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Sales training: the future

Richard Stone, Course Director of the Spearhead Training Group describes the major challenges he foresees facing sales training and sales trainers as we come out of recession.

The old challenges of sales training will remain as we come out of recession, to develop in trainees a high level of communication skills, self-organization and a key understanding of the specific market(s) relevant to the salesperson and ensuring they implement the actions necessary to succeed.

IT will continue to dominate providing ever faster access to up to date information. This will enable sales people to give customers accurate information and feed information quickly back to base. This in turn means we will need salespeople who can be team members, and not loners.

As to where the sales training function should sit on a company organization chart this is an interesting question, which begs the question about corporate attitudes to training in general. Organizations in this country have been criticized for not taking training seriously enough. Specifically, the buck stops at the top - the Sales and Marketing Director, if there is one, the Chief Executive if there is not.  The government has become increasingly involved in promoting training and education at all levels. At the time of writing it is heavily promoting leadership training and there are a number of grants available to companies wanting to specifically improve their leadership – and this would include sales leadership.

Continued training remains the responsibility of line management, but responsibility lies also with the individual. To encourage individual responsibility some organizations have developed a system whereby the individual sets out their own training programme. These are the so called “Learning Organizations”. In some instances this has given management the excuse to abdicate responsibility for training. This trend must be reversed.

It is interesting that all brand leader companies still consider sales training as vitally important, despite recent challenging times. It is also a fact that most companies that have gone into liquidation had poorly developed training, or no commitment to training at all. Almost without exception, those companies that invest in the training and development of their sales team will tell you it’s an investment, not a cost.  These people produce more business, are highly motivated - and they’re fun to work with too.

In order for someone to develop into a top quality sales trainer they need three things:

1.   The ability to relate to the level of knowledge and understanding of the pupil.  Sometimes the best players make the worst trainers.

2.   A good understanding of the role of a trainer - helping people to learn - not trying to prove how good they are themselves.

3.   Knowledge of the subject.  So to achieve the latter if not the former, at least five years sales experience is needed, preferably in different markets, dealing with different products and different levels of purchasers.

On the saying: “If you cannot train, you cannot manage a sales team”.  I once worked for H J Heinz, the food company, and they used to put would be sales managers into sales training first.  I think this is a good idea if it can be done.  The human ego is one of the most fragile things on earth, and must always be handled sensitively. 

Training is the ideal proving ground for would be sales managers.  They can learn how to deal with people, how to get the best from them, and a whole host of other skills that will eventually stand them in good stead as a manager.

What proof is there that classroom based sales training actually works?  Classroom, if that is the right word, can be a highly effective way of imparting knowledge and converting knowledge into skill.  This can be proved by setting learning objectives and measuring the trainee’s ability to meet objectives.

For example, I am a qualified pilot, and I can tell you that classroom work is essential to gain the knowledge a pilot needs, and a simulator is a highly effective way to build up skill levels. 

For salespeople, imparting knowledge in the classroom is a sensible way to help people learn and through simulations you can greatly enhance skills and demonstrably measure those skills.

Without doubt, sales trainers need to be accomplished sales professionals, you have to be accomplished and knowledgeable about the subject.  All our trainers are experts in their particular field.  Certainly DVD’s and other training aids help, but my advice to would-be sales trainers is this. If you know nothing about the subject, keep your mouth shut!

As for the Internet, we have to remember that computers are machines and not human beings. So I expect human beings to be involved in training for as long as human beings need to be trained. It’s also worth pointing out that one of the many benefits of face to face sales training is the increased level of motivation that delegates show when returning from a course. This motivation stems from a number of things, such as sharing experiences with others, and a feeling of personal growth, but a lot of it comes from the course leader.  Good sales trainers don’t just train, they inspireFree Web Content, and that’s something you can’t get by surfing the net just yet!

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Richard Stone is a Director for Spearhead Training Limited that specialises in running management and sales training courses. Richard provides consultancy advice for numerous world leading companies.  


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