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How to Train Sales People - Help appreciated

Hello Everyone,

I am in the process of hiring sales agents. These agents are commission only based sales professionals who will work for the company. In your experience, what is the best way to train these people on product/company training?

I am wanting to make videos of sales calls, sales pitch and company information. I do have a training manual but no video for the next month. I have the material ready as well as ongoing sales training and audio.

At this early stage I need to teach product knowlege. The two sales guys starting next week are in two different cities.

What have you found to be the best option? - by marketer
If you are hiring people with experience you need not fret. They know better than you do what to ask you, they will get all they need to know about product/company/principals/references etc.

That is why those in the know spend more time assessing an individual on sales skills, product knowledge is a very small portion of what is needed to sell. The benefits of the product/service - what is in it for the client, these are far more important to great sales people ... and to you, the fact that they are really good, that is what you need to focus on.

Do you hire based on whether you like an individual or based on what their performance will be?

Here is a fact that you will find interesting - the number one independent copier dealer in Canada in the 80's tracked complaints from prospects/clients. Do you want to know who had the most? It sure wasn't the marginal performers ... !

Seriously, from this vantage point, it is hard to guess what you really need. But it is often not what you think you need. And, unless you are an experienced Sales Manager (meaning you would likely not be asking the question), it is my advice you get help in hiring. Then you will hire on people who know how to smoothly interact with your other employees, learn what they need to know on their own and go to work producing you profits.

If you go the other route you will likely spend time - your valuable time - training duds.

Never hire rookies. Not unless you sell Minolta copiers and that rookie is the son of the President of Minolta in the United States!

I think you are getting my drift.

By the way, training is easy using Skype and Webinars like Webex. Distance is no longer the issue it once was. - by Gold Calling
Hmm well I have a question from a different perspective - I recently joined a firm as a sales rep and our product is software targeted at municipalities for fund accounting. I have never done sales beyond phone consulting about product in a previous tech support role, and as on site support giving my opinion to clients on what their next product choices should be, again in a tech support role. So coming here and learning the product was easy, but your comments make me feel like perhaps I belong in one of the 'dud' categories.

How do I overcome this to become a good sales rep? Because it sounds a lot like what you are saying is that sales reps know sales from the start, and learn everything else as they go. How do you successfully reverse that?

Thanks for any tips. - by Terrain
Nice to see someone with some focus on product knowledge. It's interesting that when we ask customers what they expect from sales people, they typically list product knowledge as one of their top 3 prerequisites. Yet when you ask sales managers to list what attributes and skills make great sales people you usually get a huge disconnect in the priority list.

Most client complaints relate to delivery, performance and and sales rep product knowledge. Complaints are expensive and receiving them should not be part of your sales, marketing, networking or reference plans.

Because sales trainers don't generally teach product knowledge (we teach sales skills and processes) it seems as if some sales trainers don't palce a high priority and value on product knowledge

Unlike some sales trainers I believe that product knowledge is critically important. Make no mistake, product knowledge is one of the most vital components of the competitive edge. If you’re selling a technical product or complex service offering, knowing what the product features and capabilities can do for the customer is crucial.

Expert Product knowledge:
  • helps us clearly define and target a very specific subset of the market who will benefit from the unique benefits your product offers
  • of both your product and your competitor's products can often provide the competitive edge.
  • helps you to provide the best expert consultancy and advice to our customers. How often do you select a vendor based on your perception of their expertise?
  • helps ensure post sales satisfaction (great for both repeat and reference business). In an environment where more and more business is won through word of mouth, providing service satisfaction is becoming an ever more valuable sales tool. Your sales people invest considerable effort in trying to convince customers that you are experts, but one of the best kept Marketing and prospecting secrets is (and remember you heard this original idea here first) is to actually have and deliver superior product expertise... and then get your customers to spread the word.
Sales people who do not gain good technical knowledge of their solutions will always have a false performance ceiling limiting their success. But it is how you apply this knowledge that either turns their technical expertise into sales leverage or an albatross.

As you can see genuine product knowledge/expertise is one of my soap boxes. - by liamv
I'll add a couple of thoughts related to product knowledge.

1) The most impartant part of your knowledge of the product is your belief in it and passion for it. Even if you know everything in the world about your product, if you don't truly believe it is the right product for your customer, they will pick this up. One of the best ways to instill this in your sale reps is to allow them to experience customer stories - direct feedback from customers about how the product is benefiting them, what they have personally gained from it, how it saved their career, etc. Cold, hard product knowledge alone can never give you this - you need to understand the product from the customer perspective - and preferably in their own words.

2) All customers say that product knowledge is the number one charateristic they look for in a sales rep - but this does not correlate with how they evaluate reps, or in who they buy from. I did some consulting for one of the world's largest pharma companies years ago and they did a huge study into sales rep efectiveness. They found that doctors said they valued product and medical knowledge way above anything other criteria; but when they then evaluated sales reps against the criteria and also gave them an overall rating, the criteria which most correlated with the overall score was customer service/helpfulness. The reps that went the extra mile to help out their customers, get them a copy of the studies they were interested in, bring them useful contacts, etc. - these were the reps who were actually rated the most highly - despite often not having the best product knowledge. They were usually also