren’t cut out for this functional skill and have been lured by lucrative earnings? Others however may have had “training on the job” and picked up habits from the aforementioned veterans – therefore swiftly inheriting bad habits. 

Here’s the thing – we’re all different. We have different styles, communication techniques, perceptive abilities and we feel comfortable applying different methods. To truly harness and develop an individual’s potential, it calls for individual mentoring or coaching, and there are plenty of companies offering these services – at a hefty premium. 

Likewise, there are many companies offering “sales training workshops”, and having attended a number of these myself, they can be a good starting point, especially for people early in their career. However, a “one-size-fits-all” approach just doesn’t work. When I attended a Gustav Kaeser workshop, for example, in the UK in 1999 we had guys in the room from such diverse industry sectors such as plastics, corporate fuel cards, an IT start up, tractor salesmen and engineered products. Although I would mention it was one of the better courses I have attended. 

So what options are there for a company who know they need to do something, but may not have the budget for either of the above? 

First of all, identify where things are falling down. This way you identify which areas need help. This process will direct you towards a list of priorities. Things to look at can include: 

  • Incoming inquiries – are you generating enough? If not, your marketing may need some help
  • Conversion rate, how many leads are you converting into “prospects”? If this figure is low, your engagement model may be off
  • Closing – how many of these prospects are converting into sales? Again, if low it would suggest you may not be perceived as offering value (could be a marketing error) or your people are not closing effectively

 Every sale, in whatever sector, follows a fundamental process. Have a think about the following few thoughts and see how this applies to your business. 

Understand Your Engagement Model 

Fundamental to the very core of a sale is understanding this process. Are all your inbound leads generated from your website or social media platforms? Are your sales people pounding the streets doing proactive activities such as presentations – which eventually shake out interested people? Are you identifying potential leads from a third party provider that sells access to their data base of leads? How do you communicate with your customers, and at what point of their decision making process are you doing this? With the advent of social media and web, most customers are already informed about your company before this step – so you have to get it right. 

Whichever of the above applies to your company, the engagement model cumulates into the initial personal interaction, be it a formal meeting, presentation or informal coffee chat. 

As they say, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” and this is what it’s all about. Factors such telephone skills and face-to-face communication are critical here, because if done well, it allows you to move onto the next step of qualifying your customer. 

Basics that can be covered by a good training session include: 

  • Telephone manner – disarming the target and securing that all important first appointment
  • Initial greeting (appropriate salutation, self-introduction, handshake)
  • Company introduction (what problems you solve, hinting at the value you offer)
  • Information mining (extracting basic information from them – are you talking to the right person or do you need to find out who is the decision maker?)

 Customer Qualification 

The most basic concept, and the most overlooked. Without this step, it is impossible to structure a good pitch or proposal. 

Before launching into how great your company is, what problems your products solve and savings that can be made – you need to find out what they want or need? What are their pain points, what problems they face and what is the ideal solution? With a little skill and training, you can walk out of a 20 minute meeting knowing what you have to do the get the sale, what price it has to be and how it is delivered. It’s not rocket science, but it’s an area where so many companies or individuals fall down.  

As an example, I had a bizarre situation in Metro Department Store in Singapore. I wanted to buy a frying pan, asked an assistant a pretty basic question, and he launched into a two minute sales pitch on how great the pillows (frying pan, pillows, umm?) were that he was selling– finishing with the killer closing line of “so, would you like to buy one?” 

This is sales 101, the most basic lesson of all, and you take nothing away from reading this article except the following line, it’s time well spent: 

“Stop selling and telling – start asking and listening” 

How does training help? 

  • Preparation for the meeting
  • Methods to coax information from your prospect
  • Techniques to get delicate information, such as price point
  • Find out who the competition is
  • What is most important for them
  • What is their decision making criteria
  • What do you need to demonstrate or deliver to close the sale

The Pitch 

Some sales environments allow you to qualify, pitch and even close within the initial meeting, others can take months of pre-sales preparation. But at some point, you need to tell your prospect why they should choose your company. 

Get the qualification right, and this step can be surprisingly easy – but it can also be a popular choke point for sales professionals. Some companies refer to this as “the value proposition”, in other words, the reason why your company represents the best option for the client, the value you bring which could be financial but also savings in efficiency and other aspects. Good training can assist with: 

  • Basic presentation skills
  • Formation of a well-structured sales pitch
  • Communication
  • Reading body language
  • Fielding questions

 The Close 

Get the first three areas right and actually, closing the deal can be the easiest step. Some companies adopt the philosophy of the sales manager / director swooping in at this point to discuss financials and terms etc. Whilst there is some merit in this, in that you can play “good cop – bad cop” and keep the relationship good between the salesperson and client positive, it’s also a good idea to train your people in this stage also, as sometimes there may not be the help from senior management available. 

This usually comes down to negotiation, and key here is to be confident – but plan for every outcome. Have all your facts accurate and within reach. Build a plan, but have contingencies in place to deal with common sticking points such as payment terms, currency fluctuations and price fluctuations over time. The aim here has to be to walk away with the order – not the promise from the client that they “think about it and discuss with management”. If this is the case, you have failed in the steps above – because you are not talking to the budget holder or decision maker.  

Integrated sales training can assist sales personnel with:

  • Preparation and planning
  • Leading the client to a decision
  • Basics of negotiation
  • Dealing with aspects of the competition
  • Overcoming areas of concern or objections

Love them or hate them – sales people are the route to every companies market, and in todays’ super-efficient, multi-tasking world, lots of personnel within a company actually perform sales functions in their day to day tasking. Some organizations revere their sales force – I used to work for an Austrian company who placed the sales organization above all other and the only reserved car park lots belonged to the CEO and the sales team. Other companies consider them a necessary evil and an expense. 

The ability for a sales person to perform well in their function and generate profitable turnover clearly depends on a lot of personal traits such as determination, energy, charisma and ability for quick thinking. But I have met many very successful sales people who are analytical and methodical in their approach. As I suggested earlier – everyone is different, but arm your sale force with some basic skills and tools from a relevant sales training programme and it will be the best investment you’ll ever make. 

In my next blog I’m going to talk about some interesting experiences I had with a recent sale’s training programme we executed with a company in Singapore, including, the results, the impact and some feedback from the client. 

I hope this resonates with some of you – and please feel free to share your thoughts.  

Steve Johnson

Commercial Director

SAJE Pte Ltd


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