When it comes to your company’s sales training programs, are you just doing the same old, same old—with the same old results to show for it? Then it’s time to take a cue from successful sales training programs, the kind that trainees rate as highly engaging and ROI stats prove are worth the money and effort to implement. We’ve worked with scores of companies with successful programs, and we’ve taken note of the characteristics they have in common. Here are three ways that sales training programs have adapted to today’s consumer to set themselves apart.
1. The Emphasis Is on Meeting Needs—Not Persuading
Gone are the days when stereotypically slimy salespeople could manipulate their way into a sale—today’s consumers are just too smart for that. Most consumers have seen every sales trick under the sun, so they’re immune to most of the “persuasive” sales tactics that many sales training programs still teach. Consumers have not only become increasingly skeptical of traditional sales tactics, but they’ve become increasingly sophisticated as well—and they demand sophisticated sales solutions to match. In a world where you can customize everything down to the automated voice of your phone’s GPS system, clients crave custom solutions that fit their needs.
To thrive in today’s sales landscape, sales training programs must teach trainees to adopt a customer centric mindset. That means that selling is no longer about persuading—it’s not even about the product. It’s about meeting the customer’s idiosyncratic needs. The beauty of this approach, of course, is that salespeople don’t need to persuade or manipulate, because they’re approaching the sale from a place of giving—and listening. Successful sales training programs today should focus just as much on effective listening and communication skills, as they do on more traditional, persuasive sales skills. In order for a customer’s needs to be met, they must first be heard.
2. Encourage Salespeople to Think and Act Like Experts
Part of what’s fueling the increasing sophistication of today’s consumers is the ease with which they can research products and solutions for themselves. When a salesperson walks into a meeting with a potential client, he or she must assume the prospect has already Googled his or her company—and the company’s competitors.
In order to keep sales teams one step ahead of consumers, sales training programs today must transform their trainees into experts—not just salespeople. That means being an expert in the product or service they’re selling, the client’s company, and the client’s industry as a whole. Effective sales training programs will equip trainees with the skills and techniques needed to research and develop in-depth customer profiles so that they can walk into a meeting prepared to dazzle a client with their executive presence and a deep well of knowledge. Think of today’s successful salesperson as a consultant who provides value to a prospect even before a solution is delivered by pointing out potential problem areas that a client has yet to perceive. A salesperson can only step into that consultative role if he or she embraces the need for expertise.
3. Instill Long-Term Behavior Change
Successful sales training programs are responsible for not just teaching new sales skills and strategies, but making that teaching stick. Your sales-team trainees need to not only know what to do (approach sales with a consultative, customer centric attitude, for instance), but know how and when to do it. That combination of what, how, and when is what leads to real and lasting behavior change.
So, how do sales training programs deliver real behavior change? They take a two-pronged approach: immersive experiences during training and a follow-up strategy that reinforces what was taught. Instead of passive content delivery (i.e. PowerPoint presentations and the like), successful sales training programs combine learning and practice in one fell swoop through experiential learning activities. Experiential learning is essentially learning by doing, where participants learn and practice new skills through immersive, hands-on activities that mimic on-the-job scenarios. By building practice into the learning itself, experiential learning sales training programs remain a big step ahead of traditional training programs that assume participants will practice their new skills after the program ends.
But building practice into training isn’t enough—permanent behavior change only occurs when it’s reinforced effectively. Smart sales training programs design retention strategies that keep new skills top of mind for trainees, long after they’ve left the training event. From retention “games” that make learning fun to testing that measures program success and room for improvement, retention is the final piece that ensures a well-rounded, ROI-focused sales training program that delivers lasting behavior change.
Have you had success with your own sales training programs? If so, what other characteristics contributed to your success? If not, what characteristics do you think were missing?