One of the first lessons I was taught as a newly commissioned officer in the Navy was that the division officer (first level manager) was responsible for all the training and certifications of their crew members. This meant that it was my “job” to identify the training plan for my team and work with others to ensure that training was conducted (either formal or informal) to achieve the results. Or to quote my old Division Officer’s Guide: “Division Officers are responsible for the individual training, counseling and education of their personnel.”
There was no “outsourcing” this role or pawning it off on Human Resources or Learning and Development. It was up to me to use whatever official training resources were available - and then be creative with team training and on the job training (OJT) to fill any gaps. Training was critical to my team’s ultimate success and the ability to fulfill their mission.
Fast forward 25+ years, and these lessons are still engrained in my head. The Navy does a lot of things right, and managing training and professional development is one of them.
When I hear from Front Line Sales Managers that their organization doesn’t provide enough training for their people, I empathize - and I have felt that pain. Training is expensive to execute and there never seems to be enough budget or time to accomplish everything. However, I also think this is a bit of a cop-out to blame it on the organization and hide behind the “no budget” or “no formal program” excuses.
With a little creativity and effort, I think the Front Line Sales Manager can do a lot to develop the selling skills of their reps and improve the results of their team. In fact, I think the Front Line Sales Manager could benefit greatly by adopting a mindset that he or she is the Chief Sales Training Officer (CSTO) of their sales team.
According to CSO Insights, Better training equals better performance and better sales results:
In addition to taking advantage of formal sales training programs, it’s imperative for the sales manager to figure out a way to develop and reinforce critical selling skills outside the classroom - such as asking questions, active listening, presenting value, handling objections, and gaining commitment, etc.
How can you do this without a large training budget? Get creative and make some type of training a priority every week for your sales team. Specifically, here are eight quick ideas for low cost/no cost skill development that the manager can instigate:
#1 Role Playing
In our sales and negotiation workshops, sales reps sometimes resist role play exercises, but then comment that it’s the most valuable part of training. Pick a scenario that you’ve recently observed on a field visit, such as responding to an objection or gaining commitment from a challenging client and ask someone to role play this with you at your next sale’s meeting. You play the client and have fun with it.
#2 Team Meeting Exercises
Use exercises you may have been exposed to in past sales training – such as brainstorming a list of everything they want to know before they call on a client, or generate a list of all the business needs their client have that relate to your product. Use these exercises to generate discussion and debate within your team. Get them engaged and interacting instead of listening to your lecture.
#3 Mock Presentations
Select a different sales rep each month to present a 5-10 minute client solution presentation to the team. This can be very enlightening to you and the team to see how they are actually positioning your products in front of the client. If they can’t do it in 5-10 minutes then perhaps they don’t have the key messages down (Note: please see this blog, If I Had More Time I Would Have Written a Shorter Sales Presentation). If they can’t do this well in front of their peers, how well are they representing your company in front of a challenging client?
#4 Video Rehearsal
There are many great technologies out there that support recording and sharing video role playing. If one of these applications isn’t an option, simply send out a scenario to the team (top objection of the week for instance) and ask each team member to record their response via their smart phone or iPad and send it back to you. Again, it can be eye opening to see their responses.
#5 Book Club
Begin keeping a list of your favorite sales training books. It is a relatively small investment to buy a book for the team a couple of times per year (less than the price of a team dinner). Assign a chapter to read and discuss once a month and have your team report back on specific discussion questions you provide them.
#6 Review Sales Blogs
Similar to the recommendation above, find great blogs to follow and share them with the team. If you have a wiki or chatter application available post these for future reference. Ask specific questions about the content to encourage your team to read and respond to them.
Find great podcasts on sales related topics and share them with your team. Many of these are free and can be a great resource for team members to consume during windshield or airplane time.
#8 Guest Speakers
Find industry experts, friendly clients or internal company gurus who are willing to share their insights with your team during team meetings. Ask a product manager to spend ten minutes explaining new features of your product, or have a top sales rep from a different division share their secrets for success. Bringing in expertise outside your team can really help breathe life into your team meetings and can be a great source for new ideas and insights.
These are eight quick, low cost training ideas that can complement a sales training program and help elevate the skills and performance of your team. If you adopt the mindset that you need to become the Chief Training Officer of your sales team, the options are endless. What other methods do you use?
About Ray Makela