Article Summary:Attention sales management, we must continue to train our sales staff. Our people create our profits - we must continually re-invest in them.
Unfortunately, the task of selling never becomes any easier and as competition continues to intensify, sales people will face issues that can be extremely difficult to deal with i.e. decreased product uniqueness, increased competition within 'safe' markets, longer sales cycles and shorter product life spans. Every organisation that intends to survive in the re-engineered environment that arrived with the new millennium must, in my view, respond to those realities.
During the seventies, eighties and nineties, it was common for large corporations such as Hewlett Packard, IBM, and Compaq etc to put their new sales recruits through a twelve to eighteen-month training programme. Today, salespeople consider themselves extremely fortunate if they receive an initial two weeks of induction training or product familiarisation workshops.
So what has changed? Have companies discovered that training is not necessary? On the contrary, training appears to be even more important today than it was thirty years ago and it is becoming more critical all the time.
Lower Training Budgets But Higher Expectations
The dichotomy facing Sales Directors: How can they reconcile the fact that most corporations today provide less upfront training for their sales staff than in years past, yet attach increasing importance to staff development?
This should not come as a surprise, because current stock market thinking provides a powerful disincentive for firms to invest in their people on an ongoing basis. An organisation's investment in their human capital, in the form of training and other forms of education, is not separable from general expenditure. It therefore appears as a cost on the corporate balance sheet.
Unfortunately, as a consequence, many Sales Directors, have concluded that their only realistic option is to cut back on training and instead look to recruit sales professionals who, in theory anyway, already possess the necessary skills needed to do the job. They then send them out to win business armed with what they know. However, most of those same Sales Directors are discovering just how difficult it is to find skilled salespeople, who have all of the essential skills and personal traits. And anyway, it is not possible to equate experience or seniority with success.
In skills development, there are many similarities to sport i.e. does an athletic champion stop training as soon as they win their first medal? In music, does a concert pianist stop rehearsing as soon as they have given their first recital? In art, does the artist stop improving after they have enjoyed the first exhibition of their work? The answer in all cases is obvious and we should apply the same common sense principals to the ongoing development of our sales teams.
The reality is that selling in today's climate is both an art and a science. Selling is a profession that demands a far wider range of skills than ever before, skills that require continual fine-tuning and constant practice.
In Summary - Ongoing Reinforcement and Development Is Essential
The operative word here is "ongoing". Even if salespeople have undergone progressive sales training, there's no guarantee that they will be successful. It is common knowledge that skills grow rusty over time and salespeople are prone to pick up bad habits along the way or to simply skip steps and take shortcuts that can lead to long-term trouble. Perhaps even more important these days, is the fact that markets, competition, technologies, and customer preferences are all in a constant and accelerating state of change. This fact requires that sales people are able and willing to rethink their sales strategy and approach frequently and receive a regular top-up of skills and motivational coaching.
Jonathan Farrington is a globally recognized business coach, mentor, author and consultant, who has guided hundreds of companies and thousands of individuals around the world towards optimum performance levels. Formerly Jonathan was the Managing Partner of The jfa Group which he founded in 1994. Now he is the Chairman of The Sales Corporation and CEO of Top Sales Associates. Full details are available on Jonathan's website at JonathanFarrington.com.