A sales training programme solves, the immediate problems of the organization, whereas development is concerned with the long-term perspective of an employee’s growth and success in the organization.
While training builds job-related meaning for the salesperson, development brings organization-related meaning.
Sales training programme is a programme which is developed in order to work towards achieving the set goals. It helps in getting the salesperson more motivated and willing to fulfil their objectives.
Various companies design different kinds of training programmes for its salesperson for them to be efficient and achieve their targets.
A sales manager is required to design a sales training programme for the sales force. The nature and type of training programme varies depending on the kind of sales staff to be trained.
For example, for the front line sales force, it is important to design a sales force training programme based on selling skills, whereas for a retail sales man, the programme has to be more focused on customer relationships and product or company knowledge.
Learn about:- 1. Introduction to Sales Training Programmes 2. Different Aspects of Sales Training Programmes 3. Time and Place Perspectives 4. Steps 5. Benefits 6. Methods 7. How to Measure Training Programme Effectiveness?
- Introduction to Sales Training Programmes
- Different Aspects of Sales Training Programmes
- Time and Place Perspectives of Sales Training Programmes
- Steps Taken by Sales Manager while Deciding on a Sales Training Programme
- Benefits of Sales Training Programmes
- Methods of Training Salesmen
- How to Measure Training Programme Effectiveness?
Sales Training Programs: Introduction, Aspects, Steps, Time and Place Perspective, Methods, Benefits and Effectiveness
Sales Training Programs – Introduction
A sales training programme solves, the immediate problems of the organization, whereas development is concerned with the long-term perspective of an employee’s growth and success in the organization. While training builds job-related meaning for the salesperson, development brings organization-related meaning.
Many companies devote much attention to the training of sales persons. Training for both new and experienced sales persons are considered as an important activity. The main purpose of sales training is improved job performance. In the absence of training, the quality of job performance tends to decrease with experience.
To the extent that training serves as a substitute for, or supplement to experience, training given to sales persons should reach higher job performance levels. If sales training succeeds in helping new sales persons to perform satisfactorily, the rate of turnover may decline, recruitment and selection costs will fall, and overall efficiency of the company especially of selling operations may increase.
New sales recruits need proper training and guidance to perform their jobs efficiently and thereby help the organization reach its coveted goals. A sales manager plays an important role in evaluating the training needs of the sales force and deciding on the kind of training a salesperson requires for achieving the organizational goals. A sales manager should exploit the talent of the new recruits and utilize their services with effective training for increasing their productivity and efficiency levels.
Similarly, the staff in a sales organization moves horizontally and vertically at different points in time and also needs retraining to adapt itself to the changing market conditions, additional job responsibility, and modified sales goals set for the employees from time to time.
Sales training should contribute to reducing costs by serving the customer through increasing the efficiency and skill level of the sales force. A successful sales training programme should also bring about behavioural changes among salespeople and motivate them to contribute towards the long-term goals of the organization.
A sales training programme should create a win-win situation for both the organization and the individual. The individual is benefited by training, which enables him to have a high call conversion ratio, apply effective time management, and ensure proper sales planning for the future. The organization is benefited by the low cost of serving the customers, a higher retention rate of both sales staff and customers, a higher chance of cross-selling of the products and services, and an increase in the top and bottom line of the organization.
Organizations these days spend more on the various aspects of sales training, starting from selling skills and relationship building to customer relationship management. This strategic focus to sales training is due to the fact that in a modern-day organization, when products and processes are turning less into a source of competitive advantage, a highly committed sales force can be used as competitive advantage.
Sales Training Programs – Different Aspects
Training the sales people is a significant part to achieve success for any organization.
Training, basically, covers the following:
i. Product knowledge.
ii. Company knowledge.
iii. Knowledge on customers.
iv. Knowledge on competition.
v. Sales techniques.
vi. Industry orientation.
vii. Management principles.
Now we will discuss all these aspects one by one.
Aspect # i. Product Knowledge:
Salespeople learn about the attributes of the product that they are supposed to sell, including its characteristics, core and tangible features, production techniques and technology, technical specifications of the product, strengths and weaknesses of the competitor’s products, product applications, customer benefits from the product use, selling features of the product, etc.
Disseminating product information is a significant part of the selling message. However deft the sales presentation could be, lack of product knowledge can prove the entire effort futile. Today many salespeople store product information on laptops or notebook computers that they carry for meetings with the customers. This makes it easy for them to demonstrate the details of the product without much oral presentation.
A salesperson is made aware of the corporate histories, mission, goals and objectives, organizational structure, policies, strategies and procedures as a whole. Salespeople need to learn the workings and goals of the marketing departments. Training is also imparted on human resource policies, delegation of duties, tasks of the marketing functions, sales histories of the company, promotional policies, compensation schemes, etc. Trainees are also instructed regarding whom to report, whom to guide and whom to contact, whenever they find problems.
Knowledge about company definitely helps them to share company-related information with others. This is important because in the present scenario, the customers such as – to know more and more about the company before they buy their product.
This is a crucial dimension which helps to attract customers, both prospective and present, towards the company’s products/services. A thorough knowledge about the customers is essential for the salespeople to work out their selling approaches and optimize their selling efforts.
The purpose here is to sensitize the participants about the critical aspects of understanding the customers. Collecting information about the customer’s name, addresses, and other demographic information, helps the salesperson in generating appropriate routing plans to meet them. In case these customers are organizations, knowing the details of the organizational demographics such as – the type of organization, registered office, buying authorities of the organization, purchase criteria, etc., should be kept in mind to plan a win-win situation.
Understanding the needs of the customers and the benefits they are looking forward to help in creating a step forward to building an appropriate conversation and rapport with them. It is always better for the salespeople to take a prior appointment with the prospective client. It gives a good impression.
After meeting the customer/client, the next important point to be kept in mind is to decide on the prospective procedure that could be used to sell to that particular group of customers. Understanding the personality of the customer along with identifying their ordering procedures, and order-closing procedures can help in building a lifelong relationship.
Also, it is always suitable for salespeople to do a proper follow up with the customers to make sure that they stay loyal to their company. Training programmes are designed to include making the salespeople aware about all these issues.
A salesperson should always know the products and services of the competitors, their prices, distribution schemes, promotional efforts, etc. They should be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of their products or services vis-a-vis that of the competitors. The more they are acquainted with the competitive offers, the more delicately they can establish superiority of their products. Also, it aids them to handle the competitive pressures easily and persuade the target customers not to switch over to the products of the competitors.
Salespeople should be aware of the important techniques to be used to be able to convert the prospects into customers. These are also needed to prolong the business with the existing customers. Through various training programmes, new sales recruits learn the art of prospecting, how to prepare before a sales presentation, knowing the techniques of the sales presentation, how to demonstrate product features and benefits, how to handle customer objections, how to close the sales, and how to build relations with customers.
Moreover, how to make cold calls, preparation of time scheduling for customers meetings, preparation of route plans in a way that helps salespeople to meet customers with less travelling costs and time, recognition of a selling situation, sequencing the sales procedures are considered vital for the salesperson to know to achieve greater success.
It helps the salespeople acquire knowledge about any industry and the nature of the demand of products/services that is to be sold. This information also includes factors affecting customer behaviour, general economic conditions of the industry, legal and ethical issues of buying and selling conditions, and competitive environment.
Technological development in related product or service field, innovations in sales force training and development, a brief idea about the size and location of the prospective and present customers, exposure to international market, if the company has any business or desires to foray in such markets in future, source of raw materials, information on suppliers, etc., are other types of information that can be shared.
In fact, the objective should also render that the salespeople are knowledgeable about the industry-oriented information. This helps them become more confident, make more elaborate discussions, and share profuse information with the customers.
Aspect # vii. Management Principles:
Salespeople are expected to be the future managers of the company. So, they should learn the general management principles on planning, organizing, directing, and controlling functions. During management of territories, they need to apply management techniques and take a decision for effectively handling the territories.
Besides, they also need to know the economic principles such as – demand estimation, market forecasting techniques, inventory policies, queuing methods, statistical methods such as – time series analysis, data analysis, etc., financial fundamentals such as – profitability ration, sales turn over ration, sales expense ratio, etc.
Contents of the training programme should include all of the above discussed points for it to run successfully. They also vary from company to company.
Sales Training Programs – Time and Place Perspectives
Sales training programme is a programme which is developed in order to work towards achieving the set goals. It helps in getting the salesperson more motivated and willing to fulfil their objectives. Various companies design different kinds of training programmes for its salesperson for them to be efficient and achieve their targets. The type of training programme to be used is dependent on the time and place of conducting the programme.
1. Length of the Training Programme:
The length of the training programme is an important decision area for the company. It principally depends upon the type of salesperson recruited (budding or moderately experienced salespeople); cost factor, urgency of selling situation, and availability of professional trainers. Generally, the company designs the training programme that runs from three months to one year depending on the management policy.
Commonly, sales recruits are subjected to interviews or written examinations from time to time during training to decide on the effectiveness of the programme. They may be asked to show audio-visual presentations on sales cases or projects having associations with the future job assignments. Getting assured of the results, the training programme is completed.
Location of the training programme depends on the company policy. The policy is guided by the availability of right infrastructure, financial supports, cost of the training programmes, efficient trainers, etc.
Generally, the company chooses any one from the following two training programmes from the locational standpoint:
i. Centralized training programme.
ii. Decentralized training programme.
iii. Combination of centralized and decentralized training.
i. Centralized Training Programme:
All salespeople are asked to report to one particular location, say, the organization itself, the manufacturing plants, hotels or training centres or institutes. Location of the training programme depends on the company policy. The policy is guided by the availability of infrastructure, financial resources, cost of the training programme, availability of professional and qualified trainers, etc. In a centralized location, it is expected that substantial training aids such as – spacious lecture rooms, instruction manuals, audio-visual aids, multimedia facilities are present.
This training is expensive as the company needs to arrange accommodation and transportation supports to the trainees. The advantage of such kind of training programme is that all the candidates are exposed to one training programme. So, they can be evaluated on common performance criteria. Audio-visual methods can present some simulated sales presentations. New recruits can listen to the experiences of successful salespeople, sales demonstration, etc.
ii. Decentralized Training Programme:
This kind of a training programme is held in regional or field sales offices. Thrusts are given on ‘on-the-job training’, seminars, providing training instruction manuals to trainees. Field sales training widely uses decentralized training where trainees are sent to sales territories and training is given by field sales or territory managers during actual sales operations. Here, training methods are highly customized to suit the requirements of the territories.
This kind of training is less expensive because the regional or branch office conducts the training programme with lesser number of sales trainees. More scope of close interaction between the trainees and trainers is possible. But this has a number of disadvantages as well. First, the company may find it difficult to control the training programmes held in different locations.
Second, the quality of the training programme may not be high because sales supervisors are busy with their work pressures. Third, differences in training-learning methods are obstacles to generate equally productive salespeople. Fourth, training expenses vary from one location to the other.
iii. Combination of Centralized and Decentralized Training Programmes:
The best training programme is the one where centralized training equips the salespeople in-house to know the production process, R&D activities, human resource policies, organizational structure, etc. After completion of ‘in-plant training’, the sales recruits are sent to regional or branch offices to conduct ‘on-the-job training’ or ‘field training’. In-house training provides a detailed knowledge and understanding of the selling job.
They also learn the relations between sales jobs and sales performances. Furthermore, ‘in-house training’ develops knowledge and skills of the salespeople and helps them to socialize with the organizational culture. Field training teaches them the application of knowledge and they get the opportunity to apply these skills which they have acquired during centralized training.
Sales Training Programs – Steps Taken by Sales Manager while Deciding on a Sales Training Program (With Phases)
A sales manager is required to design a sales training programme for the sales force. The nature and type of training programme varies depending on the kind of sales staff to be trained. For example, for the front line sales force, it is important to design a sales force training programme based on selling skills, whereas for a retail sales man, the programme has to be more focused on customer relationships and product or company knowledge.
A formal training programme also helps the sales manager in planning and controlling the job of the sales force and grooming them to do the job they desire. Training is an expensive exercise and hence has to be carefully planned and effectively measured in significant terms.
There are seven steps that a sales manager has to take while deciding on a training programme:
This is the first step in the planning process for any sales training programme. The general objectives of a training programme can be explained in specific, objective-oriented statements and objectives by the sales manager. The process of deciding on training objectives originates from the need-gap analysis conducted in the organization for identifying training gaps.
The managers consider different factors such as the type of training programme and the nature of the programme before deciding on the training objectives.
Training programmes are classified into two broad groups, initial and retraining programmes. In the initial training programme, the factors taken into account include job specifications, the background of the candidate, and the company’s sales and marketing policies. Job specification describes the qualifications needed to do the job and helps the manager to identify the clues necessary for training the new sales staff.
Similarly, the trainee’s background and experience on the job also helps in identifying the degree to which training is needed by a salesperson. If the person is changing the organization, he may need less training on basic selling skills, whereas if he is a new recruit, he may need a rigorous training programme for the sales function. Programmes can also be made flexible by looking at the individual’s experience to give him more satisfaction and a new meaning to his job.
The sales manager needs to analyse the sales and marketing policies of the firm, which will help the firm in finding out what kind of sales aptitude is desirable for the training programme. In identifying the continuous training needs, the sales manager should try to find out the basic changes in products and markets, which give rise to training needs. For example, when a firm is either entering into a new market or launching a new product, the sales force needs to be retrained for new market situations.
The next important step in planning for a training programme is to decide on the content of the programme. The topics of the programme will vary from one organization to another. The possibilities for including topics for training are endless and can include every aspect of the job, organization, information technology, and the industry in which a salesperson has to function.
The broad categorization of topics can also be done on the basis of the behavioural and skill expectation of the salesperson. The content can be divided as per topics such as socialization, selling techniques, knowledge required for the job, and proficiency.
One of the important issues for a successful training programme is the content of the programme. Though the content is developed in the need assessment stage, the sales trainer has to take utmost care in selecting the training content for an effective sales training programme.
While the initial training programme provides instructions covering all aspects of the job, the continuing sales programme concentrates on one specific aspect of the sales knowledge, as the information is already available in the market. In the case of complex industrial products or software marketing, the salesperson needs to know everything about the products. Training provides them skills necessary to appreciate the buyers’ view point when selling the products.
Many companies with high-tech products and services provide training at the factory site or development centre (for IT companies) to salespeople to fully appreciate the design, testing, and the performance of the product or service in the market.
The trainee becomes a part of the design, testing, and application exercise of the team so that his product knowledge is enhanced from the stage of inception to the manufacturing and use of the product. Salespeople should also know about the competitors’ products and their applications.
They need to understand the strengths, weaknesses, and differential advantages of the competitors’ products in order to handle customer objections and arguments. They can structure their sales presentation to emphasize the superior feature of their products and the weaknesses of the-competitors’ products.
The next component of the sales training programme is sales technique. Sales theorists are of the opinion that if a company carefully selects personnel and gives them product training, it is sufficient for sales success. However, modern-day selling involves the application of structured and scientifically designed techniques to execute sales and a salesperson needs to orient himself with all selling techniques.
The selling situations and type of customers in a company do not remain the same in all situations. For example, the methods followed to manage dealer accounts in the form of order receipts, billing, and managing expense budgets varies from market to market.
A salesperson needs training in various areas. These include techniques on obtaining collections from dealers, managing sales inventory, methods of communicating sales performance through class reports, and providing information inputs about customers and potential buyers across production, marketing, and other departments.
Training in selling techniques also includes the application of the strategies to displace the competitors and acquire a larger market share with new products. It is also necessary to understand how to sell mature products in a declining market and harvest as much profit as possible till replacements are made available. The salesperson also needs training on territory management, call planning, travel scheduling, and routing.
He needs to get trained in various relationship marketing strategies for the purpose of cross- selling new products of the company as well as increase the sale of high-priced products to the same set of loyal customers. This would also help the company make larger profits with a set of brand loyal customers.
In emerging areas such as IT, business process outsourcing, and high-technology products, the type of customer and the method and unit of buying are different from those of a traditional B2B buying situation.
So salespeople in emerging industries need special training on selling techniques that demand the understanding of newer methods of selling of technology products and services. The salespeople need training for working in large multinational companies in the global sales operation, as well as in the smaller and highly competitive domestic markets.
The salespeople also need training in market knowledge whereby they become knowledgeable enough about the competitive and regulatory landscape in which they have to do business. They should know about the customers, locations, choice of product categories by customers, and their behavioural patterns.
The understanding of consumer behaviour is a must for smooth selling. While designing the content of the training programme, therefore, the sales manager should include issues related to the behaviour of the customers in the market that the salesperson is likely to face while dealing with the customers.
While planning a sales training programme, a sales manager should decide about the content to be delivered to the trainees during the programme. The content of the programme varies from one organization to another, as also from one level to another in the sales management hierarchy, depending on the needs of the organization.
Broadly, the sales training programme should cover selling, listening, communication, bargaining, negotiation, interpersonal, and motivation skills. The training programme can also cover the selling process where a salesperson is trained on lead generation, prospecting to the customer, complaint management, and closing of a sale. It should also cover issues related to account management and relationship selling.
Every customer interaction should be seen as an opportunity for sales and for building a long-term relationship for the firm. Salespeople also need to track learning over a period of time and observe the evolving demand pattern of the customers while serving them. The training programme should also carry issues related to sales ethics and how a salesperson practices them in the market, when dealing with customers.
The bulk of the contents of the training programme cover the key knowledge deliverables in the form of the information about the company and its products, competitors and products, and the market (structure, rules, and regulations). Company knowledge covers the detailed history of the organization and how it has evolved over time, as also the vision and mission of the organization.
Product knowledge also includes composition information about the raw material and work processes, and the features, advantages, and benefits (FABs) of the product. The training level of product knowledge is intense when the company’s product is complex and has higher technical sophistication. New salespeople need to have a deep understanding of the product as they have to sell the same to the customers in the market.
The salespeople need to understand the competitors’ product. They should learn the differential advantages and disadvantages of the product against the competitor in order to have a string of sales pitches against the competitor. This part involves the evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of the firm in relation to the competitors.
The training programme should also cover information about the structure of the market as it determines the type and level of competition and the relative standing of key competitors in terms of market share and coverage and the profitability of the firm.
The customer’s method of buying, evaluation parameters used by customers, and the profile of the customer who does the buying are other factors included in a training programme. Unless the new salesperson has a working knowledge about the customer base, it is very difficult for the salesperson to establish a relationship-selling approach with the customers.
Many organizations give proper training to their employees on customer orientation and behaviour, and on decision making patterns in both consumer and business markets.
Proficiency training helps the trainees to become efficient in general selling and support skills through the use of seminars, conferences, and workshops. A company such as Larsen and Toubro, for example, imparts training to its employees on installation, consultative selling, cost-probing skills, and time management, so that they can effectively utilize their selling time and get a higher sales conversion ratio in the face of competition.
Time management is a key indicator of success and achievement of sales targets. Impression management revolves around the way people manipulate and use their tone of voice, communication, speech craft, facial expressions, and appearance in order to create an impression in the minds of the consumers.
Though the most effective method of communication is the verbal mode in sales, non-verbal communication and body language speaks volume about a salesperson’s confidence in handling a customer and in closing a sale. Both buyers and sellers use impression management to communicate the information and the image of the company.
Sales training programme aimed at improving the proficiency of the salespeople cover issues related to impression management. The software major Hughes, for example, imparts around 50 hours of creative training to its software employees every year so that they can extend their creativity on to their jobs.
Excessive stress can lead to a below par performance and affect both the top and bottom line of the organization. In a global marketing company, the salespeople are imparted cross training, which is defined as a fundamental immersion into the culture of another country.
Here, one part of the training programme is conducted in the home country and the other in the host country, and covers issues related to living conditions, cultural norms and taboos, customer behaviour of the host country, and the nature of competition in the host country.
The programme covers the value of consumption diversity and the process of development of cultural literacy in the country. Cross-training also covers the process of incorporation of cultural diversity into the organization and work environment, the examination of the issues in the global context, and how individuals mature and develop in a multicultural context.
The location of the training programme is an important factor as it affects the learning of the trainees and also the content of the programme. The location of the training programme is either centralized or decentralized. In a centralized approach, all the employees are trained at the same location. Infosys, for example, has set up its leadership centre at Madurai and trains people on leadership.
Companies have a national training centre where all or most of the training programmes are conducted. The State Bank of India, the largest bank in India, has its training facility at Hyderabad. This approach helps the sales organization to centralize all its resources and facilities in one centre, reduce costs of training, and increase the effectiveness of the training programme.
The two primary forms of centralized training are national training centres and satellite centres. Satellite centres are smaller versions of national training centres, normally located at the state headquarters of the organization. An organization may have a number of satellite training centres where people from specific zones can come and participate in the training programme. If the organization is large and has a national spread in the market, the centralized training is the best method of training.
Decentralized training occurs at different locations and at different points of time. In this format, the trainees are closer to their work location. The decentralized training programme can be conducted in any of the three ways, namely the local office, off site, and the customer internship programme.
The local office training programmes cover the basic training. The effectiveness of the training programme depends of the performance and abilities of the local sales manager. These types of training programmes are of a shorter duration and much of the training is done on the job. Off-site training programmes are conducted at a non-company location for new employees.
Many organizations hire training consultants and conduct training programmes at the trainer’s site. Sales organizations also conduct training programmes at remote locations for their sales staff. Customer internship programmes are provided at the client’s site. Many information technology companies, such as Mindtree Consulting and Satyam Computers, provide training to their staff at the client site by appointing an experienced person who understands the nature and type of customer problems and knows how to handle them by seeing and assisting the senior managers at the client’s place.
The last step in the planning process for a sales training programme is the decision to evaluate the training programme. The need of a sales training programme arises out of the study of the training need of the organization. A need gap analysis is then conducted to help setting the training objectives. The training objectives aid in identifying the methods to evaluate the effectiveness of the training programme.
If there is an enhancement in the performance of the employees and it contributes to both the top and bottom line of the company, it can be said that training has yielded a return on the investment made on the training programme. Changes in the observable behaviour of the sales staff and the level of motivation decide the effectiveness of the sales training programme.
A sales manager should decide the effectiveness measures more objectively as the assessment of a programme is critical. An assessment of the training programme indicates whether or not it should continue or if it needs further modifications for increasing its effectiveness.
Some Other Phases of Sales Training Programmes
A sales manager has to design a training programme that will help in improving the skill and efficiency levels of the sales force. For the purpose of the optimum benefit to the organization, the sales training programme should be designed by following a scientifically planned and designed process. The training process consists of three phases namely, the training need assessment and development, conduct of training programme, and the evaluation stage.
The sales manager should first identify the training need of both the salesperson and the organization. The training need assessment not only identifies the deficiencies among salespeople that need immediate attention, but also helps the sales manager to ascertain the content and method of training to be imparted to sales personnel. The final stage in an effective training programme is the effectiveness evaluation phase.
In many large sales organizations such as Hindustan Unilever, Eureka Forbes, Life Insurance Corporation, ICICI Bank, and Procter and Gamble, the sales manager works jointly with respective human resource managers in areas such as training need assessment, design of training programmes, and design of training evaluation techniques.
Sales managers also hire external consultants to conduct the training need assessment survey and design the sales training programmes in organizations. After the completion of the training programme, the sales officers collect information about the performance of the trainees and the effectiveness of the training programme.
i. Training Need Assessment Phase:
In the first stage of the training process, a sales organization conducts the training need assessment. The input information for the design of a relevant training programme is obtained at this stage. The need assessment phase is conducted at three levels of analysis namely, the organizational, task, and individual levels. The purpose of this phase is to determine whether or not there is a need for training and the kind of information needed to design a training programme.
In organizational level analysis, the first stage of analysis, a sales manager evaluates the macro issues such as the organization’s structure, culture, mission, business climate, and long-term and short-term goals. The sales manager identifies the organizational needs for training and the level and type of support from the organization for conducting training programmes to fill the training gap.
Organizational analysis provides strategic information on the organization’s resource commitment to support the programme. Organizational analysis also provides information on the level of acceptance of innovation in work processes, which helps in determining whether or not to provide training to the sales force and the kind of training for the sales staff.
After conducting organizational analysis, the sales manager needs to conduct the task level analysis, which examines the sales job to be performed at different levels in the sales organization. Task analysis focuses on all the functions and jobs in the sales department and determines which one of them needs the attention of the training programme.
A suitable task analysis helps to provide the information needed to understand job requirements. Next, the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) are identified and information from these are used to determine the type of training required by the sales department in the organization.
Personal or individual level analysis helps to determine all those salespeople who need to undergo the training programme. This is done by assessing the performance of the sales staff. Whenever there is a discrepancy between a salesperson’s actual performance and the expectation of the company, the sales manager should plan a training programme. A routine collection of performance ratings of salespeople helps to identify employees with lower ratings. These employees can be trained for performance improvement.
A sales supervisor is the most important source of such information, but the sales staff can also be asked to do a self-appraisal. The information about the salespersons can also be collected from the peers. The problems in performance can be addressed by training all those that come under the trainee’s control. Since training aims at changing a salesperson, it can be effective only when the salesperson himself is the source of the problem.
The gap in performance can occur not only in hard areas such as KSAs but also in soft areas such as team working behaviour, interpersonal communication, and conformity to sales group norms, where salespeople also need training to bring about corrections. All performance deficiencies may not need training and in some cases it may lead to harsh measures, such as termination arid transfer, which can affect the morale and commitment level of the sales force.
The assessment phase should lead to the identification of the objectives of the training programme. Each objective must relate to one or more KSAs identified in the analysis, and should be precise, challenging, and achievable. The objective should also have clarity so that it is understood by all.
The objectives of the training programme should be expressed in behavioural terms and the criteria for testing the training programme’s effectiveness should come directly out of these objectives. The overall objectives of training can be broken into specific aspects of job performance for which the training goal can be developed.
Take the example of training assessment of Glenmark Limited, a leading pharmaceutical company. From the study of the field sales force behaviour of doctors, retailers, and peers, it was observed that there was a high level of interpersonal sensitivity among the field sales force. Thus, the overall objective of the training programme was to improve the level of interpersonal sensitivity. The specific content dimension of the training programme included the improvement of listening and feedback skills of the sales staff.
The behavioural objectives of improving listening skills included the summarization of key points of the action plan by the supervisor, at the end of discussion. The behavioural objectives of feedback skills included addressing the issues raised during the discussion in concrete terms, where the supervisor attacked the problem and not the person who did the job. The supervisor then provided feedback on this in a timely manner.
According to Berliner and McLarney (1970), the discovery of the training need involves five tasks as discussed in the following text:
1. Listing the duties, responsibilities, or tasks of the job under consideration on the basis of the job description guide
2. Listing the standards of work performance related to the job
3. Comparing the actual performance against standards
4. Determining the part of the job that creates a problematic environment for the salesperson and whether or not he is performing the job, as per the standards
5. Determining the kind of training needed to overcome specific difficulties and problems. The first two steps are part of the task description analysis and identify the training needs of the job requirement. Steps 3, 4, and 5 involve the determination of job-related training needs.
2. Designing and Conduct Phase:
After the assessment of the training need, the sales manager plans for the designing and conduct phase. Here, the training programme is so designed that it is related to the organization’s needs or problems. The programme brings more efficiency to the functioning of the sales force.
There are different kinds of sales training programmes, which are planned to improve the skill, sales performance, and the motivation level of the sales force in an organization. Broadly, the training approaches vary by location, presentation, and type.
3. Evaluation Phase:
This is the last stage in the training process where the effectiveness of the training programme is assessed. The effectiveness of a training programme is measured either in monetary or nonmonetary terms. The criterion by which the assessment is done reflects the needs for which the programme was designed.
For example, a training programme is designed to improve selling skills and can be measured by analysing the increase in the call conversion ratio of a salesperson. The training programme is also designed to increase the sales performance of salespeople in the territory where they are working.
The evaluation processes in organizations are the most neglected since despite investing resources in training programmes, the returns on this investment are not measured. It is very difficult to collect and analyse data about the effectiveness of training programmes in bringing about either immediate or long-term changes.
In this regard, measurement of costs and benefits will enable the top management to realize the advantages of sales training and accordingly help them decide on whether or not to sustain the training programme on a long-term basis.
The approaches followed by the trainer to measure the effectiveness of the training programme include the collection of ratings by both the trainee and the trainer in every training programme. Companies also conduct a test before and after the training programme to test the effectiveness of the programme.
Depending on these, the management has to decide whether or not training has been effective. The best opportunity for training in the organization is when a new sales force joins the organization. Sales managers can provide an orientation to new recruits, wherein the new salespersons are told about what is expected from them in the job and are helped to cope with the stress of transition.
Orientation will provide the new workers with the tools to manage and control their own level of stress in a new surroundings. Orientation is the process of informing new employees about the organization’s expectations from them and how the organization will help them in arriving at those expectations.
Information collected from the training programme provides key insights and is used by the sales managers in redesigning the programme. The effectiveness of a training programme can be measured by measuring certain parameters.
These include reaction (Evaluate the trainee’s reaction to the programme.), learning (Did the trainee learn the skills and facts that the sales manager wants him to learn?), behaviour (Whether the trainee’s behaviour on the job has changed?), and results (What final results have been achieved and how he learned to work on the field?).
Sales Training Programs – Salient Benefits of Well-Planned Sales Training Program
Sales training imparts many benefits to the salespeople and the firm. This is possible only when the training programme rightly identifies the training needs and the firm designs a suitable programme to respond to it.
The following list furnishes the salient benefits of a well-planned training programme:
1. It hones the right knowledge, skill, attitude amongst salespeople necessary to accomplish sales and bring in an improved sales performance.
2. It helps to develop the functions and activities in the selling jobs.
3. It helps to develop objectivity in the thinking process of a salesperson and nurture an analytical mind on the observed phenomena.
4. It tutors them to balance their time, effort, and money while planning and executing a sales operation.
5. It educates the salespeople on how to inform the customers about the product/service features, benefits, and usages.
6. It teaches them the language of competition and how it may affect the company.
7. It inducts a sense of competitiveness, spirit and vigour amongst salespeople so that they remain steady in awkward selling situations, such as – a sudden loss of genuine customers to a competitor.
8. It motivates them to work hard and counsels them to be self-starters in the absence of any supervision.
9. It encourages them not to break any tie with the company.
10. It inculcates flair of managerial task and responsibility amongst future sales managers.
Sales Training Programs – Methods of Training Salesmen
There are different methods of imparting training. Some training methods are meant for experienced people and others for training new salesmen. The company should adopt those methods which are most suitable for the trainees. There may be on-the-job training, vestibule school, apprenticeship training, special courses, conferences and seminars, case discussions and other methods of training.
i. On-the-Job Training:
Salesmen are placed under the supervision of an experienced senior salesman who guides them at every stage of their training. Fresh entrants are expected to work under normal conditions. The experienced salesman tells them how to deal with customers. Problems are exposed to the new entrants who are asked to solve them.
The trainer explains the shortcomings of the trainees. The main purpose of this method is demonstration of the work, observation of the job performed by salesmen and how improvements may be effected in performance. If the trainer and the trainees take this method seriously, the latter would benefit enormously.
The underlying principles of this method are co-operation, sympathy, instruction and mutual assistance. On-the-job training is a method of learning by doing under expert supervision.
ii. Vestibule School:
There are some specialised institutions and schools which impart training to new as well as established salesmen. These institutions impart theoretical and practical knowledge of salesmanship. Management institutes, marketing institutes, universities and professional institutes provide training in salesmanship to new as well as old salesmen.
These institutions provide training in all the areas of management, viz., marketing, production, personnel and finance. Recently, many big enterprises have developed their own training institutes which impart training to their new recruits and also to the employees of other companies.
Apprenticeship has been considered an important method of training. Apprentices are not employees of the organisation. They are given theoretical and practical insights into the discipline of salesmanship. They are trained to accept the job on agreement. Apprentices may be absorbed in the organisation after their training. Many large organisations provide apprenticeship training on a regular basis.
iv. Special Courses:
The salesmen can be offered special courses to acquire an in-depth knowledge of salesmanship. Since many cannot attend class-room lectures and training provided by management institutions, correspondence courses may be more suitable for them. They may be used as initial training programmes or as interim training courses to employed salesmen.
Correspondence courses are provided by several educational and private institutions. These courses may not be very effective because salesmen cannot find adequate time to read the lessons and submit the assignments given to them. Those who cannot attend regular courses may find correspondence courses very useful because they can complete their training while they earn their livelihood.
The organisation should select only those educational institutions which are well known or which have government recognition. Private and sub-standard institutions should never be selected for the training of salesmen.
v. Conferences and Seminars:
The existing salesmen may be given training by permitting them to attend conferences and seminars. At marketing conferences, several sales problems and solving techniques are discussed. Salesmen may place their own problems before the seminar which can provide suitable solutions therefor. Conferences and seminars are very useful because they discuss the latest techniques of solving problems.
vi. Case Discussion Method:
The case discussion method is very effective because individual cases and problems are discussed between seminar executives and salesmen. Before discussing the actual cases, some hypothetical cases are framed and discussed at a higher level. The discussion is designed to involve all the salesmen with a view to finding suitable solutions. Sales trainees should identify the problems and choose specific solutions from among the different alternatives available to them.
vii. Other Methods:
Sales trainees may be trained with the adoption of the role playing method, brain storming method or round table method. The role playing method involves salesmen to act in contrived problem situations. The trainer observes how the trainees are behaving with traders and consumers. He suggests improvements in their performance.
The brain storming method involves discussion of a problem without contradicting the arguments of other participants. In the circumstances, it is possible that they may not arrive at a final decision but their discussion may uncover some new dimensions of solutions to their problems. The roundtable method involves the discussion among all the trainees who try to improve their performance. The trainees are given an idea of the role to be performed by them as successful salesmen.
Sales Training Programs – How to Measure Training Program Effectiveness? (With Different Techniques)
A sales training programme has three important considerations to be kept in mind. These are monetary investment, time value of training, and magnitude of the training programme.
A return (outcomes) on investment on the training programme is the index of the monetary involvement. This can be studied by comparing the expected outcomes (say, the desired sales turnover for the first six months immediately after training) with actual sales performance. The sales turnover ratio is calculated to understand the return on investment.
The time value of training determines if the required change in knowledge and skill has been inducted within a fixed time period in a sales trainees or not. Time investment should be coupled with cost control to maximize value additions during training.
The magnitude of sales training programme encompasses the right training procedures and methods to become compatible with time limits and investment in training. Before setting an evaluation programme, four important questions are asked.
These are the following:
i. What to measure? (e.g., communication efficiency)
ii. How to measure? (e.g., interviewing the participants)
iii. When to measure? (e.g., in the midst of the training programme or during on the job)
iv. What conclusions to be drawn? This is vital because based on the reports of training; the company takes a decision on how to engage salespeople in the sales operations.
Kirkpatrick (1994) discussed the following four categories of training effectiveness measures.
These are the following:
Reactions search for whether the training objectives are fulfilled in terms of lessons learnt. These can be better studied by interviewing the trainees or instructing them to fill in questionnaires specially designed for the purpose of evaluation.
Learning involves testing the sales trainees to know how much have they acquired from the training programmes. In other words, how much knowledge, skill and aptitude they have developed or absorbed from the training programmes. The measurement of success factors (the features which the trainee has acquired) say, job knowledge prior to the beginning of the training programme and after the training programme gives an indication of what has been counselled.
Behaviour means the outcome of the training programme that can be best judged by the changes in the behaviour of the trainee due to the training programme. The change in the behaviour can be judged from the job performance indexes. The sales supervisor can notice and bring to attention the change that can be seen in the behaviour of the trainee. Sometimes, customers also impart information on the behavioural changes of the salespeople. Information on these is helpful to appraise the effectiveness of the training programmes.
Results refer to whether the training programmes have improved the performance or not, based on some realistic measures of sales performance. Companies can, again, compare training outcomes against costs and checks whether the outcome surpasses their costs or not.
Results are reflected through sales, profits, customers satisfactions, number of complaints received from the customers, customer retentions, customer relations, number of new customers developed, etc. These results are tracked down for a time period (usually one year) after the training programme to develop a better training module for the next year.
The evaluation step focuses upon measuring the effectiveness of the training programmes. Measuring the sales training effectiveness is a difficult task. The starting point is to compare the aims of the programme with results, but the accurate measurement is difficult. The results, such as improved selling performances may not show until the months later.
The different techniques apply to measure effectiveness of sales training includes:
(1) Against standards of trained and untrained – The performance against standards of trained and untrained sales personnel can easily measure, by keeping sales records on a before-and-after training base to market share percentages.
(2) Method of written tests – Some companies use the method of written tests (on before and after training basis) to determine how much trainees have learned in amount and depth of product knowledge.
(3) Report through observers – Some firms send observers to work with sales personnel who have completed training programmes and to report the extent to which trainees are applying what was taught in the training programmes.
(4) Solicitation of customers – Other firms solicit customers for their reactions to a salesperson’s performance after training.
(5) Other methods (Role playing, panels and discussion) – Trainers in some companies rate each trainee’s performance in role playing, panels and other discussion. These are subjective rating and provide learning incentives. The practice of trainees to rate each other’s performances either in each session or in the total programme, is practicing at present.
This may stimulate trainers to improve their effectiveness. The effective sales training also assists sales management in discharging its social responsibility for controlling marketing cots. A company’s position in its industry is determined by the performance of its sales personnel. Skillfully designed and executed sales training programmes have potentials for helping sales personnel to achieve effective job performance.