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Author : Don Maher

Dos and Don’ts for Effective Sales Training

Even the most interesting and relevant sales training material can fall flat if it’s not delivered well. Here are some dos and don’ts to keep your employees engaged, attentive, and learning:

DO

  • Know what you’re talking about. One of the best ways to prepare is to write a one-page summary, as if you’re writing an advertisement. The one-page limit forces you to prioritize what you’re going to say, be concise, and organize your most important points in a logical order—and envisioning it as an ad discourages you from being boring.
  • Get organized. Lay out your presentation on index cards (real or virtual), then arrange them by priority with the most important information up front.
  • Introduce yourself and briefly describe what you’re going to talk about, and why the audience should care. Always be thinking of your training from the audience’s perspective—what’s in it for them?
  • Start a fire. Get their attention by saying something counterintuitive or unconventional. Here are some examples:
    • “A 1% price increase can equal a 10% increase in net profit. Here’s how.”
    • “Cheap people don’t make good value sellers. Here’s why.”
    • “Professional buyers are amateur actors. Here’s the evidence.”
  • Talk about the most important stuff first. That way, if your presentation is interrupted before you’re finished—or if attention eventually flags, as can happen with even the best presentations—you’ve gotten your key points in.
  • Talk about no more than six subjects every hour. This recommendation is based on new research from the University of Washington. If you’re talking about a product, for example, you could divide the talk into the following six subjects:
    • The reasons why you developed the product
    • The unique advantages the product delivers to customers
    • The customers who are most likely to need the product, and why
    • The price you’re asking and why that price makes sense, relative to the results customers get in return
    • Any problems with the product and why it might not be the best solution for certain customers (see below)
    • Examples of customers who have purchased the product and how well it’s performing for them
  • Talk about fewer, but better, ideas.
  • Talk to the audience, not to the slide.
  • Talk about your flaws and problems openly and honestly. I’ve attended some sales training events where the trainer tries to give the impression that the product is perfect, only to find out later that the product is so flawed that no one buys it. We all know that no product is right for all customers (except perhaps a life preserver on a sinking ship), and salespeople get suspicious when some marketing windbag drones on and on about how perfect a product is. Talk openly about problems, and you’ll build credibility.
  • Break it up. In terms of scheduling, I suggest three to four 90-minute sessions per day with 30-minute breaks in between. The world doesn’t stop for salespeople in training. They need time to do their work and respond to customers, so don’t make your training an 8 AM to 9 PM forced march. If you do, people will tune out (or simply leave).
  • Ask for feedback and answer questions truthfully. Remember—you’re all on the same team, so give people the information they need to do their jobs well.

DON’T

  • Pack slides with dense text. Stick to just one main idea per slide. Dense text practically forces eyes to glaze over and attention to wander.
  • Say “I only have a couple more slides” when your time is up. Plan and practice your presentation to ensure you can complete it easily within the allotted time, with a few minutes left over for questions.
  • Get too technical. Nobody wants to hear you droning on about your new “hex-head screw” or something similar. Focus on big ideas and concepts.
  • Name-drop anecdotal quotes or information. The fact that one customer recently told you that your product was interesting is light years away from having multiple customers actually buying the product at a profitable price.

Sales training is often considered an afterthought, or a “should” to complete before you turn your new salespeople loose. Don’t make this mistake, which is maybe the biggest “don’t” of all. Good training pays for itself many times over in job satisfaction, retention, effectiveness and—let’s not forget—more sales. Put some time and effort into doing it well.

Training for New Salespeople That Actually Works

Once you’ve made a job offer that has been accepted, it’s time to get your new salesperson up to speed as quickly as possible—meaning, as profitable as possible ASAP.

Unfortunately, much of what passes for sales training is really product training, designed to show salespeople how products work. Or it’s generic, with the material being too broad to be of much real use.

You get only one chance to write on the “blank slate” of a new salesperson at your company, so it’s important not to waste the opportunity with training that doesn’t make a real difference.

Sales training delivers the best results when it’s designed specifically for the people being trained, the situations those people regularly face, and the problems your company seeks to solve for its customers.

I suggest designing your sales training around the following questions. If you go into them in depth with your new salespeople, they will come away with an excellent understanding of both your company and their role in it:

  1. What value do we offer customers that they can’t get from our competitors?
  2. What specific problems do our products and services solve, in what situations, and for which customers?
  3. How much do those problems cost our customers? How do we know? How much are they willing to spend to make those problems go away?
  4. What do good and bad business look like, from our company’s perspective?
  5. What types of customers and prospects aren’t good for our business? Those who:
    • Always buy from whichever supplier provides the lowest price
    • Steal our intellectual property
    • Share our confidential information with our competitors
    • Require too much time or hand-holding
    • Are excessively difficult, rude, or demanding
    • Actually cost us money, when all is said and done
    • Ask for endless estimates and proposals but never close the deal
    • (Your reason(s) here)
  6. How do you recognize and turn away bad business?
  7. How and when should you address price and money with customers?
  8. What method do we use to price our products and services?
  9. Why do those prices make sense relative to what customers get in return?
  10. What business case can we make to justify our prices?
  11. Do we have customer testimonials, data, and ROI calculators that support our claims of value?
  12. When customers or prospects tell us they’re not interested or don’t have problems, what information, results, and proof can we use to get their attention and paint the picture of a “better future”?
  13. Which prospects should you approach first, and why?
  14. What questions and objections should you expect, and how do you respond to them?

You get the idea. Train them for the real world—not the world as you’d like it to be—with practical specifics and strategies rather than vague mission statements and models.

Next time, I’ll talk about the mechanics of training new salespeople—including scheduling, slide design, and delivery.

You’ve Identified Your Top Candidate for the Job. Now What?

A lot of hiring resources make “making an offer” sound like the simplest part of the process. In some ways it is—from the employer’s perspective. After all, you have already done the work of defining the job, examining your budget, advertising the opening, interviewing candidates, assessing their relative strengths and weaknesses, and winnowing down the pool to your very top choice.

But you’re not done yet, not by a long shot, and that’s because the money end of things is likely still up in the air.

Even when you know who you want to hire, and you’re certain (or reasonably so) that the candidate wants to work for you, the amount and type of compensation offered can make the difference between a long, productive employment relationship and “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Here’s what I recommend:

  1. Talk with the candidate about the compensation you plan to offer prior to making a formal written offer. Like it or not, unless the candidate is independently wealthy, compensation is one of the most important factors—especially if he or she has multiple job offers to choose from. And you want to be sure, prior to making a formal offer, that it will be accepted.
  2. Make a strong initial offer. How much should you offer? It should be an amount the candidate can not only accept, but feel really good about. Lowballing a candidate will leave a bad taste in the person’s mouth. Top performers, in particular, know their market worth and resent being asked to work for cheap. While there is always room for negotiation on both sides after the initial offer is made, an extreme lowball offer can quickly sour the relationship beyond repair.
  3. Don’t play hardball. While we’re on the topic of negotiating, you don’t ever want to be in the position of negotiating tooth and nail with a candidate, as if you’re on opposing sides of a nasty lawsuit. You are ultimately looking to bring this person onto your team. Again, the relationship will be damaged if you go about the negotiations with an aggressive, winner-take-all attitude. Memories are long, and it simply does not make sense to play hardball over relatively trivial issues.
  4. Round up. When presenting your offer, round up to the nearest $10,000 mark. “$200,000” feels and sounds a whole lot better than “$198,700.”
  5. Consider total compensation. Don’t forget to discuss stock options, company perks and benefits, bonus and/or variable compensation potential, profit-sharing, merit increases, and the like. Oftentimes, these add considerable value (both monetary and psychological) beyond the base salary and should not be overlooked. If stock is involved, talk about the number of shares that will be offered, the vesting schedule, and how often new options or shares of restricted stock are issued.
  6. Listen to the candidate. Last but certainly not least, if the candidate rejects your initial offer—or seems less than fully on board with it—try to find out the real sticking point. It may be something that can be remedied relatively easily (and, if not, best to know this now rather than after making your formal written offer—or, worse still, after the candidate halfheartedly starts working for you).

How Do You Hire for Fit? Paint a Picture

If you’ve ever read anything about goal-setting, you’ll know that experts always advocate envisioning—with crystal clarity—the desired end result.

The same sort of practice can help you hire candidates who fit well with your company’s culture. Because they don’t yet know enough about your company to paint their own picture of what it would be like to work there, you need to do it for them.

If you do a good job of showing candidates what it’s really like to work at your company, they will be able to make a highly informed decision about whether or not they would enjoy working there. This is good for them and good for you as it increases job satisfaction and reduces preventable turnover.

Here’s what I recommend you tell candidates, regardless of whether they explicitly request this information:

  1. Why people choose to work for your company. The reasons could include compensation, career growth opportunities, learning, culture, or others. Spend some time really thinking about this one—the official party line on your company’s strengths may not actually be the true reason people decide to come to work for you.
  2. Why people choose to work for you personally. Do you have a strong record of coaching and training your people? Assembling highly effective teams? Promoting employees to bigger and better jobs? Having their backs and fighting for better compensation for them? Current and former direct reports may be able to provide some insights here.
  3. The level of authority and autonomy employees have. This includes the ability to make and execute their own strategy, allocate resources, hire and fire employees, and spend reasonable amounts of money without having to get prior approval from others.
  4. Your company’s compensation philosophy, along with the amount of money the person is most likely to earn in years one, two and three. Provide real-life numbers, not improbable best-case scenarios.
  5. Career growth opportunities. Some companies—because of size, entrenched higher-ups, or rules (implicit or explicit) about formal stepping-stones—offer few opportunities for advancement, or very slow paths up the career ladder. If this is the case at your company, be honest about likely promotions and timing without being overly negative. If, on the other hand, you offer tremendous opportunities for rapid advancement, shout it from the rooftops!

Obviously, there may be other areas you wish to cover with promising candidates; the above is a suggested minimum. The more they know about your company before accepting your offer, the better.

And don’t worry about scaring people away. Only the wrong people will be deterred—the ones who wouldn’t have worked out for you anyway.

15 Revealing Sales Interview Questions

As hiring managers, we conduct interviews for two basic reasons:

  • To determine if a candidate can deliver the results we need, provide new ideas and better ways of doing things, fit in with our organization’s culture and people, and potentially be promoted in the future.
  • To share information with the candidate that enables the person to make an informed decision about whether or not to join our company, should an offer be extended.

I firmly believe that a lot of employee underperformance and turnover could be prevented by better interviewing. Too often, the wrong people come aboard because the interviewer has both failed to ask the right questions and failed to share relevant information that could discourage candidates from joining the company. Today, we’ll look at the first part of the equation.

Almost every interviewer will ask questions like “Tell me about yourself” and “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” And almost every candidate will have well-rehearsed answers to these questions—which means you’re not gathering any valuable information.

As an interviewer, you need to find out if the person you’re interviewing is really any good, or merely the beneficiary of a strong company, market, or product. You need to know how the candidate thinks, what the candidate does, and the underlying rationale behind his or her actions.

The following questions should help you obtain that information:

  1. How do you sell? Specifically, what do you say and do when customers call you for a quote or proposal, or you target and engage with customers who aren’t familiar with your company or products? Give me some examples.
  2. What is unique about the products and services you’ve marketed and sold? Why do customers buy them? How are they unique relative to what your competitors offer? Is there is a “good enough” product or process already in place for most of your customers? If so, how do you get customers to change and adopt your products?
  3. How do you choose which customers to target and engage with in the first place? What criteria do you use? How would you rank those criteria? Give me some examples of how you’ve done this.
  4. What problems do you have when selling? What stops you from selling more products faster? Rank the problems you have, and explain why you ranked them that way. Give examples and tell me about the results you achieved.
  5. How do you ensure that the revenue you’re responsible for delivering is profitable? How profitable are your customers in terms of gross margin? How do you measure profitability? What other costs do you and your company incur in selling to your customers? Give examples.
  6. Regarding selling, what have you changed your mind about during the last year or so, and why did you change it? What do you feel strongly about and why? What ideas do you have for improving results in your field? Have you implemented any of them, and if so, how did you do it and what were the results?
  7. What do you do on a regular basis to improve your skills and performance? Who and what do you read and listen to?
  8. How do you sell services? Please describe the steps involved. What do you say to prospects to get their attention regarding your services?
  9. What risks do customers perceive in buying your products or from your company? How do you address those risks with them?
  10. What return on investment can a typical customer expect from your products, and how is that ROI better than what your competitors offer?
  11. When and how do you talk about price with customers? How do you defend your prices when customers tell you your prices are too high?
  12. How do you add value to your organization? Relative to what you’re paid, how much money does your employer earn in return and where does that money/return come from?
  13. How do you spend your time in a typical week? How much time do you spend selling and supporting customers vs. internal company activities? How do balance your time between servicing your existing customers and pursuing new ones?
  14. How do you help and support other salespeople in your company? What questions do they come to you with, and how do you answer those questions? Give me an example.
  15. What do you measure your performance relative to? How have you outperformed “the market”? In other words, have you grown your business/territory faster than your industry and competitors have grown? If so, by how much?

Next time, I’ll give you my thoughts on the information you should share with candidates—and how you should share that information.

Building a Successful Sales Team: The Three Sales Roles

Once you’ve decided what you want your sales team to accomplish, the next step is to build your team. In order to do this, you need to determine what sales roles need to be filled to meet your objectives.

To my mind, sales roles fall into one of three general categories: Creating, Building and Maintaining:

Creating is about generating business from scratch and/or capturing business where very little exists. This is the hardest job in sales—it requires the creativity of an artist, the passion of an evangelist, and nerves of steel. It’s even harder when your product is new or unknown to customers. And it’s not for the faint of heart because creators typically function on their own, sometimes with very little assistance from their employers.

Building is about account development—taking an existing but underserved customer and growing that business. This role requires a high degree of sales ability coupled with strong project management skills. As you may have already discovered, these skills don’t often coexist in the same person!

Maintaining is just what it sounds like—keeping existing business and market share. This role is all about sustaining customer satisfaction and playing defense in the sense of fending off challengers.

Confusing or ignoring these roles is a common mistake, as is slotting a strong salesperson into the wrong role. I’ve seen previously successful creators struggle in maintainer roles, for example. And putting an experienced maintainer into a creator role nearly always ends in failure.

Additionally, even if you get the right person in the right role, it’s a common mistake to assume that previous success in sales ensures future success, especially when you introduce changes to products, pricing, or customers.

Success in sales is highly situation-specific. While previous success can certainly be a proxy for future success, careful interviewing is vital to ensure the new fit you’re considering is a good one in all important aspects.

Are you a good interviewer? Stay turned for my next installment, when I’ll explain how to ask the right questions to ensure you get the right people in the right roles.

Keys To Designing an Effective Sales Organization

Before you can recruit your sales team, set their objectives, and manage their performance, you’ve got to design the right sales organization for what you’re trying to accomplish—keeping in mind your products, company, customers, and resources.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What are the right objectives for us given our current competitors, customers, people, products, and other resources and challenges (such as compensation, training, travel, etc.)?
  • Why are these the right objectives?
  • What objectives could we achieve with additional investments in people, products, and training?
  • How much additional investment would it require, and when, to achieve slightly better objectives? What about much better objectives?
  • What is the ROI on those additional investments, and how and when would that ROI be realized?
  • Going forward, how much of our business will come from current customers/products, and how much will come from new customers/products?
  • Is it reasonable to expect that our current customers will buy more from us? Why? If so, how much? What will we do if they don’t?
  • Are our products and services well-known and accepted (easy to sell), or are we trying to create demand from scratch (harder to sell)?
  • Do our products solve expensive, widely known customer problems (easy to sell), or do they create a “better future” for customers who claim they don’t have any problems to solve (harder to sell)?
  • How well do the customers we’re targeting know our company, products, and capabilities?
  • Who or what is our main competition? Is it an entrenched competitor, or a well-known process that customers are not interested in changing? Either of these situations may be more difficult to overcome than you think.

These questions are not complicated, but many managers never ask them. This is a huge mistake.

Think of your sales process like an Olympic sport such as diving or gymnastics; there is an inherent degree of difficulty to what you’re trying to do with your sales process. More difficult maneuvers can garner you more points—and, ultimately, more glory—but they are more taxing and time-consuming to hire, train and manage for.

Whether you go easy or go hard is up to you, and there are merits to both approaches, but you need to know at the outset which path you’re on so that you can navigate it correctly.

Sales Management: The oft-overlooked game changer

Really great salespeople often get promoted to sales management positions. Unfortunately, there tends to be a big disconnect between the skillsets required to sell effectively and manage effectively.

Many of the sales managers I’ve encountered tend to act more like check-the-box administrators. Their primary contributions seem to be scheduling useless meetings, holding down compensation, and making sure the CRM system is always up to date.

Whether the cause is lack of know-how, the way they’re being managed and trained, or the way their jobs are defined, this is not sales management.

True sales managers—those who know how to hire, train, lead, motivate, retain and improve the performance of salespeople—can make a tremendous difference to a company’s revenue and profitability.

And based on hundreds of conversations I’ve had, salespeople are absolutely desperate for this sort of strong leadership. They want to work for people who can mentor them, who care about their compensation and career development, who are available to discuss better ways of doing things, and who simply “have their back” when things go south.

I’ve been training high-tech equipment salespeople for over 10 years, but until now, I haven’t coached and trained sales managers. That’s about to change.

In the coming months, I plan to provide a wealth of information and resources on the ways effective sales managers can:

  1. Design the right sales organization for your company, products, and current situation
  2. Identify, recruit, and hire salespeople who are best-fits for what you want to accomplish
  3. Train and coach salespeople to not only sell, but sell your products and your prices to your prospects
  4. Set the right objectives and help your people achieve them consistently
  5. Compensate salespeople to ensure they’re satisfied and that your company is getting the results it wants—a real win-win.
  6. Retain high performers
  7. Identify and develop successors for every position in your organization

Sound good?

If you’re a sales executive or sales manager, I’d like you to take a minute to think about whether you’re truly as effective as you could be. If not, what information or training would help you move the needle? I look forward to hearing your ideas.

A Template for Effective Customer Pitches and Presentations

As with many things, a template can be very helpful when it comes to effective customer pitches and presentations. Obviously, some level of customization will always be needed, but a solid template can help you pull together your presentation faster and help you get your key points across more effectively.

Here are a few general points to keep in mind:

  • Rank the points you want to make and start with the most important—this is common-sense advice, but it’s not common practice
  • Try to convey only one idea per slide; use more slides instead of jamming each slide with too much text/information. Text-dense slides are hard to read and psychologically daunting.
  • Use fewer words and graphics, and more white space. If you need to convey a lot of detailed information, write a summary and distribute it AFTER the presentation. Also, tell people upfront that you will be doing so, so that they don’t feel compelled to take a lot of detailed notes.
  • On each slide, get to the point…quickly
  • Remember that customers are distracted, and are frequently called out of pitches and presentations for various emergencies (sometimes, they simply leave because they’re bored). Because a scheduled talk can be interrupted at any time, do your best to convey the most important information within the first 10 minutes—people’s attention is most focused then, too.

Here is a template for your presentations that will help you save time and add some consistency to your presentations (which is very important in branding and marketing):

  1. Introduction: Who you are, why you’re here, what you’re going to talk about, and what you’d like from your audience (the customer) in return
  2. What you know about your audience and their problems: Talk a little about what you believe/understand about the audience’s situation and ask them if they agree. If they bring up anything new, tell them you’ll address it at the end of your presentation—and don’t forget to do so!
  3. Top 3 points: “Here are the most important things we want you to know—and why.” For example:
    • Top point #1: “We’ve developed a new way to process widgets that increases yield 400-fold for X kinds of customers/products.”
    • Top point #2: “These white papers, written in conjunction with our customers, show the data that proves Top point #1.”
    • Top point #3: “Customers who have purchased our product have seen these results and [if true] are ordering more products.”
  4. Discuss the investment (price) range of the product(s) you’re talking about, and why that range is fair and makes sense relative to what the customer gets in return. For example: The product costs between $A and $B depending on delivery, specifications, terms, timing, and so forth. This price range represents between 10 and 20% of the return on investment (ROI) you’ll receive. In other words, for every dollar you spend with us, you’ll get eight to nine dollars in return. You want to discuss price ranges (rather than specific prices) during pitches in order to ensure you and your customers are at least in the same ballpark on pricing. If not, discovering that key fact early on means that neither side wastes any additional time.
  5. Risks to consider and problems that might occur: No solution or product is without risks or potential problems; it’s much better to bring these up and address them before customers do. Doing this sends the message that you are an honest and straightforward company that wants potential customers to have all the info before making a decision.
  6. FAQs: 5 at most. Your objective is to answer common questions BEFORE the customer asks them; this sets minds at ease.
  7. Tell the prospect (in a polite way) what you need from them to continue the process. What’s the next action they need to take (develop specs, get budget approved, place PO, etc.)? Whatever it is, the next action should be clear, and the prospect should own it.
  8. Closing remarks. These may be brief or more extensive, depending on the situation, but they should always include thanking your prospects for their time—sincerely.

8-Week Marketing Troubleshoot and Tuneup

Do you feel like you’re shooting in the dark when it comes to your marketing, never quite sure what’s working and what’s not? If so, I’ve got a new program designed just for you.

During the 8-Week Marketing Troubleshoot and Tuneup, I’ll take a close look at what you’re doing now, and give you detailed recommendations for improving in the following areas (one per week):

Value Propositions

What are you really selling? Believe it or not, it’s not actually your product or service. You’re selling a solution to your customer’s problems, which is worth a whole lot more. Learn how to present your company, products and services as clearly different and better than what your competitors are offering and create a desire to buy from you.

Proof

These are the case studies and data you use to prove your claims and performance. If they’re not sufficiently compelling, they can actually drive customers away. Learn what works and what doesn’t.

Pitches

You may have the best product or service in the world, but you need to catch the attention of customers and prospects first. I’ll also explain how to field common questions and objections, honestly and effectively.

Pricing

Here’s where the rubber really hits the road: Your pricing is the single biggest factor in determining your profitability. And I’m willing to bet you’re charging too little—most of my clients are. I’ll explain how to hit the sweet spot of finding a profitable price that your customers are willing to pay.

Presentations

It’s not about the graphics or animations you use. I’ll explain the elements of a compelling presentation, and why they’re far simpler than you may think. We’ll talk about how to choose the information you present to customers, the sequence of the presentation, and the slides and materials you use to do it.

Website

Is your website pulling its marketing weight? A few simple changes can make a big difference to the clarity of your messaging, the ease of navigation, and the desire of casual browsers to find out more about what you offer.

Blogs and Newsletters

You may not think of yourself as being in the publishing business, but generating regular, engaging content about what you do and what you offer can be a game-changer. And don’t worry—it doesn’t need to be overly time-consuming or intimidating (even if you’re not a writer).

Sales Collateral

I’ll take a close look at the tools you give your sales force, manufacturers’ representatives, and distributors that help them sell your products and prices, including brochures, ROI calculators, and more.

We’ll talk for an hour every other week about how to improve your results, and at the end of the program, I’ll give you a detailed 5- to 10-page written report with my findings and recommendations. In addition to improving your current offerings, it will act as a blueprint for the success of your future products, services, and campaigns.

For this program to be effective, you have to be willing to share the following information with me:

  • The unique value you offer to your customers
  • Case studies and data
  • Sales pitches
  • Pricing information
  • Presentations
  • Blogs and newsletters
  • Sales collateral
  • History and backstory: how you got where you are, and what you’d like to accomplish with your marketing efforts
  • Anything else that may be relevant to your particular offerings

If you’re worried about confidentiality, please don’t be. I sign an NDA with all of my clients and will protect your information just as I protect theirs.

Pricing

The price is $4,995.

Guarantee

If you’re not satisfied with our progress at the end of Week Two, I’ll promptly refund 100% of your money—no questions asked and no strings attached.

Space Is Limited

In order for me to be able to devote sufficient time and attention to each of the program participants, I’m limiting this program to just five companies at a time, on a first-come, first-served basis. Subsequent participants will be added to a waitlist and informed when a spot becomes available.

How To Get Started

If you’re interested in taking advantage of this unique opportunity to improve your marketing once and for all, just email me or give me a call at 650-862-0688. I’ll send you an invoice, and once payment is received we’ll get started right away.

I look forward to working with you on improving your marketing.

Sincerely,

Don Maher

President, Red Chasm

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