|navigate: home: magazine: spring 2003: article|
|New book shows in-house sales training leads to increased sales|
| Increased sales are key to the long-sought economic recovery. And systematic training is the best way to make salespeople more productive and meet an expected future labor shortage in sales.|
In-house sales training also is best suited to meet the unique needs of salespeople working across industries and corporate cultures. So concludes a new study conducted by Penn State workforce education and development professor Dr. William J. Rothwell and his colleagues Dr. Wesley E. Donahue, director of Penn State Management Development Programs and Services, and Dr. John E. Park, associate director of Management Development.
We knew this study was needed, because the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 10.9 percent increase in the need for trained sales professionals in the U.S. between 1998 and 2008. Thats a growth of from 15.3 million to 17.6 million people in sales, Rothwell noted.
The researchers collected information from 350 sales managers through surveys, interviews and focus groups. The results revealed the top three reasons why organizations sponsor in-house sales training: to increase sales productivity and effectiveness, to realize the organizations strategic plans and to improve the organizations ability to respond to change.
Sales training policies are established more often by sales managers than by human resource directors or human resource staff. Sales training is most successful when aligned with strategic business plans, supportive of sales professionals in what they do and provides for a way to evaluate the development results. Sales training is more often delivered by on-the-job coaching and in-house customized sales training programs than by such trendy methods as e-learning. In addition, sales training programs are most often delivered to those recently promoted into sales.
When asked for opinions about top managers perceptions of sales training, 69 percent of study respondents agreed with the statement that top managers believe in such efforts, but dont know how to plan them. The key selling behaviors identified by the study were knowing how to close sales and provide follow up and effectively communicating with and actively listening to clients and others.
The complete study results appear in the researchers newly published book titled Creating In-House Sales Training and Development Programs: A Competency-Based Approach to Building Sales Ability.
Sales training in smaller organizations is sometimes least systematic, Park said. Many smaller organizations take a fragmented approach, sending sales professionals to one-day seminars more as a reward for good performance than to increase their selling effectiveness. By systematically creating an in-house sales development effort, smaller organizations can enhance their ability to develop a strong, sustainable sales force.
An important goal of our study, explained Donahue, was to discover a systematic, cost-effective approach to training sales professionals. We identified and then validated a sales training approach with savvy sales managers that focused attention around four key categories associated with successful sales performance.
The first category is called essentials. It includes defining sales staff roles and functions, identifying staff training needs and designing sales training plans, planning learning and development opportunities and leading and evaluating the in-house sales training and development program.
The second category is knowledge of self and includes enhancing selling skills and self-development, managing client communications, enhancing negotiation and influencing skills and resolving sales and interpersonal conflicts and coping with change.
The third category is knowledge of products and services and includes establishing ongoing client and stakeholder information processes, identifying and communicating product features and benefits, establishing and maintaining a competitive analysis process and linking sales and marketing strategies.
The fourth category is knowledge of clients and business. It includes forecasting, planning and prospecting for clients; managing calls, time and sales territory; providing service and managing client relationships; and developing new products and services and managing projects.
If sales managers will just use those topic areas as the focal points for their training of sales professionals, they can slash the unproductive breaking-in period of newly hired sales staff members and make them productive faster, Park said. That is exactly what we wanted to find out how to do. This research was very practical.
But one researcher concluded the study summary by sounding a cautionary note. Even in these cost-conscious times, sales training remains a good investment, Rothwell noted. It is just that most sales managers have never been trained on state-of-the-art approaches for conducting sales training. Companies that slash their sales training budgets during economic slowdowns are penny-pinching in exactly the wrong place and are really cutting off their noses to spite their faces.