Don’t Sell BS to Salespeople, Make Their Training Meaningful

What really works — and what doesn’t — in corporate sales training? We sat down with Inc.com’s Geoffrey James, author of How to Say it: Business to Business Selling, for his latest insights on the state of the industry. This is the second of two parts. Read the first here.

How can salespeople make the most of their training?

If the training is meaningful and actually helps people to close business and to develop opportunities, you’ll find that sales people sign up quickly for that. It’s only when the stuff is meaningless or it is a management fad that you find reluctance. You don’t get eye rolls if the sales technique that you’re teaching has a genuine and obvious value.

Sales people are pretty much BS detectors; they just can’t afford to get caught up in nonsense, because you can’t hide from your quarterly sales figures. It’s not like other groups inside a company where you can kind of wing it and hide behind the bureaucracy of the stuff. It becomes clear very quickly who’s selling and who’s not. As a result they’re very practically minded.

A quick example: Most sales people find CRM to be a waste of their time and they have to be forced to use it, because CRM is actually a managers’ tool for tracking the sales team. It’s of no use to the sales people, as a general rule, to closing business, so there’s a constant conflict to get sales people to use it. On the other hand, as soon as the iPhone and iPad came out, sales people went out and bought them because they could figure out right away how to use that. Sales people grab onto what works very quickly, and they are very resistant to stuff that doesn’t help them get their job done. And they’re that way with sales training. If the sales training won’t help the bottom line, they’ll attend if they have to, but they’ll sit there with their iPhone in their lap writing emails. If it’s something that they can see will help them close business, they’ll be right there with you. They’ll be asking to go to the seminar.

What are some rules sales trainers should follow?

The sales trainer’s job is to apply their stuff as widely as possible. The sales training community falls in the category of, “When you’ve got a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” They just tend to be that way, so it’s really a matter of looking at the kind of sales that are proving successful or that you believe will prove successful in a particular market. You then find a sales training organization that specializes in that particular kind of selling and come up with a customized program that addresses those needs.

Just to give an example, there’s an incredibly huge amount of difference between selling business-to-business and selling business-to-consumer. The likelihood of a sales program for car salesmen being useful for, let’s say, design services inside the semi-conductor business, is ridiculous. One is a very different kind of sale with a very different kind of approach, a different kind of personality. In the semi-conductor business you have to be an engineer, really, to sell in that market. You have have an electrical engineering degree and understand the complexities of engineering. It’s a very different environment than if you’re selling cars to consumers in showrooms.

You’ve said, “When times get hard, increase your sales training.” Why should companies invest in training over other things?

The efficiency of your sales organization has to do with conversion rates at different stages of the process. How many people who are contacted or get on a website actually convert into opportunities — how many actually are qualified to buy, have a need, and have money, and then, how many of them can you convert into actual customers? And of those customers, how many can you keep long-term? Those are conversion rates. The only way to improve conversion rates is to be better at selling, and so the better you target your lead, the more the leads turn into opportunities, and the more the opportunities turn into customers and so on. Those are mostly a function of sales training rather than a function of how many leads you can generate, which marketing does, or how well you can track it, which is something sales technology does.

[More on sales training on The Daily Mindflash.]