Online Interactive Sales Training

In 1769, James Watt completed big improvements to Thomas Newcomen’s steam engine, invented in 1705. Although this advanced steam engine revolutionized manufacturing, which previously relied on water and animal power, it took many decades for the technology to see wide-spread acceptance. Online training has been around in some form or another since the mid-1990s, and over the last 25 years, adoption has been similarly slow and steady. But the recent pandemic has put this transformation into high gear. 

Competence is defined as a blend of knowledge, skill and attitude. For salespeople, sales skills are primary. Of course,  knowledge is also important – the three steps to handling an objection, the five-steps buyers go through to make a purchase, etc.  And don’t forget “sales attitude.” But good skills are the make or break part of any successful salesperson’s approach. All the knowledge in the world isn’t useful if the salesperson can’t apply the knowledge in a critical sales situation. 

Sales skills are hard to teach without instructor interaction, and with coaches and fellow participants in learning. I always use the analogy from my aircraft pilot training. I first took ground school and obtained all the knowledge I needed: how to contact air traffic control, altitudes I should maintain, the angle of attack that would lead to a spin, and the like. But the first time I was behind the yoke of an actual plane, I was no pilot. I had the knowledge and a superior attitude but no skill. 

We’ve found online training requires a quite different method of facilitation to build skill. In the classroom, you see each participant, their body language, their eye contact or lack of it, and their engagement. Online, the instructor must carefully keep track of who is interacting and who is silent. The instructor must effortlessly glide from PowerPoint back to webcams, and to know what open- and closed-ended questions to ask on each page of the Participant Guide. One-on-one coaching is critical. 

In  March of 2020, we found ourselves converting all of our face-to-face Boot Camps to virtual training sessions. Oh, we’ve had online courses for many years and done hundreds of webinars, but this was much more complex. Our pilots went well, and we quickly learned how to build sales skills even if we couldn’t be face-to-face. After all, our participants were really in the same boat. They were telephone sales reps, and wouldn’t be face-to-face with their customers either. 

In telephone sales, we know word choice is critical since you have only one ear of tone-of-voice and no body language. With virtual training, the instructor must key on word choice, but must also use the interest generating tools the telephone salesperson must use – engaging open-ended questions, thought-provoking materials, exercises that demand participation. The participant must be mentally transported away from their workspace to a space of learning. 

So now? Lessons learned.  It’s full steam ahead.

Prospecting for Gold

Back in 1849, 300,000 people raced to California to take part in a genuine human stampede, sparked by the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill. Today, salespeople are rushing to prospect, attracted by the sparkling gold of data analytics.

Business-to-business prospecting is driven by two main drivers. First, demographics. Demographics are statistical data relating to a population of businesses, for example, how many employees they have, locations and industry. Demographic information is readily available from many sources, including Dun and Bradstreet, Hoovers and InfoUSA.

Second, psychographics. Psychographics is the study and classification of businesses according to their attitudes, aspirations and other psychological criteria. For example, are they open to trying new vendors? Do they have growth strategies in place? What kind of corporate culture do they have?

Two businesses with similar demographics may have quite different psychographics. For the salesperson, they would like to focus on businesses which fit their demographic profile, and also demonstrate psychographics receptive to new offerings. Historically, psychographic information was inferred from data which could be acquired. For example, if a company attended a certain trade show regularly, that might indicate they might be open to exploring new ideas. The business-to-business direct mail industry made prospecting an art form by using response lists from similar offerings. For example, if an employee attended a seminar on “How to Manage Effectively”, they might be open to a book entitled “101 Ways to Manage”.

Today, psychographics is routinely derived from a company’s employee web behavior. For example, if your business sells copiers to other businesses, and an employee from XYZ spends 20 minutes on your website – including five minutes looking at all the details of your Super Supreme copier – this behavior provides the seller with considerable information.  If this information is matched with demographic information, say by determining XYZ is within a certain salesperson’s territory, has a A+ credit rating and 500 employees, it may warrant a sales contact.

As the seller gains experience with their web traffic, they can score individual contacts using psychographics and demographics. Some will warrant a quick sales call, others will be dropped into work streams managed by marketing until they score high enough for sales to be involved. As way to encourage a “first contact”, many organizations use a chat feature which many buyers find less intrusive, and provide a good entrée into the selling organization.

Web psychographics also help determine who the buyer is. Unlike personal emails, many corporate emails provide a clue to the name of the individual, and domain information is easier to determine. Because of the ease of doing research online, many buyers will do their own research directly, rather than delegating homework to others. This sometimes makes it easier to go straight to a decision maker.

Cold calling has always been difficult. Today, with sophisticated voice response units and voicemail making telephone contact difficult, and security concerns limiting the “drop by” field sales call, online psychographics provides the sales organization a concrete methodology for prospecting .

There’s gold in them there hills!

The High-Impact Coaching Process

New Year’s Eve

On New Year’s Eve, across the United States, almost a million people in person, and tens of millions more on television, watch the crystal ball drop in New York’s Times Square. The actual drop takes but a few seconds, but the preparation begins many days before. In sales it is much the same, management, executives and admiring colleagues may tune in to the successful close of a big sale by dishing out pats on the back, a celebratory ring of a bell strategically placed in the sales area, or a mention in email. But what is not typically rewarded or recognized is the preparation, often months or even years before, that led up to the sale.

Relationship building – that painfully long investment in building trust and understanding – rarely is rewarded with the corporate equivalent of champagne. Instead, it is the careful work the successful sales representative know leads to success.

Customers reveal their problems to a salesperson almost immediately. Little trust is needed to deal with problems, whether a warranty claim needs to be filled or a part ordered – these are communicated without hesitation. However, opportunities the customer has in front of them, and long-term strategies they are implementing, are hidden from sales representatives who call to “touch base” or just “check in”. But opportunities and strategies are often where the money is, and where the competition is easier.

A relationship is built on trust, and knowledge sharing. Trust comes from keeping your word, delivering as expected, and meeting or exceeding quality requirements. Knowledge sharing is dependent on the sales representative asking good open-ended questions and then listening. When knowledge is shared, the salesperson should use that knowledge to help the customer. Perhaps he or she has a white paper to share based on what they learned. Maybe they can propose an incentive program the customer can take advantage of, or introduce an expert within the selling organization that can help the customer. Knowledge sharing must be reciprocal, the customer should gain something by sharing.

The golden opportunity for the salesperson is when the customer calls inbound and says, “we were considering our options, and I was wondering if you could help?” The relationship prompts the inbound call. The relationship caused the customer to think of the salesperson and the selling organization between calls. The “touching base” or “checking in” salesperson is quickly forgotten.

A good telephone salesperson keeps careful notes in their customer relationship management system (CRM) and asks themselves before each call, “what do I need to ask to build our relationship?” Every call has both a marketing component and relationship building component. The answers are documented, the relationship grows, trust is magnified.

“If you could wave your magic wand, what would you change regarding your packaging equipment?”

“When you met with your team for new year planning, what strategies did you create?”

“Tell me about any new projects you’ve been awarded since we last spoke.”

Oh, and “is there anything else I can help you with right now?”, because “problems” do also count.

Happy New Year!

You Gotta Know the Territory

In Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man”, the anvil salesman melodically tells the people around him on the train “you gotta know the territory.”

For the sales manager of an inside sales force, one of the primary management quandaries is the territory assigned to a salesperson. Typically, a territory may consist of customers, prospects and suspects.

Customers are organizations that have bought something in the past, typically three years. The salesperson is assigned to maintain the relationship and build customer loyalty, to build market share, and to cross- and up-sell other products and services.

Prospects are organization that are not customers, but have expressed some interest in the selling organization. For example, they may have responded positively to an email or postal mail offering, filled in a lead form on the website, or entered information on an inquiry form.

Suspects are organizations the selling organization determines could be customers, because of their demographics and psychographics. Demographics are descriptors such as number of employees, SIC code or location. Psychographics are behavior indicators, such as attending a certain trade show, or subscribing to a periodical or newsfeed.

What is a good blend?

The sales manager probably has a dual focus: short-term and long-term growth. Short term growth is the revenue needed to meet the quota this month and year. Long-term is beyond this time frame. Short term growth is more likely to come from existing customers, and sales pressure may be required to keep the current book of business from shrinking. Many of our clients have found they can achieve a 20% increase in revenue by assigning a telephone salesperson to an uncovered account. Long-term growth is also dependent on adding new customers, both to replace customers that attrite, and to grow the business beyond its current customer base. If the manager knows the total cost of the telephone sales position, the gross profit on sales, and their organization’s internal return-on-investment requirements, it is easy to calculate what revenue the telephone salesperson must generate in a year. Typically, customers will be assigned to this number, based on last year’s revenue and the projected gain from the additional sales pressure (typically 20%).

Second, what is the customer attrition rate or the expectation for growth beyond the existing account base? Prospects should be added first, they’ve already expressed interest. A rule of thumb is normally about 1 out of 5 prospects will convert to customers. Your experience may be different. Determine what your typical first year revenue is from a new account. Is that enough?

Third, if prospects do not produce enough revenue, add in suspects. If you have created a good list (demographic and psychographic qualified), a good rule of thumb is 5 out of 100 will become prospects (show some interest) and 20% of those interested will close. Again, your market may be different.

That’s music to any sales manager – “you gotta know the territory”.