The sales process can be brutal. No matter how good your products are, you won’t go far if your sales staff isn’t properly trained. As with any other job, it can take years to build up experience, but there are four areas where your employees need to be experts before they ever talk to a customer.
Basic sales skills
If you’re hiring entry-level salespeople, you’ll want to make sure they know the basic sales skills: how to listen, how to make recommendations, how to overcome objections, how to close the sale, how to follow up, etc. Even if you’re hiring an experienced salesperson from another company, it would be a good idea to accompany them on a few sales calls so you can observe their skill level. You can always do a refresher if it’s needed.
Next, sales personnel need to understand your industry. What things do people in that industry care about? What challenges is the industry facing? Is it growing or shrinking? What are your competitors doing? Who is the industry leader, and who is following? The better your sales personnel understand your industry, the better they’ll be able to establish rapport with your customers and anticipate their needs.
There are few things more frustrating than trying to learn enough about a product to make an informed decision when even the salesperson is clueless. It’s not enough to just know the product lineup. Sales personnel need to understand what your products do and how customers use them. Do all customers use them the same way, or are some finding unique uses that could open up opportunities with other customers? What problems do customers have with the product? And, if the product fails, what effect does that have on the customer’s business? If possible, your sales staff should use the products themselves. Granted, that’s easier when you’re selling software than when you’re selling industrial chemicals. But, even then, it would be smart to have your sales staff spend some time in the field observing how the products are used.
The way the sales process works
This is the “how we do things here” knowledge. Sales processes vary wildly between companies, and what’s normal and expected at one company could be verboten at another. How do commissions work? What does the salesperson need to do once they’ve taken an order? Does your company extend credit to customers? Do they vet new customers before accepting big orders? What happens when a customer cancels an order (or just doesn’t pay)? It’s also crucial for your sales staff to understand any regulations and laws that govern your company. Don’t assume that you can skip this part of the training when you hire an experienced salesperson; their former employer could have operated on an entirely different model. Checklists and flowcharts can help keep new hires out of trouble until they’ve thoroughly learned the process.
It’s been said that the right salespeople can sell anything, and, to a large extent, that’s true. But success depends on expertise in all four areas. No matter how experienced the sales personnel you hire may be, provide the training they need to succeed.