Your small business has reached an impasse: Growth has stagnated the past year and your usually driven sales reps have not been able to progress beyond their quotas. They are also experiencing difficulties closing deals.
Although you would normally consider coaching your sales staff through this rough patch yourself, you’re too busy trying to keep your business afloat. But there is an alternative: sending your sales reps to outside training. Is it worth the time and investment, though? And how do you determine if one program is reputable and another a scam?
Decide what skill(s) you want your reps to work on
Sometimes a sales slump can be attributable to a variety of reasons, ranging from low morale to lack of teamwork. Like an emergency doctor in triage, small business owners need to closely assess the source of the problem and then seek out a solution designed to fix it.
Linda M. Orr, a sales consultant who works with small businesses, says rather than offer a pre-packaged workshop, she always customizes her training programs based on the needs and wants of clients.
“If it’s a people skills issue, we go over psychological and communications principles and then do sales roles plays, explains Orr, co-author of When to Hire or Not Hire a Consultant: Getting Your Money’s Worth From Consulting Relationships. “If it’s a value-selling issue (such as wanting to raise prices by 10 percent and knowing how to handle price objections), I have very specific exercises so they understand their value proposition and know how to present it. Sometimes I do more analytical workshops and help sales people understand how to perform major account analytics, forecasting, and customer lifetime value analysis. It all depends on what their problem or issue is.”
Consider your budget
How much of the company coffers can you allocate to an external training session? And further, for how long? As you begin to consider a variety of programs, asking yourself these two questions should help you whittle down choices.
If you want your sales reps to get a quick skills brush-up, then it might behoove you to send them to a one-day or weekend intensive session. If it’s something more strategic and tactical, such as how to improve their communications with C-suite personnel and negotiate better deals, then a longer program might be in order.
Mike Montague, a sales trainer at Sandler Training, a 17-year-old Kansas City-based company that helps small business increase their profitability, says the client must be able and willing to invest their time, money, and energy to reach their desired goal. If that means that the client may have to spend a little more money than they would like, then so be it.
Montague says his company offers ongoing training to help clients sustain a considerable level of growth over a period of time.
“We teach the material in two-hour weekly classes over the course of a year to help our clients learn, practice and master the initial and advanced strategies and tactics needed to excel,” Montague explains. “We also mentor and coach people to develop the attitudes and implement the behavior necessary to reach the highest levels of success. We have learned that just because people know how to do something doesn't mean they will actually do it, and your attitude is the primary driver of your ultimate outcomes in sales or anything else.”
Although you might think that sending your sales staff to outside training initiatives is critical to improving your goals and ROI, it will be counterproductive unless you do your due diligence first. Ask trusted associates and valued peers for their recommendations and referrals. Learn as much as you can about a prospective sales trainer’s credentials and background. Just sending your reps willy-nilly to a program that you are unfamiliar with on the basis of an acquaintance’s vague suggestion is irresponsible and could spell a disaster in the making. Avoid sales training scams that offer preposterously high promises. Be realistic with your expectations.
Orr agrees. “Most of the ‘sales trainers’ out there have no idea what they are talking about,” she warns “They have very little formal training or experience.”
She advises that small business owners look for consultants/trainers who have sales degrees from an accredited sales program, which can be found from the University Sales Center Alliance, a nationwide network of sales centers.
“Sales consultants/trainers should have some experience as well,” she adds. “They should have testimonials and ROI examples of past work. They should also have a detailed proposal that identifies exactly how they will address all of your needs and objectives.”
What ROI benefits are you seeking?
Are there specific goals you’re looking to achieve as a result of sending your sales staff to outside training sessions? For example, have you just increased your price point on all products across the board and are worried about how your sales reps will persuade customers that they’re getting the most value from their purchase? Sending your sales reps to a workshop could be the ticket to helping them understand how to overcome this obstacle and, thus, increase your ROI.
Orr offers an example of a small business client that came to her with a similar dilemma: “The sales reps thought raising the [product] price was a horrible thing and customers would never go for it. After the training, they realized that some things sell better with higher prices. [The price increase resulted in] roughly $1.2 million more to [the company’s revenue]. It is difficult to say how much of that was directly tied to the training, but it obviously helped, much more than the cost of the training.” Orr says she charges roughly $1,000 per sales rep and that companies typically pay anywhere from $6,000 to $30,000 for training. “You can pretty quickly see why there is almost always a positive ROI,” she says. “All you need is for each rep to sell $1,000 more (or stop losing $1,000 in sales) and it has paid for itself.”
Orr says often in training she has managers establish measurable goals for each sales rep prior to the start of the program. This can be on anything from the rep’s total sales to his/her overall profitability levels. And in the six-month to a year follow-up, the manager, at Orr’s urging, will compare each rep’s metrics prior to the training to the data collected afterwards.
“If the training is done correctly and if the sales rep cares and listens, there is almost always an immediate increase, well beyond the cost of the consulting,” she maintains.
Unfortunately, if there are still troublesome issues that demand improvement, then perhaps the small business owner might consider replacing a sales rep with someone more suitable for the position. Sometimes, that could be a key lesson learned for employers after sending sales staff to outside training sessions.
For a small business to advance to the next stage, it might be necessary to send sales staff to external training programs. Whether it’s to refresh their skills or educate them in current sales techniques, the ROI benefits that might result could make the expense worth the time, money, and investment.