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How to Realign Your Sales Training Strategy

We’ve all heard the saying, “Begin with the end in mind.” While it’s certainly applicable to planning sales training, it’s not anything new. In fact, the first step taken in planning the vast majority of sales training programs was probably setting goals and objectives. We begin by identifying the desired end result and then we plan for how to achieve it.

Objectives like, “Upon completing training, sales reps will have a thorough understanding of the new product line and be able to effectively demonstrate product features to close the sale,” become the foundation of the sales training program.

There’s nothing wrong with working toward an objective like this, but what if beginning with a different end in mind could achieve greater, perhaps more meaningful, results? What if focusing on training sales reps to consistently provide smooth, purposeful customer interactions made all the difference?

The idea here is fairly simple. Instead of training your sales reps to know as much as possible about the products or services they’re selling, train them on the people they’re selling to and the interactions that, when executed properly, are most likely to lead to a sale–and a happy customer. Then, educate them on where to find all of that important product information so they can access it as needed during those exceptional customer interactions.

Why is this important? Here are just a few reasons.

First, if a potential customer chooses to buy from a competitor instead of you, research from Bain & Company suggests it is four times more likely to be because they had a problem with your service–not your price or your product.

Next, according to Peppers and Rogers, 81 percent of companies with strong capabilities and competencies for delivering excellent customer experiences are outperforming their competitors.

And lastly, Harris Interactive reports that even in a negative economy, customer experience is a high priority for consumers, with 60 percent often or always paying more for a better experience.

There’s much more data available in support of the claim that better customer experiences translate into better sales numbers. But it’s not as simple as training your sales reps to make every one of their leads happy. It’s more strategic than that.

Customer Satisfaction is Not Synonymous with Smooth Customer Interactions

A recent article in the MIT Sloan Management Review dissected these interactions with a study about customer satisfaction and company profitability. The research presented in the article strongly suggested that customer satisfaction and sales do not necessarily go hand in hand. Just because someone is happy doesn’t mean they’re going to buy from you. For this reason, it’s important to fully understand the interactions that have both value to the company and value to the customer.

As the article states, “At their core, customer-company relationships are about the exchange of value. The value that a customer provides to the company is the flow of profits over time. For the customer, value is the satisfaction obtained from the company’s products and services. Not all company-customer relationships, however, represent a fair exchange.”

The key is to identify and maximize the interactions that do represent a fair exchange. Those that yield both a happy customer and forward progress down the sales cycle. Look for them and you’ll see that these interactions happen in just about every closed sale. They are the conversations, demonstrations, services, and questions that make a customer feel good, earn trust, and progress the buying process.

Sales, training and marketing all need to work together to identify these interactions. Sales can identify these interactions and will know how they play out in reality. Training can prepare sales reps to intentionally engineer these interactions, yielding both of the desired results. And marketing can provide the content to support the entire process.

Easier said than done? Perhaps. But it's worth the effort.

By working together, these three departments become a powerhouse. They are capable of building a highly productive sales force that fully understands how to manage the buying process to achieve optimal results.

Train Reps on Interactions, Not on Product Features

Once you’ve identified the precious interactions that add value to both the company and the customer, build a training program around perfecting, duplicating, and maximizing them. Sales, marketing and training can all work together to equip your sales reps to flawlessly manage customer interactions that will continuously guide the customer through the buying cycle.

Instead of training your sales reps to be able to recite all of the features and functions of your products or explain every detail of the services you offer, consider training them to prioritize management of the important customer interactions. Then make strong, quality content easily available to them to help answer technical questions, support demonstrations, and explain details. Educate them on the availability of these resources and set the expectation that they will be used to help support those critical customer interactions.

Provide 24/7 Support

Some skeptics of this methodology may be concerned about providing reps with more training on customer interactions than on products or services. They may be concerned that reps will not have the knowledge required to close the deal.

What if they use outdated content? What if they can’t find the content they need? What if they don’t have the necessary brochures or catalogues needed to answer specific customer questions?

All of these “what ifs” are resolved when you offer 24/7 support. Well, you might say that it seems like a bit much, right? Why would you shift your training focus only to introduce the need for something like 24/7 sales support? And how are you supposed to come up with the resources to manage it?

The answer is technology. Leverage technology like a sales force productivity mobile app to make this content available anytime and anywhere they may need it – 24/7. Make your content library easily accessible anytime and anywhere your reps have their tablets or smartphones. Make it easy to navigate with a simple and intuitive user interface. Ensure your reps always have only the most current content by managing what’s available through a CMS. Even gain valuable insights about what content your reps are using as well as when and how they're using it through automatic feedback channels built into the app’s analytics.

A mobile app can provide your reps freedom to confidently focus on maintaining positive interactions with their customers, knowing that at a moment’s notice, they can call on the wealth of support you’ve provided.

P.S. If you’re not sure how to create content that will be most valuable to your users, check out “The Critical Content Strategy” for our tips and best practices.

Begin With a Different End In Mind

Continue to plan your sales training programs by beginning with the end in mind. Next time, though, consider shifting your focus and write a new ending. Think through the interactions that are difference-makers both for your company and for your customers. By perfecting, duplicating, and maximizing them, you could see happier customers and increased sales. It’s a win/win.

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