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When sales training isn't | Good sales training


Sales training is an essential part of the sales industry, but like much training, it is debatable as to the value it adds. Individual training sessions can vary from brilliant to numbingly boring.

When sales training isn't

What is called sales training is often actually product training, with the focus being on training the sales people on how to demonstrate products. Although this is essential, it is not really teaching people how to sell.

Training traps

Sales training often focuses far too much on what the sales person is saying and doing rather than what the other person is understanding and deciding. 

Sales training often fails because it confuses attitude with process. To learn to sell, you need to understand the process. Some sales training gets you all pumped up, but doesn't tell you what to do next. It's like giving you a gun and not telling you how or where to use it.

No magic bullet

Sales scripts are often taught as magic bullets. You blindly use the words, phrases and complete scenarios and the sale is supposed to drop into you lap. Some chance. Use anything blindly and you'll be lucky to get anywhere near the target. The main casualty is likely to be you.

Sales training that follows fads, lurching from one new sales system to another, either confuses sales people or turns them into cynics.

Good sales training

To make sales training effective, it first must teach people how to fish, not how to be fish. It is surprising how many sales people are suckers--feed them a great line and they'll believe it.

It's about understanding

Good sales training manages the paradox of both teaching a coherent process whilst avoiding the 'one true way' religion. The people should come out understanding how the system works, not just understanding how to work the presumably-magical system. 

The approach in any sales situation should be (a) understand what is going on, and then (b) apply learning that works in this situation. Good sales training thus provides lots of case studies and practical exercises where the student gets to try out the new learning in a safe environment.

A bite at a time

There is a good balance to be found between teaching too little and teaching too much. Each student should come away with enough learning to make a difference to their selling. If you swamp them, as some (especially internal) courses do, rather than getting them up to speed in minimal time, they'll end up learning next to nothing. 

A good training course fits itself to its students, rather than expecting students to rigidly follow the party line. This makes a lot more work for the trainers, but in doing so, they are modeling how sales people should fit their approach to their customers, rather than expecting customers to change their buying process to fit the sales person's process.

Follow up!

Good sales training has follow-up as a part of the package. This includes:

  • Setting targets for sales.
  • Action plan for using new processes, etc. 
  • Post-sales-session evaluation and reflection
    • Did I use what I was taught?
    • Did it work?
    • If not, why?
  • Revision of action plan.
  • Further tuition as necessary.

See also


Buy Me

Robert L. Jolles, Customer Centered Selling, New York: Free Press, 1998 

A marvelous book for business-to-business sales people giving full details of the selling system used by Xerox. It challenges many of the more traditional sales techniques and even goes beyond modern approaches such as Neil Rackham?s SPIN Selling (which Jolles acknowledges as a significant influence). See also the review of this book.


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