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A major part of the frustration with sales training today is that some of the salespeople who need it most are not implementing the training in the field. They seem to understand the training, but still make self-defeating mistakes that have become habits. They can answer all training questions correctly in class, excel in role plays and exercises, but do not improve in front of clients.
The assumption is that the sales training failed; however, when we test sales professionals, they have learned the principles.
The problem is that we want “results” and not just well “trained” salespeople.
Why preseason “training camp” works.
Right now, the NFL is busy preparing for the regular season. They do this every year to introduce new plays and techniques, to train new players and to strengthen the skills of veterans.
The players do a lot of training in the classroom at each camp. They occupy their time studying playbooks, watching film, analyzing strategies…then they go out on the court and hit each other for a few hours. So where does the learning happen? The most important part of the learning happens while the trainer monitors the exercises and corrects the techniques.
When Bruiser makes a footwork mistake, the coach can stop play, correct Bruiser and then repeat the exact situation again until Bruiser corrects it.
Classroom theory ends when the pads resume and work begins in the trenches at camp. By the time the regular season rolls around, the team is ready. But the training continues, before, during and after every game. Better never end.
What lessons can we learn from the NFL’s training methods?
Training begins in the classroom.
Players must understand the game plan before they are expected to execute it. Motivational training has no place in the classroom until the player has mastered the skill. The most motivated, dedicated, hard-working and “pumped up” player will be destroyed physically and mentally if he doesn’t have the skills to perform! (Traffic starts where people are told to “hold on” and then given nothing to “hang on to”.)
Classroom training 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. The seller needs to understand the right direction. Do we take a long-term consultative approach or do we sell on price in hopes of capturing volume. (ie. Retailers sell boxes; sales professionals sell solutions that help the customer make more profit.)
The salesperson then needs to understand basic sales skills. How will the seller establish a favorable sales relationship? How will they ask open-ended questions that uncover customer needs? How will they ask questions that lead the customer to recognize the value of the solution, before the salesperson requests an order? How will the sales professional handle premature pricing questions? How will he or she seek commitment?
In your industry, training must be very specific. A food sales professional needs to understand how the product applies to the customer’s menu, how it will work in the customer’s kitchen. Specific training should address how product knowledge is used in sales situations, ensuring that the salesperson is responding to customer needs rather than ticking boxes.
Realistic training is focused on situations and sales events that will happen every day in the field, not vague generalities. A salesperson should work and learn from case studies and role plays based on real sales challenges. These training techniques help the salesperson recognize and understand how selling principles apply to actual field experiences.
Improvement and good habits start on the field.
Just like the players in the NFL, our players will get the most meaningful learning experience when they are on the field, looking the customer in the eye. As you watch football games this year, keep a close eye on what’s happening on the sidelines. You will see positional coaches frantically engaged in animated training sessions with their players. Coaches will draw up plays or physically show players how to handle blocking and tackling situations.
Your players need the same kind of training on the pitch. And you can provide that training while their experience is fresh and right before they practice a new idea or skill on their next sales call. We call this curbside training, and it can be the most productive learning experience a sales professional will ever receive.
I am selling them for improvement.
The best sales trainers recognize that the greatest opportunity to improve sales skills is in the front seat of the professional’s car. Our job here is to first get the student to recognize 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 go 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 start coaching by asking, “Tell me what you think went well?” This gives the sales rep an opportunity to talk about the successes of the call. If he or she can’t remember anything that went right, then you should. People need to know what they’re doing right so they can keep repeating those things. Here, the manager has an obligation to reinforce the strength of the sales representative, recognizing good work.
Next, the salesperson needs to identify what isn’t working, so the coach will ask a question like, “What do you think could be improved during the call?” This gives the sales rep an opportunity to talk about what didn’t work well on the sales call. This is where the coaching skills are most important and very practical, but it is not ‘constructive criticism’. A coach who constantly focuses on a player’s mistakes only frustrates the player.
Again, instead of telling them all the things they need to do, ask, “What do you think you should do differently next time?” This allows the sales rep to think about options for improvement. It allows them to think and develop their own drug recipes.
It is possible that he or she will develop a response that the coach finds unacceptable. When this happens, there is a tendency for the manager to rush to the “right” answer. This is counterproductive, imagine yourself telling a customer that they shouldn’t use a certain technique to get their job done. Instead, tell the rep, “That’s one option, what else can you try?” This gives the sales rep a chance to reconsider, rather than defending their first ideas.
Coaching should be an experience that both salesperson and coach enjoy, not one that should be avoided. Coaching is conversational and non-threatening. It is a discussion about improvement and growth. It’s an opportunity to take what you learn in the classroom and make it work on the field.
Your training can be three times more effective.
Studies by the American Society for Training and Development reveal that 70% of actual job skills happen on the job. They estimate that classroom training accounts for only 30% of learning. And experienced coaches in the NFL seem to agree that for 100% effectiveness, we need to do both sides of the workout.
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