Much of the current frustration with sales training is that some of the salespeople who need it most don’t apply the training to the field. They seem to understand the training, but still make the self-defeating mistakes that have become habits. They can answer all the training questions correctly in class, they excel in role plays and exercises, but they do not improve in front of the client.
The assumption is that sales training has failed; however, when we evaluate sales professionals, they have learned the principles.
The problem is that we want “results”, not just well “trained” salespeople.
Why preseason “training camp” works.
Right now, the NFL is busy preparing for the regular season. They do it every year to introduce new plays and techniques, train new players and reinforce the skills of veterans.
Players do a lot of classroom training at each camp. They spend their time studying playbooks, watching movies, discussing strategies… then they go out on the field and bump into each other for a couple of hours. So where does the learning happen? The most important part of learning occurs when the coach observes the correct exercises and techniques.
When Bruiser makes a mistake in his footwork, the coach can stop the play, correct Bruiser, and then replay the exact situation until Bruiser gets it right.
Classroom theory ends when the pads are lit and work begins in the camp trenches. By the time the regular season rolls around, the team is ready. But the training continues, before, during and after each match. Improving never ends.
What lessons can we learn from the NFL’s coaching methods?
Training begins in the classroom.
Players must understand the game plan before they are expected to carry it out. Motivational training has no place in the classroom until the player has mastered the skills. The most motivated, dedicated, hard-working and “pumped up” player will be physically and mentally destroyed, if he doesn’t have the skills to perform! (The rotation begins with people being told to “hold on” and then given nothing to “hold onto”).
Classroom training should be principle-based, skill-focused, specific, and realistic. All successful training is based on a set of principles that support the corporate strategy or philosophy. The seller needs to understand the correct address. Are we taking a long term consultative approach or are we selling at price in hopes of capturing volume? (ie street vendors 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 selling relationship? How will they ask open-ended questions that uncover the customer’s needs? How will they ask questions that make the customer recognize the value of a solution, before the salesperson places the order? How will the sales professional handle premature pricing questions? How will he or she ask for a commitment?
In your industry, training needs to be very specific. The foodservice 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 pushing boxes.
Realistic training focuses on sales situations and events that will occur every day in the field, not vague generalities. The salesperson needs to work and learn from case studies and role plays based on real sales challenges. These training techniques help the salesperson recognize and understand how sales principles apply to actual field experiences.
Overcoming and good habits begin in the field.
Just like the players in the NFL, our players will get the most meaningful learning experience when they’re on the field, looking the customer in the eye. As you watch this year’s football games, take a close look at what’s going on, on the sidelines. You’ll see position coaches downright engaged in lively training sessions with their players. Coaches will make plays or physically show players how to handle blocking and tackling situations.
Your players need the same type of training on the field. And you can provide that training while the experience is fresh in their minds and just before they practice the new idea or skill on the next sales call. We call this “curbside” training and it may be the most productive learning experience a sales professional will ever have.
Sell them on improvement.
The best sales coaches recognize that the greatest opportunity to improve sales skills is in the front seat of the sales professional’s car. Here our job is to first make the student recognize what went right and what went wrong on the last sales call. The best way to do this is to ASK them rather than TELL them. It’s like selling; things go better when we ask the customer what he needs, instead of trying to tell him what he needs.
Immediately after the call, the manager can begin coaching by asking, “Tell me, what do you think went well?” This gives the sales rep a chance to talk about the successes of the call. If he or she can’t think of anything that went well, then you should. People need to know what they’re doing right so they can keep repeating those things. Here the manager has the obligation to reinforce the strengths of the sales representative, recognizing a good job.
Next, the salesperson must acknowledge what isn’t working, so the coach will ask a question like “What do you think could have been improved on the call?” This gives the sales rep a chance to talk about what went wrong on the sales call. This is where coaching skills are most important and it is very practical, but it is not “constructive criticism”. The coach who constantly focuses on player failure is doing little more than frustrating the player.
Again, instead of telling them all the things they need to do, ask them, “What do you think you should do differently next time?” This allows the sales rep to think of options for improvement. It allows them to think and develop their own recipes for a cure.
You may 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 telling the buyer that he shouldn’t use a particular technique to do his job. Instead, tell the rep, “That’s one option, what else could I try?” This gives the sales rep a chance to think again, instead of defending his first ideas.
Coaching should be an experience the salesperson and coach crave, not an experience to be avoided. Training is conversational and non-threatening. It is a discussion about improving and growing. It’s an opportunity to take education in the classroom and make it work in the field.
Your training can be three times more effective.
Studies by the American Society for Training and Development find that 70% of actual job skills learning occurs on the job. They estimate that face-to-face training only accounts for 30% of learning. And experienced NFL coaches seem to agree, for 100% effectiveness we need to do both sides of the workout.