Avoid the seven deadly sins of sales training

In today's highly competitive marketplace, companies can't afford low-producing salespeople.

In fact, the competition to find highly competent and professional salespeople is often a greater challenge for sales management than selling their product or service.

Our office gets calls weekly from recruiters who are pleading to find competent salespeople. It really is an employees' market and in no profession is this truer than selling.

As I've written previously, selling skills can be learned. But they first must be taught. Just as an engineer, accountant or physician isn't "born," neither is a salesperson. And one of the best marketing weapons a company can use against its competition is quality sales training. In bottom-line profits, it can mean the difference between breaking even and leading the pack.

At my company, we've seen salespeople increase their productivity 50 to 100 percent and more as a direct result of sales training -- the right sales training. Yet most companies reaction to the selling challenge is continuous hiring and firing coupled with more product training.

My office manager recently told me that she has been contacted by four different salespeople from both an office equipment provider and a telecommunications provider since she was hired. That's four different salespeople for one territory at two different companies. She's only been with my company for a little over one year!

This made me think about an insightful definition of insanity that I once heard: "Insanity is continually doing the same things while expecting different results." Isn't it blatantly obvious that you can't receive a different result by doing the same thing repeatedly? But most companies continue to offer more of the same in terms of hiring and firing practices and information "dumping" (product training).

In our 40-plus years of experience, my company has identified seven shortcomings of sales training that are common to many companies. However, when a company remedies them, the resulting sales increase can be dramatic:

No sales training.

What's wrong with sales training today? In most instances, there isn't any. Most companies coverage of "sales training" typically consists of product knowledge and how to do the necessary paperwork. It seems ridiculous for a company to require its salespeople to have four or five years of formal education, and then send them into the field armed with only their product knowledge and very little if any sales training. Sales knowledge makes product knowledge pay off. Product knowledge alone is not enough.

A one-shot course on how to sell.

CEOs and other top-level managers often lack sales backgrounds and therefore don't fully understand what professional selling requires. Reluctantly, they may agree to implement training to pacify the company's sales managers and training department. However, a one-shot approach to sales training won't work. For sales training to be effective, it must meet three requirements: It must be ongoing. It must be repetitious. And it must have real-world application.

Unqualified trainers.

It's hard to believe, yet companies often center the effectiveness of their sales training program around an instructor who has no sales experience whatsoever. Any company using training personnel without established, proven sales track records is only kidding itself. You can't expect individuals who have never sold before to adequately train other people on how to do it. It's probably truer in sales training than nearly anything else today: "Those who can, do ... and those who can't, teach."

Outdated methods.

It's amazing to realize how much of corporate America still teaches outdated selling techniques. These include the trick questions and manipulative, high-pressure selling tactics that were so commonly implemented in the '60s and '70s. Such techniques include the assumptive close, assuming that the prospect wants to buy and filling out an order. Or the alternate choice techniques, "Do you want it in red or blue?" And don't forget the impending event, "You better get your order in now, because the price is going to go up on the first of the month." The old-fashioned hard sell is no longer applicable because today's buyer is much more sophisticated, knowledgeable, aware -- and reacts adversely to the old ways of selling. In most instances, the buyer can tell when these tactics are being used. And as a result, these methods usually backfire.

Sales as psychology.

The way companies think that they can take salespeople and teach them how to be psychologists is beyond me. If you want your salespeople to become psychologists, send them to college for five or six years where they can learn how. Otherwise, don't have them trying to analyze their customers and meddling in the science. We know that in most instances the salespeople do not make any attempt whatsoever to close the sale. Wouldn't it be more effective to teach them how to ask for an order, rather than trying to turn them into psychologists?

Nontransferable selling techniques.

Typically, when new salespeople are brought on board, the company puts them through an orientation program, which usually provides the product knowledge necessary for any salesperson to be successful. The actual sales training is left for the sales manager or other "qualified" personnel. The typical scenario is as follows: The manager will take the recruit out on a sales call to show him/her how to do it. With the benefit of 15 years of experience, confidence and knowledge, the manager then makes the most difficult sale appear to be as easy as falling off a log. He/she then turns to the recruit, "See, that's all there is to it. Just do what I did." But the manager doesn't realize that he/she can't transfer 15 years of experience, 15 years of confidence and 15 years of knowledge to the new salesperson. Even more importantly, however, is that a new salesperson can't learn how to sell effectively by trying to sell like someone else. Why? Because each person should sell with his/her own personality and style. He/she won't get anywhere trying to emulate someone else.

Lack of management commitment.

Unfortunately, corporate America often regards their sales organization as a liability, instead of an asset. Companies need to understand that the sales force is an asset; the only asset on the corporate books that can appreciate with meaningful sales training programs and can have a major impact on bottom-line profits. We hear companies say things like, "We are a company of our people, our greatest asset is our people." That's nonsense. Any company's greatest asset is not its people. A company's greatest asset is the undeveloped potential of its people. If a company understands this and makes a commitment to the development of this asset, providing its people with continuous, effective sales training, they can expect to move ahead of their competitors in the marketplace. An effective, ongoing sales education program can provide any company with a sales differential that will leave their competitors in the dust. To have the most effective sales force possible, I urge sales management to close the revolving door of new salespeople and product information and, instead, focus on developing their greatest asset: the undeveloped potential of their existing people


Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.