When you think of a natural salesperson, you probably imagine a smooth talker quick to answer your questions before you even have them. And within a few minutes, you’re completely sold on a product you’ll never use.
But the very best salespeople aren’t always the slickest talkers — they’re actually the most effective listeners. Instead of ignoring the client and trying to stay one step ahead, an effective salesperson carefully listens to the client’s needs to really identify with them.
But like any skill, even naturally adept salespeople need to hone their skills through consistent sales training. Here are a few tips for educating and developing your sales force:
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1. Use E-Learning to Educate
If your sales team doesn’t know your product front to back, even the best listeners will fall short in closing a sale. Salespeople need to understand product details to boost their confidence when selling, especially new recruits. With sufficient product training, they can identify specific client issues and understand products’ details well enough to position them as the perfect solution.
Of course, constant traveling and frequent sales calls make it nearly impossible to get your entire sales force in one room for training. That’s where e-learning comes in.
E-learning allows sales teams to brush up on their product knowledge on the go. Through online videos and modules, you can also track progress to ensure that everyone has viewed the necessary materials.
Real world example: L’Oréal recognized gaps in product knowledge across all members of its sales force and implemented an e-learning program to empower its team. With stylized web-based videos, the company made in-depth product knowledge accessible and memorable for all salespeople.
2. Keep Training Short but Consistent With Micro-Learning
A report by Sales Performance International warns that sales training can be too much of a good thing. Managers might be anxious to develop a highly competent sales force, but the truth is, salespeople — like anyone — generally can’t retain a huge amount of information at one time.
The study found that multi-day sales training events are essentially a waste of money, as approximately 50 percent of the learning content is forgotten within 5 weeks, much less applied to the sales process.
Overtraining can actually be detrimental to your salespeople’s natural talent, crush their confidence, and push technique over ability. Instead, send out reminders via email or encouragements via smartphone. This can enforce effective habits without totally overwhelming your salespeople.
Real world example: TED Talks exhibit micro-learning at its finest. Industry professionals and thought leaders discuss a variety of topics to teach and inspire in digestible 15-minute increments. Incorporating this method to train salespeople in easily manageable intervals will keep them engaged and help you deliver new information they’ll retain.
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3. Reward Specific Achievements
Salespeople are driven by goals (probably more so than other employees), which makes an achievement-based training program another excellent option.
But generalizing your team members’ successes won’t make them stick.
A much more effective sales training technique is to tell them they’re doing a good job because they exceeded their goal by a certain percentage or recognize their performance on a particularly difficult call. Always use specifics to make these successes tangible and more meaningful.
Real world example: Best Buy used this model in its Path to Excellence initiative. Leadership awarded the sales force badges when it utilized concepts taught in training. These badges led to four distinct levels of recognition, ranging from bronze to platinum. Best Buy found that the stores with the highest levels of recognition outsold those with lower recognition levels by three to one.
4. Field Train and Provide Detailed Feedback
Most of our talent development happens in the field. But it’s the analysis and feedback a salesperson receives after a call that resonates.
Supervisors can emphasize listening to and understanding client needs and help salespeople avoid pushing a product by providing direct feedback in a real sales situation.
For effective real-world training to happen, a competent leader needs to listen in on sales calls, review recordings, and analyze the person’s performance to offer timely and specific feedback. This should ideally happen hours after the experience so the feedback is fresh and the salesperson can reflect on the experience.
Real world example: Walgreens implemented “Well Experience” field training to provide hands-on experience in a simulated pharmacy environment. It used games such as merchandise scavenger hunts to familiarize teams with new store layouts, job shadowing in stores with these layouts, and “go live” performance coaching. After 13,000 employees went through the program, confidence levels rose from 42 percent to 90 percent.
5. Share Success Stories
According to the National Business Research Institute, employee attitude affects 40 to 80 percent of customer satisfaction, and the study of one retail giant revealed that a one-point increase in employee engagement led to a $200,000 increase in monthly sales per store.
High employee engagement and morale has a direct impact on the bottom line. Sharing mutual successes also instills a sense of unity in your salespeople and encourages them to work harder and smarter.
Real-world example: When salespeople succeed at Yesware, it’s heard around the company (literally). Every sales rep has a “closing song” that gets played when they close a deal, while the rest of the sales team gets up and dances in celebration. When a team member hits their goals, they receive a big gold star for their desk, putting a spotlight on that person’s individual accomplishment and recognizing a job well done.
Providing reassurance to your sales team through recognition instills confidence and fosters natural skills in the sales arena.
Couple that with frequent, flexible, and manageable product education and field training, and you’ll take your team from great listeners to selling superstars.
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Andrew Fayad is the CEO and Managing Partner of eLearning Mind, where he oversees sales, marketing, and strategic growth opportunities.
Originally published on August 27, 2014.