If your small or mid-sized business is having a hard time getting new sales reps up and running, you’re not alone. Selling is a tough business that takes communication skills, listening skills, perseverance, resiliency, empathy, product knowledge, business knowledge, and flexibility combined with discipline.
No entry-level sales rep comes on board with all of these attributes honed to perfection, which is why effective training is so important. If training is done well, a greater number of new hires will make the cut. If training is done poorly, potentially successful reps will slip through a company’s fingers. Here are 10 ideas to help make your sales training program better than ever.
1. Start With Field Work
Most new sales reps are raring to get out in the field. Let them. Have them tag along on sales calls with your best sales reps and sales managers. Let them see firsthand what the customers are like, what their problems are, and how your products/services provide value. Important: Prep your reps and managers for the work-with. Make sure they set a good example, having a full day of well-prepared calls on the calendar.
2. Start on the Phone
After new hires have spent a week or so in the field, it’s time to start making cold calls. The best way is to start on the phone, where you can hear them and observe their work habits. Close management is essential at this point; it enables you to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses with accuracy you can never attain if reps are on their own in the field.
3. Start With a Disciplined Phone Campaign
For new reps, the fewer decisions they have to make, the better. With a highly structured cold calling campaign, reps can focus on execution rather than developing tactics on the fly. Everything should be laid out: who to call, what to say, what objections to expect, how to answer the objections, pricing, how to follow up and when to follow up.
4. Start With a Low-Risk Campaign
Never send rookie reps after big prospects in your target market — too much pressure for them, and too risky for your company. At this stage your main purpose is to hone skills, not reel in a big fish. As reps prove they can make sales, gradually turn their focus toward bigger and better prospects.
5. Have Reps Listen to Themselves
As reps go through their phone prospecting, have them listen to recordings of their conversations. When they hear their flaws, the lessons sink in far more deeply than when they hear critiques from you. This speeds up training considerably.
6. Set Short-Term, Achievable Goals
Success is contagious, but so is failure. Give new reps makeable short-term goals, such as closing one sale in the first two weeks. If they succeed, ratchet up to two new sales in the next two weeks — and so on.
7. Review Activities in Detail
When reps are in the field, review their activity day by day, and even hour by hour. You need to make sure they are working, and working efficiently. Relying on call reports is not good enough. Instead, talk to them in person or over the phone. When did they make their first call? What was discussed? What was the outcome? What are you doing to follow up? Repeat this for every sales call made during the day. You’ll be able to tell whether they are struggling or proceeding with confidence, and you’ll be able to give them the guidance they need.
8. Don’t Let Issues Slide
Most problems don’t get better with age. If you see any issues with a rep’s performance or attitude, get it out in the open and discuss it. This is the only way to solve a problem and get back on track. When problems are glossed over, eventually the whole train derails.
9. Build Product Knowledge Systematically Over Time
A common mistake in sales training is to do a product information dump in the first days/weeks of training. Bad idea. First, the rep won’t have the hands-on experience to understand and prioritize the information. Second, you’ll likely confuse or overwhelm the rep. Third, by the time reps have a few months of selling under their belt, they will be able to tell you what it is about the products and applications they need help understanding.
10. Provide Unflinching Support
The more demanding you are of a new hire, the more demanding you must be of yourself. You’ve got to be there to help the rep when the rep needs help, no matter how inconvenient it may be. Whether it’s an offhand water cooler conversation or a formal three-month performance review, you must give the rep your undivided attention.