How to Kick Off Successful Sales Training? Ask, Don’t Tell

Sales training needs to be changed fundamentally. One major learning objective of sales training should be that sales people spend the first phone call or two solely on discovery. Include plenty of practice on this phase of the selling process. If your sales training includes this, I can tell you —  your sales force isn’t applying it.

I often take meetings from vendors and sales people. I like to take these meetings because I might learn something new. However, here is the problem: Sales people get me on the phone and launch straight into a pitch of their product. They describe every feature and benefit and even examples of other companies that use the product successfully. That is all fine and good, but those examples are often completely irrelevant to me.

Questions first

Why don’t more sales people ask me what I do, what I need, or how I do what I do before they tell me about their products? If only they asked questions, they might figure out what I do and what I need, and tailor a conversation to my needs. Or, for that matter, say to me, “You know, we can’t help you with those needs. Our product does not address those.” Can you imagine a sales person with that much confidence and professionalism?

This bothers me so much that I propose all sales training teach that a first conversation with a prospect should not include any talk at all about the seller’s products or services. Now, of course, applying this idea depends on a lot of factors, not the least of which is the length of the selling cycle. You would not take this approach selling shirts in a retail store. However, selling enterprise software, that is a different story.

Product later

So in that spirit, I propose that a first call should be almost entirely about discovery. The sales person should discover what the potential buyer does, what problems need solving, and otherwise what the buyer needs to overcome those problems. Until those things are well-known by the seller, a conversation about product is a waste of time.

I say again, if your sales training includes this, I can tell you that I may have spoken with your sales team last week, and they are not applying it.

Am I the only one who has this experience? What can we do as sales training professionals to change the approach many sales people take early on in the sales process to be more focused on customer needs? Share your comments below.

(Image courtesy of Flickr user quinn.anya, CC 2.0)

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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.