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Much of the frustration with sales training today is that some of the salespeople who need it most are not using the training in the field. They seem to understand, but still make self-deceiving mistakes that have become habits. They can answer all learning questions correctly in class, excel in roles and exercises, but do not improve in front of the customer.
The assumption is that sales training has failed; however, when we test sales professionals, they learn the principles.
The problem is that we want “results”, not just well “trained” sales people.
Why preseason training camp works.
At the moment, the NFL is busy preparing for the regular season. They do this every year to introduce new plays and techniques, train new players and strengthen the skills of veterans.
Players go through a lot of class drills at each camp. They spend their time studying playbooks, watching film, analyzing strategies…then they go out and beat each other for an hour or two. So where does learning come from? The most important part of the training happens when the trainer watches the exercises and corrects the techniques.
When Bruiser makes a mistake in his footwork, the coach can stop the match, correct Bruiser, and then repeat the exact position until Bruiser gets it right.
Classroom theory ends when the diapers go on and work begins in the camp trenches. When the regular season rolls around, the team is ready. But practice continues before, during and after every game. Improvement never ends.
What can we learn from the NFL’s training methods?
Learning begins in the classroom.
Players must understand the game plan before they can expect to execute it. Motivational training has no place in the classroom until the player has mastered the skills. The most motivated, dedicated, hardworking and “charged” player will be destroyed physically and mentally if he doesn’t have the skills to perform! (The transaction starts where people are told to “hang in there” and then given nothing to “hang in”.)
Classroom learning should be principled, skill-focused, specific, and realistic. All successful training is based on a set of principles that support a corporate strategy or philosophy. A salesperson must understand the right direction. Do we use a long term advisory approach or do we sell at prices to get volume. (ie, salespeople sell boxes; sales professionals sell solutions that bring the most value to the customer.)
A sales person must understand basic sales skills. How does a salesperson build favorable sales relationships? How do they ask open-ended questions that uncover customer needs? Before the seller asks for an order, what questions do they ask to ensure the customer recognizes the value of the solution? How will the sales professional deal with premature questions? How does he demand commitment?
In your field, the training should be very specific. A food service sales professional must understand how the product fits into the client’s menu and how it will work in the client’s kitchen. Specific training should deal with how product knowledge is used in sales situations and ensure that the sales person is responding to customer needs rather than pushing boxes.
Real training is focused on situations and events that happen in the field every day, not generalizations. A sales person should work through case studies and role-plays based on real sales problems. These training methods help salespeople understand and understand how sales principles apply to actual field experience.
Well-being and good habits start from the field.
Just like NFL players, our players learn the most meaningful experience when they are on the field and looking the customer in the eye. As you watch this year’s football games, pay close attention to what’s happening on the sidelines. You’ll find position coaches aggressively engaged in dynamic coaching sessions with their players. Coaches make plays or show players how to approach blocking and tackling.
Your players need the same kind of coaching on the field. And you can give this coaching while the experience is fresh in their mind, before they implement the new idea or skill on their next sales call. We call this “inhibition-side” coaching, and it can be the most rewarding experience a sales professional will ever have.
Sell them for improvement.
The best sales trainers recognize that the best opportunity to improve sales skills is in the front seat of a professional sales car. Our task here is to first get the student to understand what went right and what went wrong in the last sales call. The best way to do this is to ask them, not tell them. It’s like selling; things work better when we ask the customer what they need instead of trying to tell them what they need.
Immediately after the call, the manager can begin coaching by asking, “Tell me what you did well?” This gives the sales rep an opportunity to talk about the success of the call. If he can’t think of anything right, then you should. People need to know what they are doing so they can continue to do it. Here, the manager is responsible for reinforcing the strengths of the sales representative and recognizing good work.
Next, the salesperson needs to understand what’s not working, so the coach asks, “What do you think could have been improved on the call?” This gives the sales rep an opportunity to talk about what didn’t work well on the sales call. Coaching skills are more important here, and it’s very hands-on, but it’s not “constructive criticism.” A coach who constantly focuses on the faults of the players does nothing but demoralize the player.
Again, instead of telling them everything they should do, ask, “What do you think should be done next time?” This allows the sales representative to think of better options. It allows them to think about and develop their own prescriptions for treatment.
He may develop an answer that the coach finds unacceptable. When this happens, there is a tendency for the manager to rush to the “right” answer. It’s counter-productive, imagine telling a buyer that he doesn’t have to use a particular technique to do his job. Instead, tell the rep, “That’s an option, what else can you do?” This gives the sales rep a chance to think again instead of defending their initial ideas.
Coaching should be an experience that the salesperson and coachee look forward to, not one to avoid. Coaching is conversational and non-threatening. This discussion is about improvement and growth. This is an opportunity to take classroom learning and put it to work in the field.
Your training can be three times more effective.
Research from the American Society for Learning and Development shows that 70% of actual job skills learning takes place on the job. They estimate that classroom learning is only 30%. And as experienced coaches in the NFL seem to agree, for 100% effectiveness we need to do both sides of the training.
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