Eric Richardson believes there's a serious disconnect in the world of sales.
"Here's an analogy," says Richardson, a keynote sales speaker and chief executive of Growth Development Associates, which is based in Naples, Florida. "Think of a sales person as a professional athlete. Professional athletes go through a period of training. But unlike athletes, business people don't continue training. Sure, you can have a three-day training event, but when you send them back to their jobs, there's no more practice. That's like a football player going a whole season without practicing between games, or like Tiger Woods saying, 'I don't need to practice chip shots, I've already practiced that before.'"
In fact, a recent study by The Bridge Group, a sales consulting firm based in Hudson, Massachusetts, found that one out of seven companies never train their sales people, and more than half of the companies studied train their employees one to four times a year. Another study found that more than one-third of third-year sales professionals average only three to six days of sales training annually, and 39 percent of tenth-year sales professionals average zero to four days of sales training. Despite the lack of training, that study concludes: "Success meeting sales quotas was positively correlated with the degree to which sales training is integrated with the corporate learning function. The more integrated the sales training, the greater the success in meeting sales quotas. Simply put, integration is related to more sales." All of which comes during a time when nearly 50 percent of sales reps are missing quota, which, one consultant described as "mind-boggling" statistic.
While the statistics paint a bleak portrait of the current state of salesmanship, new start-ups as well as established firms are thinking of new and creative ways to leverage technology to train their sales people. Richardson, for example, has focused his business on creating sales training apps, which he describes as a "personal instant refresh" for a rep going on a sales call. Trish Bertuzzi, a sales consultant in Massachusetts, is beginning to teach her clients the ins and outs of LinkedIn as well as other forms of social media. Other sales reps are seeking out Web services to help train. Below are a few new ways to rethink your sales training.
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New Tools for Sales Training: Yes, There's an App for That
In addition to the statistics above, the The Bridge Group research also found that only 10 percent of businesses use Web-based services for their sales training. That could be changing.
Apps, for example, are becoming an increasingly popular and common way for sales reps to beef up on their sales strategies before they enter a sales pitch. Growth Development Associates has created a suite of 16 apps geared exclusively for sales training. The apps, which are available on the iPhone and Android platforms and cost about $10, are an affordable and easy way to reinforce sales skills. Titles include Handling Objections, Selling Big Deals, Selling Upgrades, and Account Presence Mobile Apps.
"In my mind, the app is not a substitute for training," says Richardson. "But it's 24-hour on-demand training. It can be used two minutes before you walk into a difficult situation and refresh a skill. Let's say you're going into a meeting with a guy who wants to rip your ears off. Wouldn't it be nice, just before you get out of the car, to listen to techniques about handling objections?"
Other app companies have jumped into the sales training field as well. MTD Sales Training Academy, for instance, offers reps a chance to improve sales skills with "real world techniques and methods that you can use back in the office or out on the road." The app, which costs $3, features a sales techniques index, sales tips flash cards, sales coaching questions, and audio tips.
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New Tools for Sales Training: Training Your Sales Reps to Use Social Media
You know your prospects are on LinkedIn, but as a sales rep, what's the appropriate way to approach them? Trish Bertuzzi, a sales consultant and president of the Massachusetts-based Bridge Group, says that if leveraged correctly, LinkedIn can be an essential source of sales leads.
"LinkedIn is fabulous to use in a couple of ways," she says. First, she says, it helps a savvy rep understand what buyers are actually talking about. Find out what groups they participate in and, within those groups, you'll be able to see what types of challenges they're facing—and what types of solutions you could potentially offer.
"I am a voyeur of those groups to understand the questions they are asking of each other, how they are responding, and what they view as their biggest challenges," she says. "Those kinds of things are very helpful to me when I engage them in conversation."
You can also use LinkedIn to understand with whom your buyers are connected to. Before picking up the phone to call any potential buyer, Bertuzzi urges her clients to check the prospect's LinkedIn account to see any possible connections that could help leverage the deal.
And to leverage your own firm's connections, Salesforce.com recently introduced Chatter, a collaboration tool to help sales reps communicate within an organization. "Chatter makes it easy to collaborate and get important information fast when you're following the right people and joining the right groups. To help you get the most out of your feed, Chatter uses dynamic logic to recommend relevant people in your company to follow and important groups you should join," the company notes on its site. That means if you're hunting down a potential prospect, you can log on to Chatter and see if anyone in your firm knows the buyer personally or professionally.
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New tools for Sales Training: Better Tools for Lead Generation
"In 30 years of my research, the number one problem sales people face is they chase poor prospects," says Dan Seidman, a sales consultant and keynote speaker. "If you mention this in a room full of sales reps, you see the heads start nodding."
To train sales people on generating better leads, a number of companies have introduced new products that leverage new technology to improve lead generation and determine the quality of prospect.
OneSource, a business information services company based in Concord, Massachusetts, introduced iSell, a clever new sales prospecting tool to help reps sift through leads to find the right match.
Paula J. Hane noted in InformationToday.com that the product "takes sales prospecting to the next level by finding, prioritizing, and delivering the hottest prospects directly to sales professionals. The new tool not only taps a broad range of relevant content but is also designed to deliver context, a personalized experience, and an automated feed of hot prospects."
Another product, Foretuit, can actually map employees' business behavior and provide real-time information that can assist with a sale. A "Battlefield Finalist" at the May 2011 TechCrunch Disrupt conference, Foretuit could very well be the next generation of sales tools; it can analyze complex patterns of a sales lead and offer information that can be used to help secure the deal. According to a recent press release, "The service analyzes the collaborative structures within the enterprise using unstructured data gathered from an employee's digital behavior—such as email and calendar data—then identifies patterns based on their roles, frequency of communication and output...The result is better deal lifecycle management, and improved business outcomes for enterprises at a lower cost."
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New tools for Sales Training: Train With a Bit of Broadway Flair
One isn't necessarily a luddite for enjoying some old-fashioned sales training—although you can add a twist. Dan Seidman notes that many companies are opting out of traditional classroom training and offering their sales people training through improv and acting classes. The idea, Seidman says, is to train sales reps on how to create an emotional connection—and remaining calm when a prospect throws a curveball to the seller.
"Sales people need to know how communicate with the buyer," he says. "The main thing I teach people is that you need to train people to create an emotional context. Actors do this all the time. They're imaging a scene that they're in."
Richardson, the creator of the sales training apps, agrees. Although his business model focuses exclusively on tech products to help train sales reps, he acknowledges that at the end of the day, true training comes from one-on-one contact.
"You can say all the words correctly, but face-to-face I can see when I look in your eyes if you don't believe what you're saying," Richardson says. "That's the one thing that can't be done with an app or online training."
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