In this article we will discuss about sales training. Learn about:- 1. Introduction to Sales Training 2. Theory of Sales Training 3. Program 4. Types 5. Methods and Techniques 6. Designing of Sales Training Programs.
Sales Training: Theory, Programs, Types and Methods
Introduction to Sales Training:
New recruits who join an organization require proper training and guidance to perform their jobs efficiently. Training is also required by the existing, sales force from time to time to upgrade their skill sets. Involving the sales staff in training programs is a way to make them understand that they are needed by the organization and the organization has every interest to invest in their wellbeing and development.
A sales manager needs to explore the talent of new recruits and utilize their services with effective training for increasing their productivity and efficiency levels. Sales training has been found to reduce overall costs of a sales organization by increasing the efficiency and skills of the sales force.
Sales training programs are to be perceived as a ‘win-win’ situation event between organization and the individual. Sales organizations today have been to found to invest in various sales training programs on selling skills, relationship selling and customer relationship management.
The training programs are to provide the sales force with specific skills for performing their tasks in a better way. Sales training programs have often been found to address the immediate problems of an organization. Training programs have been found to trigger better performance among the present workforce.
Training programs are actually based on the process of learning a sequence of programmed behavior so that an employee can perform his/her functions smoothly and at a level desired by the organization. It is thus a process of making people aware about the desired way of functioning in an organization.
Such programs are aimed at improving the quality of job performance, enabling a company fulfill its manpower requirements along with improving the working climate of an organization. Sales training helps executives in their personal career growth and is based on the ability and intent of a trainee to learn the skill and concept imparted through a training program.
It has been observed that when application of acquired behavior through training leads to desired performance, there is greater chance of the desired behavior to be reinforced within an organization. Such training programs that are aimed at altering the values, beliefs and attitudes of trainees are found to seek greater participation from employees.
The training tools and methods should be such that they can be easily learnt and applied in the context of job, organization and the market. Employees are interested to have training so that they can improve their performances on their jobs. Training helps to develop suitable response reinforcement.
Before any training program, the trainer needs to provide a suitable overview of the same which helps the trainee to analyze and understand that how each segment of the training program will help the trainee to improve on his job. Materials for the training program should be arranged logically and should have proper visual aids for the trainee to understand and imbibe the content of the training program in an easy way.
There are different types of training programs. Any successful training program should take into account three aspects viz. cognitive, affective and the sensory motor components of behavior. The knowledge universe of the sales person should be suitably enriched through the training programs so that they are better equipped to face the markets they are operating in.
The trainer plays a defining role in any training program. Often training programs in sales are conducted both on and off the field and hence the success of the training program has lots to do with the ability, skill and motivation of the trainer. In many organizations, where investments are made on continuous training of sales executives, it is mostly the sales managers who have the additional responsibility of being the trainer.
These sales managers keep a tab of the recent changes in the market, new product launches, new competitor moves and conduct training sessions where they brief their sales team about the latest events and also share their inputs of how to conduct in the changing market scenario.
The contents of a sales training program are designed either by the sales manager or by any designated authority whose job is to improve the skill and efficiency levels of the sales people. Sales training programs need to be suitably designed and executed so that this allows an organization to seek optimal benefit out of the exercise.
What sort of training is required by the employees and the organization has to be figured out properly before designing any such program. Certain deficiencies in sales people need to be correctly identified based on which a training program can be designed.
Also the criticality of the deficiency is another aspect to look into based on which the trainer has to ascertain the content and method of training. All training programs are followed by an evaluation phase where the outcome of the training is evaluated by understanding how much change has come about in the sales people post training.
There are three basic components of any sales training program viz. – designing the training program, implementing the training program and evaluating the training program. Designing will include understanding the objectives of the training, reviewing the sales activities of the organization, identifying the target audience for the training program, understanding their training needs and finally determining the duration of the training program.
Implementation of the training program will be concerned with selecting an appropriate trainer for the program along with identifying the timing of the training and the venue of the training. Timing of the training might have to do the product life cycle of the product being sold or an alteration in the market position of the company while place of training might be on the site or in house.
Any training program is followed by an evaluation where the reactions of the sales people being trained is measured along with analyzing how much knowledge have they imbibed from the training program. It also needs to be understood over here that how much an organization will be benefited by way of the training program and what sort of a change in behavior can be expected after the training.
Any training process comprises of three basic phases viz. training need assessment phase, conduct of training program and evaluation phase. A sales organization conducts training need assessment to gain input information for the designing of relevant training program. The need assessment phase is carried out at three levels viz. organizational level, task level and individual level.
Organizational level analysis is the first stage of analysis where a sales manager is found to evaluate the macro environment in which his organization is existing. The sales manager attempts at identifying the organizational needs for training and the nature of support required for the training program. The analysis provides information on the level of acceptance of innovation in work processes.
The next level of analysis is at the task level that examines the sales job performed at various levels in the organization. Task analysis has to do with focusing on all the functions and jobs in the sales department. Any suitable task analysis help to provide the information needed to understand job requirements.
The personal level analysis helps in determining all those sales people who have a need to undergo training. This is done by evaluating the performance of the sales staff. Routine collection of performance ratings of sales people helps identifying sales people with either higher or lower rating. The assessment phase will lead to identification of the objectives of the training. The objectives need to be clearly defined.
Training needs for sales people are identified in the following ways:
1. Identification of specific problems
2. Anticipating immediate and future problems
3. Management requests
4. Interviewing and observing personnel on the job
5. Performance appraisal
6. Questionnaire survey
8. Attitude survey
9. Interpersonal skill set
After assessing training needs, sales managers are found to plan for the design and conduct phase. The training approach is planned over here to improve the skills, sales performance and motivation of the sale staff. The training approaches have been found to vary by location, presentation and type.
Sales training is conducted both on and off the field. In the case of on-the job training, sales people are encouraged to work under the supervision of a sales supervisor in a practical work setting.
One of the methods of on the job sales training is job rotation that has been found to allow sales people to gather experience in various territories of the market. The expenditure involved in taking employees out of the work environment and the cost of hiring expert trainers are not incurred on the job training.
As far as presentation options are concerned, a trainer has been found to use a variety of options in the form of slides, videos, simulations etc. especially when training is conducted in house. There are sales managers who use slides and videos during training as they provide consistent information apart from arousing interest and thoughts in the participants.
Innovative use of technology is often observed in contemporary times during sales training programs as in such cases, learning happens much easier and effectively and at a comfortable and customized pace. Computer based training programs are highly flexible and it offers standard module and offers material regardless of the instructor, audience and place.
Computer based training programs are self-sufficient and do not require the intervention of supervisors during the learning process apart from offering flexibility of learning. However for computer based training programs, a company needs to have adequate number of computers and requires proper quality of content.
The simulation techniques of training are devices or solutions that are found to replicate the sales job demands in house. The technique offers trainees practical situations to encounter and act and they are evaluated based on their interactions during the training program.
The evaluation phase is the last phase of the training process. Over here, the effectiveness of training program is measured either in monetary or in non-monetary terms. The criteria for evaluation are dependent on the need for which the program was designed.
Often in sales organizations, training programs are conducted but their evaluation is not done. In other words, the return on investments made is not checked which often disallows a company to understand the outcome of a training program. Measurement of costs and benefits enable the top management to realize the advantage of sales training program.
There are various approaches to training new recruits in sales organizations that include skills and retraining, team building, creativity and literacy training. Every training type has certain definite goals to achieve and the training type is proposed based on the skill sets, strengths and weaknesses of the people to be trained. The criteria for the evaluation of training program are linked to objectives.
There are various organization design training programs for improving customer handling, listening, presentation and inter personal skills of the sale force. There are certain retraining programs that enable people to take up new assignments and also motivate people to take up additional responsibilities in organizations.
Let’s now discuss some of the various training programs in the context of sales management:
1. Cross Functional Training:
This type of training is a form of job enrichment exercise where employees are trained to perform activities and functions other than their core job responsibilities. There are various ways in which cross functional training can be imparted to people in sales organizations.
Job rotation is one method where people are shifted from one job to another within a territory or are rotated between territories. In cross functional training, there are certain peer trainers who are high performing workers and play the role of internal job trainers concerned with the cause of raising the effectiveness of sales workers.
Sales force adaptability is a sign of flexibility in organization and while training coworkers, sales people should be given a chance to clarify their problems and should be learning how to approach their job more effectively.
2. Team Training:
This type of training is often a requirement in case of B2B selling and high technology product selling. In any organization where a sales has to be done through a team, training programs need to be conducted around teams. Such training programs are found to inculcate both personal and inter personal skills apart from encouraging respect for other team members.
Team training programs should focus on both communication and listening. These training programs are also aimed at giving importance to the individuality of a person within a team. Every person will work for the team but then they should have their distinct identity and recognition.
3. Creativity Training:
This type of training is aimed at encouraging the creativity and innovation in sales people so that they are able to counter the rapidly changing market dynamics. Brainstorming is an approach of creativity training. The generation and development of creative solutions need the support of suitable organizational environment.
The basic assumption of creativity training programs is that creativity is something that can be learnt which can then be applied to solve complex problems smoothly. Brainstorming, the approach to creativity training that has just been mentioned is where participants are found to generate ideas without any fear of judgment that allows for the propagation of a number of ideas based on cost and feasibility.
The better ones among these are shortlisted for further consideration. Outcomes of creativity training programs is difficult to measure and hence lot of thought has to go into developing exercises that will allow the trainer to understand that whether the participants have actually gained out of the training.
4. Literacy Training:
In sales, literacy refers to the expertise gained over basic and functional skills. Basic or functional literacy refers to the salesperson’s skills of reading, writing and communication. Functional skills include a person’s skill level in a particular area of specialization. Such training programs are undertaken in organizations to solve problems of deficits in the skill levels of sales people.
Methods and Techniques of Training:
The success of a training program depends on the method adopted to train the sales people and it is this method that will determine that whether the basic objectives of a sales program be achieved or not.
There are certain factors that influence the choice of method adopted for a training program:
1. The objectives of the training program
2. Tenure of the program
3. Level of understanding of the participants
4. Previous experience
5. Availability of financial resources
6. Degree of interaction required
7. Size of the learning group
8. Availability of facilities
Trainers are often found to deliver their training in various ways like lectures, talks or discussions. The trainer demonstrates skills or tasks that are required to be performed in the selling process. It needs to be understood that in practice, there are a combination of methods adopted while training participants.
Training methods are broadly classified into didactic and participative methods. In didactic method, direct teaching approach is adopted. The method basically is about one way method of training and is applicable to skill based training programs. Such method makes the participants passive and enhances their dependency on the trainer.
Lectures that are delivered in this method are given to a large number of people at a point of time and cover a range of topics. This method’s success depends upon the knowledge base of the trainer and his ability to communicate effectively with participants.
Trainer has to see to it that the participants do acknowledge the benefits associated with the training or else they will not be motivated to learn. Also there needs to be some rewards for attending the training programs in the form of incentives (financial or non-financial). The trainer has to analyze the capabilities and knowledge level of the group before he starts imparting his lectures.
The effectiveness of the lecture method can be enhanced by making the structure of the lecture lucid so that it is easily understandable and comprehensible. The message to be conveyed through the training program has to be reinforced as the highlights of the lecture need to be clarified and emphasized.
In case of training through presentations, the attention spans of the participants need to be looked into. Adequate importance to be attached to the style of delivery, pace of delivery, questions to be asked at the end of the session etc. Importance also needs to be attached to the material used for lecture. The content has to be stimulating and thought provoking for the participants apart from enhancing the memory of the participants.
Trainers should also use as much questions during the training as possible which will constantly allow him to understand that whether the participants are following what is being shared in the training program or not. The content of the program has to be delivered with dynamism along with adequate visual support.
Participative training methods rely on the active involvement of participants. Such methods allow for active exchange of ideas, beliefs, attitudes, knowledge and experiences between people who have worked in different environments. Some of the participative methods are conferences, seminars, discussions, role plays, case studies and workshops.
Conferences are highly structured format of participative training where messages are conveyed on large scale and to large number of audiences. Conferences are often found to run on multiple tracks and sessions of interest are presented to trainees. There are sales conferences to motivate sales people and are often presented in certain select locations in an entertaining manner to keep the motivation level of people high.
Seminars on the other hand are conferences on smaller scale and they incorporate greater degree of participation. Seminars unlike conferences are centered on a single theme and the speakers for seminars are specialists in a particular area who make brief presentations on the theme.
Discussion is a training method used for presentation of ideas when the issues need clarification and the views of various groups need to be known. The objectives of the discussion need to be clearly established by the sales manager and necessary information should be gathered for presentation during training program.
Role play is considered an innovative method of sales training as it attempts at extending a trainee’s experience by presenting them with a commonly encountered situation. The events selected for role play need to be realistic. The behavior of the sales people forms the basis of role plays.
This method is associated with interpersonal skills like interviewing, negotiating and creative selling. The objective of case study method is to offer trainees with real life situations and provide considerable amount of background information from which they are expected to analyze a series of events and provide solution to specific problems.
Case studies are normally applied on small groups. The process attempts to provide information on sales related issues and raw data is provided to participants before they start beginning the analysis.
Workshop is a method of designing training activities around problems identified in order to find solutions to them in the training room. This method tries to obtain contribution from all individuals so that optimal resources are obtained to solve problems.
Designing of Sales Training Programs:
It is often the job of sales managers to design appropriate training program for the sales force. The type and content of training program depends on the quality and competency level of the sales people to be trained. There is a certain technique followed while designing sales training programs and this called the ACMEE approach where ACMEE stands for-
A – AIM
M – METHODS
Formal training programs help sales managers to plan and control the performance of sales force. There are several key decision areas associated with designing sales training programs. One needs to decide on the training objective, content of the training program, method of training and the procedures to evaluate training programs.
For planning the design process of a training program, the aim of the training program has to be explained in specific, objectives of the sales managers. The process of deciding on objectives of the training program is based on need-gap analysis conducted in the organization.
Training programs as such have been found to be of two major types viz. initial training programs and retraining programs. The factors taken into account in initial training programs job specifications, background of candidate and the sales and marketing policies of the company.
It is often the trainee’s background and expertise on the job that helps in identifying that to which degree training is required. The sales manager need to analyze the sales and marketing policies of the firm that will further help in identifying which kind of sales aptitude is required to attend the training program.
Once the objectives of the training program are decided, the sales manager needs to decide on the content of the program. The content of the training program vary from one organization to another. As such there are number of options available when it comes to including topics for training programs.
Contents for such programs are often divided as per topics like socialization, selling techniques, job knowledge and proficiency. Although content is developed during the need assessment stage, the sales manager has to take care in selecting the training content for effective training.
Often content of the training should be such that the overall knowledge of the sales person is enhanced on the overall sales procedure long with gaining idea and information about competitor products and their comparative strengths and weaknesses.
Another important aspect in the context of sales training is sales technique. A lot of structured and scientifically designed techniques are involved in offering suitable orientation to sales people to be trained.
Sales people are found to need training in a variety of areas like collections from dealers, managing sales inventory and providing information about customers and potential buyers across various functional departments in an organization. Content on sales training is also related to territory management, call planning, travel scheduling and routing.
Often the content of training includes materials on competitive and regulatory landscape so that the sales people are more informed and aware of the customers’ locations, choice of products and behavioral patterns. Sales people are required to track learning over a period of time and observe evolving demand patterns of customers while serving them.
Content of the training program should ideally contribute to the knowledge base of sales people being trained. When it comes to knowledge base, one component of that is company knowledge that covers detailed history of an organization. Product knowledge is another component that includes composition information about raw materials and work processes along with features, advantages and benefits of a product.
Sales people also need to have proper knowledge about the products of competitors else they will not be able to handle customer objections effectively. Knowledge about customer’s method of buying, evaluation parameters used by customers and profile of customers is an important aspect.
Training also contributes to proficiency in selling and enhances skills related installations, consultative selling, and cost probing and time management. Proficiency is not just obtained in the verbal techniques of selling but also in the non-verbal communication and body language.
Actually the non-verbal techniques of selling contribute in a large way to the effectiveness of a salesperson. Training programs aimed at reducing stress have been in vogue in many sales organizations.
While designing sales training programs, care should be taken in deciding upon the location of the training program. Location is either found to be centralized or decentralized. While in centralized approach, sales people are trained at one venue only, in case of decentralized approach, training takes place at different locations and at different points of time.
Centralized training can take the form of national training centers and satellite centers. There are many sales organizations that have a number of satellite centers. Decentralized training may be conducted through the local office, off site or via customer internship program.
Every designed and executed sales training program needs to be evaluated to identify the existing shortcomings and fix them when the next opportunity for training comes up.