Most new sales reps would agree that sales training is an important part of their success. Experienced reps, however are more sceptical. While new recruits fill classrooms to learn the basics, experienced reps shy away from these programs. Programs that refresh "skills" are considered too basic, and advanced training can be difficult to find. So how do you encourage professional skill development with your senior sales people? Consider the Senior Representative's career path…
Experienced sales reps become successful for many reasons. They develop a strong network of referred leads, and increase sales opportunity in existing accounts. They develop strong relationships with key decision makers, and ultimately become strong contributors to the bottom line. However, products and services will naturally develop sales momentum when the product penetration rate increases. Some products become much easier to sell at this stage in the product lifecycle. But more customers adds-up to more customer service. A sales rep’s time becomes consumed with customer service and product delivery management issues. As a result, sales reps don’t get a chance to use all their selling skills and get rusty at the basics.
Experienced sales reps and experienced golfers have a lot in common. On the golf course golfers rearrange their stance to compensate for a slice or hook. Sometimes they change their hand position. They take lots of advice from well intentioned golfing buddies, and finally when nothing is going right, they succumb to golfing lessons. Good golfers won’t take advice from just anyone. It has to be a golf pro. Twenty minutes into the lesson, the golfer realises he is learning the basic skills of the game again. With these skills retrained the golfer re-enters the golf course and begins swinging. A few balls into the woods is normally enough practice for most golfers to revert back to their old habits. Experienced sales reps and experienced golfers have a lot in common.
How do sales managers handle sales reps that refuse to go back to the basics? How do you get experienced sales reps to consistently practice the basic skills? Consider the following coaching strategies for experienced sales reps:
1. Identify areas of training needs that can be clearly measured and improved upon
Let’s consider some of the skills being trained in conventional sale's programs today: Prospecting, how to manage client sales meetings, negotiation skills, and closing techniques are some of the more popular training modules. These modules closely follow the sales management funnel of finding, qualifying, and selling prospective clients. More advanced selling programs will focus on strategic selling skills like account and territory management. These modules teach the concepts of “return on time invested”. They challenge the rep to consider the strengths and weaknesses of their product, and opportunities and threats in their trading areas. As well, prospective and existing clients are defined through company value equations that ensure the most profitable customers are getting the lion’s share of available selling time. All this considered, over 80% of a sales rep’s time in the field is still focused on the basics of prospecting, negotiation, client sales meetings and closing skills.
You will need to clearly assess and understand the sales funnel in your company. Determine the skills that the rep is required to have in each stage of the funnel. Continuous improvement in all stages is ideal, however experienced sales reps normally exhibit high levels of competency in some stages and not in others. Putting them through sales modules that clearly don't meet their needs creates frustration and skepticism. Custom designed sales training programs are more common and effective for experienced reps. Work with a sales trainer who is able to assess skill levels, and develop the right programs for all members of your team.
2. Lead by example
It has often been said that leadership is about doing things, not saying things. In this spirit, you should consider joining your rep on their training program. This participate approach provides many benefits for both the rep and the manager. A common language and process is understood by both people. Good coaching can reinforce the principles that were learned in the classroom. Reps feel as though their managers have a real concern for their training needs when they see your active participation. Ultimately, you become a more credible resource in the eyes of your team.
3. Let your experienced reps share their sales stories with the team.
Pick a specific time in your sales meetings for these stories. Give your rep lots of advanced notice to prepare, and give them direction on what topics would be most interesting to the group. For example, you may be looking for a story that demonstrates how to handle difficult customers or one that exemplifies prospecting determination when faced with difficult odds. Make sure you screen the story and that it adds a positive perspective to the meeting. These stories become more crisp in the rep's mind and sharpen their perspective of the situation. Both the team and rep often share insights from the story that help them when faced with similar situations.
4. Go out on joint sales calls.
Sales managers seldom see the need to do joint sales calls with their experienced reps. This is a big mistake. Bad habits allowed to continue will have bottom-line impacts in the long term. Experienced sales reps deserve the attention and time of their sales managers. They produce the greatest results, and are vital to the customer relationship process. Partner with your rep. You can provide a unique perspective from your vantage point. Your role is to make them the best rep they can be. Allow them to lead in sales calls, and always position them as the expert in front of customers. Don't be a teacher. Be a listener and a coach by asking good questions, and allowing the rep an opportunity for self discovery.
5. Create a sales culture of continuous improvement.
Continuous improvement is a mindset that is mastered by the most successful people in any profession. Many experienced reps want a fresh approach to the selling basics. You can only swing a club so many ways. Every approach to the swing is basically the same, but it’s the passion for the game that creates a unique style. The difference between good golfers and great golfers is only a few strokes. The difference between good reps and great reps can be 15 phone calls per week. Benchmark your team's call activity and selling stats. Experienced sales reps may need to be re-focused on this activity. "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it".
6. Create a rep mentorship program with clear guidelines for training.
Create winning sales teams through shared learning and mentorship. Partnering more experienced with less experienced sales reps creates added support to your coaching efforts. Sales managers and experienced reps now share a common improvement goal for junior reps. Set clear training guidelines for the mentorship program, which include a requirement for the experienced rep to be proficient in all stages of sales funnel management. Mentorship benefits both the junior and senior rep. It teaches new skills to junior reps through on the job training (OJT), and deepens skill proficiency with the experienced rep.
7. Make Role Playing an ongoing part of your sales meetings.
Just like swinging a club, sales skills require practice. Sales is a behaviour based profession. Learning the skills to be successful is accomplished through consistent application. At each meeting, pick a common sales situation. Have 2 people role play a client experience, and glean best practices from the observers. This is your team's time to incorporate both product knowledge and sales skills. These role-plays need to be focused and co-coordinated.
What are some of the more common kinds of training required for experienced sales reps? Each rep has their own individual needs depending on their level of field exposure to each stage in the sales funnel. Overall, experienced reps often require behaviour based training that refreshes their selling skill-set. This behaviour based training can be in prospecting, client meeting, negotiation and/or closing techniques. Customer relationship management skills are also important as reps develop clients along their customer life cycle. A complete skill-set assessment is necessary to determine training requirements that are relevant to the rep and consistent with your company's goals and objectives.
Written by Paul Kidston, MBA, CSP:
Paul is a freelance writer, sales trainer, sales consultant and keynote speaker. He specializes in custom designed sales and sales management training programs.
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