Harvard Business Review is arguably the most prestigious publication for business leaders and management thinkers. Here’s one of my recent Harvard Business Review articles titled “What’s Wrong With Your Sales Training Program.”
Somehow, “successful” sales training has become associated with a thick binder of material the salesperson lugs home from the class (never to open again). The classroom experience is based mainly upon rote memorization of facts. There is little interaction, practical exercises, or meaningful conversation about the difficult “real-world” obstacles that need to be overcome. The training classes are pre-packaged sessions that are taught the same way over and over again regardless of the changing competitive landscape. In this article we review four critical elements that are commonly missing from today’s sales training programs.
1. It’s Not Based Upon Win-Loss Customer Interviewing
Unfortunately, I have some very frightening news to share with you based on more than one thousand customers I have interviewed as part of the win-loss analysis studies I have conducted on behalf of my clients. Approximately 30 percent of the time, the winner of the sales cycle was determined before the “official” selection process started. Another 45 percent of the time, customers had already made up their minds about whom they were going to buy from about halfway through the process. That means 75 percent of the time, customers made their decision halfway through the process.
Only 25 percent of the time did customers make their final decision at the end of the selection process. Therefore, if you are not clearly in the lead at the midpoint of the selection process, the odds are that you are going to lose.
Here’s another disturbing fact. In almost every case, the decision wasn’t even close between the top two choices. Even though customers had made up their minds, they still caused all the other salespeople to jump through a series of hoops for nothing, wasting their valuable time, resources, mental and emotional energy.
The main point from the information above is that you truly can’t train your sales teams on how and why prospective customers make their buying decision if your training isn’t based upon direct interviews with decision makers at won and lost accounts.
2. It Provides an Incomplete Customer Decision Making Model
Many sales training programs today share the same fundamental flaw. They think of customers as rational decision makers who use logic and reason exclusively. Meanwhile, the successful salesperson understands and appeals to the emotional, political, and subconscious decision maker. A sales training program should not solely educate salespeople about features, functions, and business benefits. It must also explain the psychological reasons customers buy and provide practical real-world examples on how to incorporate the elements of customer behavior into a winning sales strategy.
People buy products they believe will help them fulfill deep-seated psychological needs: satisfying the ego, being accepted as part of a group, avoiding pain, and ensuring survival. All the other outward appearances of a customer’s decision-making process—the analysis, return-on-investment calculations, and other internal studies—are the means to achieving an overriding psychological goal. Therefore, the training program must take into account the psychological value of your solution and explain how to influence the politics of organizational decision making.
3. It Lacks Meaningful Cultural Transmissions
No one wants to endure endless hours of classroom lecture. Besides, learning by example is the best way to learn something new. A “cultural transmission” is the method of learning a behavioral technique by emulating a successful practitioner as a role model.
There are three types of cultural transmissions that should be included in every sales training program. First, there should be success stories about key wins explained using examples that the entire team can understand and learn from. Second, include role play exercises on everything from the elevator pitch and cold calls to the corporate presentation and negotiation. Finally, top salespeople should be interviewed in a panel-type setting about their sales philosophy, territory strategy, where they win and lose followed by an extensive audience question and answer session.
4. Sales Call Execution is Not Addressed
Many companies segment their vendors by value and whether or not they are strategic to the organization. Companies also classify their existing customers by the amount of money they spend and the products they buy. Unfortunately, very few companies today perform any type of segmentation of the sales calls their sales force makes. As a result, valuable win-loss-related information isn’t captured and sales force effectiveness is lost. Ideally, salespeople should be provided with a playbook for sales call execution based upon the classification of sales calls.
Sales call segmentation is a method of categorizing customer interactions based upon prospective customers’ role within the organization, their orientation (technical, financial or operational), their political power, and how they process information. The goal of the segmentation strategy is to provide a predictive framework that helps salespeople anticipate customer behavior. Since the salesperson has a deeper insight about customer behavior based upon past interactions, he is able to conduct more persuasive sales calls. This strategy also serves as a communication methodology to educate and prepare the colleagues (pre-sales engineers, consultants, and sales managers) who will attend the sales call with the salesperson.
In closing, all successful companies have trained their salespeople on the process to educate customers about their products and procedures to determine customers’ business qualifications and technical requirements. Truly great sales organizations intimately understand how prospective decision makers think. They share information about how they win and where they lose. They analyze customer interactions and provide their sales force real world tactics so they can predictably close business.
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