Effective, motivated, successful sales teams for high dollar products don’t just happen. They must be built and developed so that they are able to confidently discuss and convince prospective customers to make a significant capital investment in your product.
That takes training. Devoting the time, money, and resources on training is one of the most important things you can do. Unfortunately, many companies neglect to invest in training or when they do conduct training sessions, they do them badly.
Don’t make that mistake.
What makes a sales training conference effective?
If you ask sales people, they would say an effective sales training conference is one that they leave feeling energized and armed with helpful new knowledge and tools that will help them sell.
Selling high dollar items is difficult. Products and services are complicated, buyer needs are complex, buyer risks are high, sales cycles are long, and the number of orders per month is low. Sales people need constant training, perhaps more so than any other group, to ensure they stay at the top of their game.
In addition, many mid to large sized companies require sales reps to be located far away from headquarters where they can often feel isolated. Bringing remote staff in from the field is important not only for sharpening their skills, but also for building a sense of community and purpose.
I believe you need to bring sales people selling high dollar items in, as a team, for training at least annually and preferably every 6 to 9 months depending on product volatility and complexity.
Wise mentors have taught me that sales training conferences had to stay focused on training. Sounds basic right? But you’d be surprised at how many sales training meetings get bogged down with topics such as benefits,, shop floor efficiency, tradeshow performance, sales reports by region, and even travel policies. These items are important but are better covered in regular sales meeting held via conference calls.
Revisit the agenda of your last sales training meeting. Does it concentrate 90 percent of the time on tangible, usable knowledge and tools intended to help the sales person sell? If not, you may want to rethink how you structure these important sessions.
You might find that many executives, managers, and staff wish to participate in the sales conference so they can tune in to what’s going on in the field and build relationships with the sales staff. This is admirable, and valuable. However, not recommended for a training conference. Restrict attendees to only those directly involved in the agenda topic or the audience will stifle the interaction. If someone outside of sales is doing a presentation, have them attend only for their agenda item, not for the entire conference
Carefully plan lunches, dinners and social events where everyone can get together. Open certain parts of the meeting to a wider audience, but always plan these general discussions right before a break so you can easily clear the room and get back to focused training. Of all the departments in your company, the sales department has the most pressure on it to let others attend their meetings. You must resist!
Make it intense!
Selling is intense. The meeting needs to be intense too. Sales people are used to focused interactions with potential customers, broken up by periods of down time while traveling, making calls, and conducting other sales related activities. They aren’t used to sitting in the office or in meetings all day. Take this into account as you design each day of your training conference.
- Get them moving – Schedule at least one activity every morning and afternoon where they get up out of their chairs and do something – see a demonstration, work with the product, conduct an exercise, practice a pitch, or work in small teams.
- Get them talking – Make sure the sales people are talking at least a third of the time. It is hard for people who work on their own and have a series of one-on-one conversations to then sit and listen all day.
Sales Training Agenda Ideas
Agenda items you might include in high dollar product sales training conference include:
The sale of high dollar products requires a good deal of work upfront. Offering a solution to a buyer too soon will usually result in your more-thorough competitor getting the order. Train your sales team to follow the best practices of top sales people by covering the three main preselling goals first: uncover buyer needs, establish credibility for yourself and your company, and understand the competitive landscape.
These three preselling goals should by woven into the natural flow of the first few interactions with the potential customer. Going over these fundamentals is a good refresher for your seasoned staff and will help get the newer sales people off to a good start.
The Overview Pitch
I discussed the overview pitch in detail in another post but in summary, the overview pitch is a carefully crafted sales presentation broken down into a 30 second elevator pitch and an expanded version for formal presentations. Example topics for overview pitches are key products, services programs, the company, technological advantages, and other topics that provide you with a competitive advantage and match customer needs.
The overview pitch should flow naturally into a conversation with the potential customer. The team should memorize only key phrases and short snippets, not the entire pitch. During sales training, focus the team on retaining the general elements and key points of the overview pitch which should include the value proposition, credibility statements, explanation of the way you deliver on the value proposition promise, and objection prevention statements.
Devote time for training on your top two or three competitors to help build confidence in your sales people. Assign sales people to act as keepers of information and expertise for each significant competitor. Sales people interact with competitors directly and indirectly more than anyone else in your organization so they are the best sources of intel on competitors.
Focusing on a small competitor who acts in only a few territories will mean nothing to most of the sales people, and once a sales person shuts down in your meeting it is very hard to get them interested again. Focus on commonly occurring scenarios, not one-off occurrences.
Conclude with a SWOT analysis of each major competitor by answering these questions:
- What is the competitor’s message and sales pitch?
- How does this competitor sell against you? What do they say and what do they do?
- How do you beat them? What tools and strategies work best against this competitor?
New Product Training
It’s always fun and exciting to present a new product or service. It shows your sales team that the company continues to invest in the future by bringing something new into the mix.
Sales people sell by being confident in the product, the company and in their ability to successfully pitch and win. Make sure your training is comprehensive enough to create that confidence.
- The need
Explain the reason the marketplace needs this product or service. Identify the end markets it addresses.
- Technical presentation
Make this brief and to the point. Include development team members, how the product was developed/improved, what problems were overcome, and the teamwork and effort that was involved. The technical presentation will build confidence as it shows sales people the effort put forth to bring the product or service to market, the depth of talent in the company, and acknowledges the team behind the scenes who contributed.
- Feature, Function, Benefit review
Detail the features of the new product and illustrate the ways in which they match customer needs and the benefits and value they provide. Stress benefits.
- Overview pitch
Provide a strong, well thought out pitch for the new product or service. Experienced sales people will appreciate the starting point as they develop their own presentation, and less experienced sales people will benefit from a detailed game plan.
- Collateral and other sales tools
Provide new and updated collateral and sales tools.
- Commercial information
Clearly define pricing, options, discounting, indirect partner involvement, lead times, and any other relevant commercial information. Review a sample quotation.
- Competitive review
Review how the new product or services measures up to the competition and where it might provide a new advantage.
- Objections and responses
Boost your sales team’s confidence by providing possible responses to objections they are likely to face. Rely on your experienced, knowledgeable sales people to predict potential customer objections.
Practicing objections and sales scenarios
Verbally responding in front of your peers is an effective training tool for practicing sales scenarios and handling buyer objections.
Many sales people hate to role play in front of their peers but you must make them do a variation of it. There is no better way to get them to absorb new sales training content. Work hard to set up a non-threatening environment. Explain that verbal practice is not acting, but is an exercise to help answer questions in a hypothetical situation.
To set up your practice exercise:
- Before the meeting collect scenarios and objections from the sales team and from technical, marketing, and service staff. Number and print the best of them on paper leaving room for people to take notes.
- Describe the exercise, being sure to stress that no judgment will be made on execution, no Oscars will be awarded, and that the only goal is to help the team learn how to do their jobs more effectively.
- Conduct the exercise:
a. Select an objection or scenario, read it, and project it on screen.
b. Give everyone two minutes to work independently and write down how they would approach the situation:
i. What would they do?
ii. What tools would they use?
iii. What advancement would they want as an outcome?
c. Have one salesperson verbally deliver their response directly to the sales manager. He or she can choose any presentation method – speaking hypothetically or acting in a more realistic way. They can use tools or just describe what tools they would use. They must answer the three key questions. Each rep should take their own notes. Every person should have to respond to at least one scenario or objection at some time through the course of the meeting.
d. Do not pass judgement. Instead, open a dialog with the entire team by asking, “What did you like about what they said?” and “What would you add (not correct).”
Product managers, technical experts, and service experts might also be in the room to add valuable thoughts from their expert position. Exclude anyone who is not vital to the exercise or the mood will tighten and the outcome will be less than ideal.
Not every rep will come up with the ideal answer, but with the additional input from the rest of the sales team you will end up with a strong result. Have someone document the optimum response. There can be more than one response to each sales scenario or objection, so the optimum response to the objection is not going to be the only possible effective response. At the end of the meeting hand out the optimum response to each objection.
Important sales wins
Selling is more like a sport than almost any other function in the company. Like a baseball or softball batter, sales people will have more failures than successes.
In your sales meetings, celebrating wins is important, but learning from wins is even better. Select important sales victories that are common to all territories and highlight best practices. Your team can learn from losses as well, so explore them in the same way. However, focus on learning from wins versus losses at a 3 to 1 ratio so that the learning is positive and motivational.
Maintain a positive, non-threatening environment for dialogue and learning. Start off on the right foot by having two of your top sales people each have one story that you want everyone to hear. The story should illustrate a strategy or tactic that provides everyone with a learning moment. Have each presentation end with a general discussion of best practices.
Effective sales tools help sales people communicate key points, provide an ongoing reminder of best practices, build presentation confidence, and help focus their energy. Consider providing or reviewing the following sales tools.
- Physical samples or small components your potential customer can touch
- Printed and downloadable collateral
- Your company website as a tool
- Video and electronic image library that provides memorable visuals
- Taking potential customers to visit happy customers
- Team sell – bring in other experts from your company
Successful sales teams have effective sales tools. The best source of ideas for proper tools is the sales team who is out there every day working with prospects and customers. They know what they need. Get their input, involve them in the creation process, and provide them with the effective tools they deserve.
Clearly explain the marketing funnel, sales funnel, and customer funnel. Review any weak areas where potential customers are leaking from the funnels, and the countermeasures put in place. Show the tie-in between marketing and sales, and how to efficiently work together to maximize the advancement and closure of projects. The sales staff responsible for closing business, the marketing team responsible for nurturing, and the service team responsible for ongoing customer support must work together smoothly. Make sure sales understands how lead nurturing benefits them and how the aftermarket service team helps drive repeat business and loyalty.
Company strategy review from the president or CEO
The larger the geographic area your company covers the more likely your sales people are remote. Remote sales people often feed disconnected from the company, and this disconnection can lead to apathy and poor job performance. Ask your top leader to provide a brief and uplifting presentation describing the current state, initiatives, and other important company happenings. Encourage the leader to leave after the presentation so as not to provide an intimidating presence that could inhibit sales people from fully participating in other sessions.
Sales promotions and spiffs not only breathe life into a sales team, but they also allow the company to focus the sales team on a special goal, such as sale of a new product, breaking into a new end market, or reaching a volume or profit goal. Using the sales meeting to publicly announce the promotion is a highly effective way to get the sales team’s competitive juices flowing.
Outside training resources.
Third party training can bring novelty and excitement to your sales training conference and give the team new ways to look at their craft. Make sure any training consultants you bring in are in line with your selling approach.
Bringing the sales team together is expensive and time consuming. Carefully plan and execute each session to maximize the benefits. Conducted properly, an effective sales training conference will more than pay for itself in the long run.