Even if salespeople have undergone progressive sales training, there's no guarantee that they will be successful. It is common knowledge that skills grow rusty over time and salespeople are prone to pick-up bad habits along the way or to simply skip steps and take shortcuts that can lead to long-term trouble. Perhaps even more important these days, is the fact that markets, competition, technologies and customer preferences are all in a constant and accelerating state of change. This fact requires that sales people are able and willing to rethink their sales strategy and approach frequently and receive a regular top-up of skills and motivational coaching.
In-Field training and coaching is an ideal opportunity for the Sales Director or Sales Manager to assess the ongoing training needs of their team.
The Logical In-Field Training Sequence:
The logical approach to field accomplishment training, is to break the call plan down into three sections:
Before the call.
During the call.
After the call.
Before The Call:
Ensure that the salesperson is thinking in terms of their customer's issues by asking:
"What are the customer's needs/issues?"
"What is their potential?"
"What is their turnover?"
"What is the trend is turnover increasing year on year?"
"Are they affected by competition (if any)?"
"What are their current commercial concerns?"
"What are their commercial objectives for this year?"
These questions ensure that the salesperson is aware that whilst the overall aim is to sell the company's product, the prime objective of the sales call is to sell answers to issues and satisfy needs.
Having established the prime objective, the manager now needs to confirm that the salesperson is properly equipped to achieve them.
Further questioning should establish:
How will the call be opened?
Are they prepared for objections?
What questions are they going to ask to ascertain needs?
What benefits are they going to stress, and how?
What sales aids will they be using?
Are they prepared to ask for the order or gain a commitment?
Have they all the necessary documentation?
During these questions, the manager should make a note of any variance in procedures or note points that have been omitted by the salesperson. The manager must now ensure that the salesperson fully understands and agrees the call plan. It may be necessary to rehearse or reinforce certain aspects of the call at this stage if there is an indication of doubt or uncertainty on the part of the salesperson.
At this stage, it is necessary for the manager to agree with the salesperson the part they intend to play during the call and how to best introduce them to the prospective client. They must also agree with the salesperson to what degree (if any) they are to be involved. To jump in, in order to save a sale, will put the manager in a very awkward situation - whether they succeed or fail, they cannot win. The golden rule is: Agree your role and stick to it.
During The Call:
Never present a double-front to the customer. Stand or sit tactfully to one side away from the salesperson/client.
Watch and listen for any deviation from the agreed call-plan.
What were the reasons for the changes?
What effect did they have on the client, or salesperson?
Is the situation as envisaged?
What is being done badly?
What is being done well?
Is there a specific improvement since the last accompaniment?
After The Call:
Human beings do not like to be told how bad they are - they need to be told how good they are and how better they could be. This is where the formula for effective field accompaniment is used to its best effect:
Ask Teach Tell Check - Thank
The use of this formula embodied in a simple sequence will enable the skilful manager to achieve:
Cheerful acceptance of correction
Full understanding of the fault
Elimination of the fault
Correct method followed in future
Maintenance of goodwill
Two principles to remember when applying the formula and sequence are:
Stick to priorities
This takes self-discipline and constant awareness that you are dealing with a human being with feelings of their own. If the sales call was unsuccessful, then it is an even bet the salesperson is fully aware of their shortcomings in terms of effect i.e. they did not get the sale or a commitment to move to the next stage.The effect has already begun to hurt them most in terms of loss of earnings and achievement. Any reminders at this stage will only accelerate the demotivating forces of failure and create a barrier between the manager and the salesperson.
Stick To Priorities:
Ideally, aim at correcting one major weakness at a time. If the errors are numerous, it is far better to deal with them progressively during a series of meetings. Yet again highlighting a list of errors in one session will only reinforce their feelings of failure.
Some managers are afraid to give praise because they feel it lowers their status. It does not lower the manager's status at all. It establishes the manager's right to give praise and makes them a bigger person in the eyes of their salespeople.
During the call, the manager is not only recording the weak points of a sales presentation, they are also noting the good. Keep praise factual, specific, and above all, sincere.
Question To Reveal: - Ask
At this stage, the manager needs to ask the salesperson:
"Where do you think we could have improved our presentation?"
"Where did we fail to convince our customer?"
"Where did we deviate from our agreed plan?"
N.B. Note the use of the words "we" and "our".
By using these words, the manager is involving themselves with the salesperson's shortcomings and not launching a direct attack. A self-diagnosed failing is easier for the 'ego' to accept and there is more of a chance that it will be remembered in the future. The manager needs to bear in mind that the salesperson may genuinely not know where they have gone wrong.
Skilful questioning coupled with tact will usually reveal these points.
Correct: - Teach & Tell
This is a selling job and offers an opportunity for the manager to use the experience gained by their own efforts and those they have observed from other salespeople during field accompaniments.They need to sell an improvement by teaching and telling the salesperson:
How they should do it.
Why they should do it.
What would happen if they did it.
In order to check the manager now needs to:
Question For Understanding:
People learn at varying speeds and if the training given is to be used effectively, then it needs to be fully understood i.e. "OK Bill, let us go through it again to ensure that we have fully understood it." or "OK Bill, let us benefit from one more check before we try it out on our next customer".
Check him on the "How", the "Why" and the "What" would happen if ..." principles of training.
Habits are formed by continuous practice, successful field training consists of getting salespeople to form good habits and we must ensure that the practice these good habits repeatedly. Check any tendency to depart from good habits from the beginning, ensure that they do not start bad work habits such as being late for appointments, untidy equipment, dirty car etc.,
The success or failure of field training depends absolutely on the ability of the field trainer. If a salesperson fails it is through either bad selection or bad training.
The moral right of the author, Jonathan Farrington, has been asserted. All rights reserved. This publication or any part thereof may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic or mechanical including photocopying, recording, storage in an information retrieval system or otherwise, unless this notification of copyright is retained.