Years ago, a Vice President of Sales I worked for remarked, “It’s okay to trim the fat but be careful you don’t cut muscle”. What he was saying was that in tougher times looking at the bottom line and trimming wasteful spending is a good thing, but be careful what you cut.
In times like these, many organizations start to cut training budgets. Why? I believe it’s because it’s a fast win. Training can be expensive, and the money not being spent looks impressive on the bottom line. Training can also be difficult to justify in financial terms – it’s tough to calculate an exact return on the investment (“How many extra widgets did we sell because of the training?”).
Sales departments are part of “the muscle” of an organization. After all, they are responsible for producing revenue. However, the world has changed forever and unless salespeople have the skills to sell in the new market a company can quickly fall behind.
Google and the Internet have altered the sales process forever. The buying cycle is shorter and the customers are better-educated. Prior to contacting the salesperson, the customer has already researched the company’s products and services. They want the salesperson to explain how the product or service works; why it works; who else uses it, and how those other customers overcame their challenges. Customers also want to know the benefits versus the risks involved with the product or service as well as the best practices for buying and implementation. Since customers are better informed the salesperson has fewer opportunities to influence the customer’s decision-making. Therefore, salespeople need to be well-skilled in negotiating, communicating and influencing in order to impact the customer’s decision to buy when given the opportunity to do so.
In order to keep existing customers salespeople need to be able to reinforce the value of the company’s products and services. It’s not about talking them into buying more; it’s about finding more ways to add value to the customer’s business. As one VP of Sales recently put it, “When we show a customer how to make an extra dollar by using our products, we end up making an extra dime.” While this sounds simple, it’s not necessarily easy. Reps need training in the areas of probing, listening, confirming and communicating the value of your products and services.
As well as reinforcing the value of their company, salespeople need to increase customer satisfaction. Just like your organization, your customers are also affected by the downturn in the economy. One sales manager reports that he is getting more complaints from customers about reps. “There is nothing substantial, just a feeling that some reps have been neglecting them.” In tough times sales reps need to be closer to customers. Reps need to be constantly looking for ways to add value and reinforce the positive aspects of doing business with your customers. Customer concerns need to be dealt with immediately. While this may be stating the obvious, reps need to have the skills necessary to maintain and improve relationships with current customers.
In addition to keeping existing customers, salespeople need to increase their customer base. To do this, they need to have strong skills in identifying target markets, prospecting, demonstrating the value of your organization, and closing. Research also shows that the some of the old ways of prospecting and connecting with new customers no longer works. The shift is toward more electronic connections and using social media to influence purchasing decisions. Sales reps need to know how you use these electronic connections effectively.
The last point is that companies need to prepare for the market recovery. While we cannot predict when the economic turnaround will come, by having a well-trained and highly-skilled sales force, organizations will be poised to take advantage of market growth and get a jump on their competitors.
So instead of chopping your sales training budget look for ways to make the training more cost effective. Some ways of doing that include hiring an outside trainer to do some in-house training instead of sending people to training courses (you save the travel costs). Take advantage of opportunities when your sales team is together and do some training. For example, when participating in a trade show bring the team in a day early.
By carefully choosing meaningful, timely, and cost-effective training you can keep your customers happy, increase your customer base, prepare for the market turn-around and keep the finance department happy.
About the Author:
Randy Shuttleworth, CSP is the Senior Partner of the Training Company which specializes in sales training, customer service excellence training, and team development programs.. Randy instructs in the Canadian Professional Sales Association’s Professional Selling Skills program as well he is an examiner for the Certified Sales Professional (CSP) designation.