Before you implement any type of training program, assess your personnel and ask these questions

September 17, 2015

Technology provides instantaneous, global access to storehouses of information, a lot of it packaged in shiny, bright wrapping. So, with all that’s available out there, how do you sort through it to choose a sales training program that’s truly worthwhile?

Serious training isn’t a one- or two-time event. High-perform­ing sales organizations aren’t created overnight; they’re developed over time. Pegine Echevarria, a business development and leadership coach, posted this quote last year on her Facebook page: “Learn from those that have accomplished what you want. Paying someone to teach what they have never done is a high price to pay.”  When choosing your training curriculum and coaching system, you’ll want to identify the ones that will provide the expertise you want your sales team to gain.

The system you choose is important. But for maximum, sustained results, you must first ensure that your team is open-minded and coachable. The current hot market is posing a regrettable challenge: Many salespeople actually lack serious selling skills, but they’re making sales—and a lot of money. Some of them confuse paycheck size with skill level and see no reason to change. They’re not coachable.

Before you implement any type of training program, assess your personnel. (We suggest conducting a mystery video shop of each salesperson prior to beginning any training endeavor.)

When contemplating signing on for a training program, ask these questions:

1. What are the credentials of the presenter? Where did this person develop expertise, and how did he or she do it? How long has the presenter been in the home building industry? Has he or she actually sold homes? Has he successfully managed a sales organization? When in doubt, poll your peers to get the skinny on a program you’re considering.

2. What’s the program curriculum? Selling is both art and science. While it does involve the art of understanding and enjoying people, the tactical part is science. Is the curriculum designed to present specific objectives for the best sales presentation? Are there scripts? Will those scripts support salespeople in gaining the necessary knowledge, authority, and confidence? With all due respect to spontaneity, planned and canned aren’t the same thing. Canned comes off as phony. But planning will help salespeople be more natural and spontaneous because they’ll be prepared. Encouraging trainees to write out statements enables competence. A few points to consider on scripts:

·     The greeting may be a simple thing, but it’s important. “Good morning, my name is Sherlock Holmes,” is better than “Can I help you?” which invites the customer to bypass you.

·     A plan on managing objections is crucial. Planned responses help salespeople be prepared if the customer objects. When prepared, a salesperson can in turn be proactive, not reactive.

·     A script for the closer helps seal the deal. This one is key: It’s the plan for a dialogue that leads to asking closing questions in a tactful, effective way.

3. What are the program’s metrics for success? Will the training program include evaluations of skills used in the field? At the end of a certain time period, how will the trainee demonstrate that he or she has actually mastered the information? Regarding performance metrics, the most frequently used benchmark is the number of sales made over a certain period. I invite you to consider that conversion ratio is a better, more realistic marker because it speaks to the number of possible customers who walked in the door and with whom the salesperson interacted. It measures initiative, confidence, and competence.

Training that doesn’t bring about lasting change is training that has failed. Think of it this way: Education is the “why to,” training is the “what to,” and coaching is the “how to” and “let’s do.” My collaborator this month is Jason Forrest, one of our industry’s most accomplished practitioners of sales skill development and coaching. Jason says:

Any trainer or training program worth its salt must be sustainable: It needs to produce real, long-term results. To select the right program, make sure of the following:

1. The trainers and coaches have proven expertise, success, and experience. Hire people who have done and have been successful at what you’re asking them to teach. Credibility is key. Anyone can improve your lowest-performing team member. The true test is whether they can improve your top people. If trainers can do that, they’re going to be able to help everyone else, too.

2. The program includes an experiential learning component. We learn best through doing. Sitting in a classroom for a day and listening to talk about concepts is never as effective as incorporating follow-up and real-life practice—internally and then with customers.

3. The program takes a holistic approach. Once the “why to” (educational), has been established, then the “what to” (training) comes next. If the salesperson’s beliefs are incongruent with the behaviors being taught, the internal motivation to learn, practice, master, and then implement the technique will be missing. People either won’t do it at all, or if they do then it will be half-hearted.

Prior to teaching a specific sales tactic or approach, trainers must talk through the purpose behind each. For example, a summary close (summarizing what the prospect has said and repeating it back) is hugely successful, and the best trainers will first teach why it’s important. They’ll explain, for example, “The summary close is important because it makes the customer feel that the salesperson listened to them, and it helps guide the prospects to achieve resolution and make a decision.”

You’ve found the right program when your sales trainers are experts in the field they’re teaching, they include experiential learning, and they take a holistic tack. The mission should be to transform what has been presented to be learned and parlay that into on-the-job performance, with performance being measured in the form of increased sales conversion ratios and profitable revenue. PB