Sales reps are made, not born. Plus, selling is a skill which has evolved from “getting people to buy” whatever you are selling to fulfilling customer and market needs with your products. Like elite athletes, your most successful sales representatives are always “in training.” They are learning your market, products and competition. They’ve been trained to find prospects, identify needs, gain trust, develop solutions, and deliver value. Truly successful sales reps do not sell by instinct. They apply experience and training to direct the sales process to a successful conclusion.
Many company owners and sales managers hire sales representatives and expect them to go right out, call on customers, and start closing business. This approach might work for high-volume, low-value commodity sales. However, it does not succeed with relationship-based sales of differentiated products or complex solutions.
If your business differentiates itself and its products from competitors based on features and benefits rather than on price, your sales force must be well trained. They need to master:
- Sales processes
- Solution selling
- Relationship selling
- Features and benefits of your company’s products
- Demographics and needs of your target market
- Competitive positioning
- History and culture of your company
When you hire new sales representatives, including experienced sales reps, spend time up front to ensure they know the fundamentals of selling. In particular, train your sales representatives how to sell using your company’s sales processes.
Sales processes include the basics – understanding the length and steps of the sales cycle for your product or service, sales call steps, uncovering needs, objection handling, relating benefits and features to customer needs, closing. Sales processes also include your company’s specific sales management systems. These include customer relationship management systems (CRM), order entry, contracts, customer service, shipping, operations, accounts receivable and collections. Your sales representatives should understand how every operation within your business affects your customers.
In today’s business-to-business sales environment, your sales representatives need to understand how to deliver solutions to your customers’ problems. Given the opportunity, many sales representatives will sell on price. When confronted with competition or customer objections, these weaker or less experienced sales reps will reduce your price in an effort to close the sale. This approach is flawed because price is rarely a customer’s top decision criterion. Plus, after you cut price, it’s nearly impossible to recapture the lost margin. The next time this customer considers your company, he or she will pressure your sales rep to offer even deeper discounts. Sooner or later, your position becomes untenable.
It’s best to train your sales representatives to sell based on features and benefits that meet your customers’ needs. Train them to understand where your product fits in an overall solution for your customer. Solution selling requires a higher level understanding of the customer’s business, needs and challenges. The sale may be more challenging, but it will yield stronger customer relationships and better margins.
Product Features and Benefits
When sales representatives join a new company, they are usually well trained about product features. What’s more important to the customer is the benefits realized as a result of using those product features. If you train your sales reps to understand their customers’ businesses and needs, they will be better able to relate the features and benefits that address customers’ needs.
Market Demographics and Market Needs
Your sales representatives need to know and understand your target market. Who are your customers and prospects? How do you find them? What are their business needs? How can you help them?
Given time in the field, your sales representatives will learn much of this information in depth. However, to hit the ground running and become productive as quickly as possible, you should teach them what you’ve learned about developing your market.
It’s critical to know and understand your competitors. What are your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, target markets, products, features, benefits, and sales styles? Who are your competitors’ customers and where are they looking to expand? Your company has a marketing plan; your competitors do too. Learn as much as you can legally and ethically about those plans.
Keep your sales force informed about the competition. Continually gather competitive intelligence from your sales reps. Since they know what’s happening in the field, they are excellent sources of competitive information. Share competitive information across your sales team. Every sales rep needs to know what is happening in other territories, with other customers.
Company History and Culture
Your sales representatives are your company’s face in the marketplace. They need to know your company’s history and culture. Teach them to emulate your business values. Assimilate your sales reps into the culture you’ve created. Use your company’s culture to drive success and leverage it as a competitive tool.
For more information, contact Wallace Management Group at (203) 834-0143 or email David Wallace.
© 2009, David P. Wallace