Why Sales Training Fails? Too Little Focus on Buyers’ Needs

Could you run a sales training class without talking about selling skills, products, features, or benefits? John J. McCarthy, author of an influential article in Trusts & Estates magazine, says you should. And I couldn’t agree more.

While conducting research for my dissertation on how sales people learn, I found McCarthy’s piece, “A Sales Manager Explains Why Sales Training Fails.” What intrigued me about it is that McCarthy suggests that instead of creating sales training focused on selling skills, managers should orient them around the buyer, and develop buyer-centered sales training. At first I thought this was crazy, but if you think about it, we spend so much time training sales people how to think like sales people, but we rarely conduct training on how buyers buy.

Create Buyer-Beware Sales Training

This also reminded me of the training I conducted in my early days in financial services: I was teaching young, aspiring financial services sales people about products they would be selling. I was brilliant: I taught them everything they needed to know about the products, their features, and most importantly, the benefits of each feature. Then one of the students asked me, “That’s great, but who would buy this and why?” Doh! We had spent almost an entire day on product knowledge and discussing the importance of focusing on benefits, but never really talked about the buyer.

Yes, advanced product knowledge is vital. And yes, the ability to understand and apply a proven sales process is a necessary condition for sales success. But we must spend more time talking about our buyers and the buying process. We must address the questions; Why do buyers buy? What process do buyers use to make a purchase?

McCarthy lays out a process that buyers use when making a buying decisions, and suggests sales training be focused on understand this buying process for your customers. Here is a summary of the buying process.

Stage 1

Buyer becomes conscious of an underlying anxiety, frustration or concern.

Stage 2

Buyer conscious that he/she has the time and temperament to think about this particular issue.

Stage 3

Buyer is deciding to act to do something now.

Stage 4

Buyer has the time to determine the rough outlines that will comprise an acceptable solution.

Stage 5

Buyer has the time to shop and compare.

Stage 6

Buyer make a decision and executes the purchase.

This buying process can and should be tailored to suit your target customers, and failing to dedicate much of our sales training programs to the buying process will contribute to ineffective sales training. Consider developing a buyer training program rather than a sales training program. It just might make the difference.

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Bill Cushard, Chief Learning Officer at The Knowland Group, is a learning leader with more than 12 years experience in training and performance improvement at companies such as E*TRADE Financial, Accenture, and Time Warner Cable.