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How to Train Your Sales Reps to be Superior Subject Matter Experts

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How to Train Your Sales Reps to be Superior Subject Matter Experts

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: January 17, 2013 Updated: January 18, 2013

Do all your sales reps sing off the same hymn sheet? Are they all equally knowledgeable about your products and services?

If you’ve ever worked in retail sales, you’ll know how difficult it is to remember your training and apply it in critical moments. After all, products are constantly evolving and inventory is always shifting. This is why it’s critical that small business owners ensure their sales teams are well trained and knowledgeable. It can make the difference between winning and losing a sale.

Thanks to the Internet and the proliferation of online reviews from experts and consumers alike, the average customer is more informed than ever—and your sales reps should be one step ahead of them. Here are some tips for ensuring your sales teams are armed with the knowledge they need to support your sales goals.

Give training the time and depth it deserves

Training is worth the investment; the nicest sales rep in the world is useless without product knowledge. This means not just knowing your products, but your competitors too.

A single training session is rarely enough, as people learn through practice and from their mistakes. If you don’t have time to handle the training yourself, pair each new rep with a mentor. This should be someone on your team who’s already knowledgeable, and willing to spend several weeks training, shadowing and observing your trainee—before that person ever gets in front of a customer. In addition to teaching, be sure to test, quiz and role play to challenge your trainee’s know-how. And don’t just emphasize product knowledge; for example, if your products are complex or technical, role play situations where a rep’s knowledge may be insufficient and it’s time to bring in the business owner or someone from your technical team. No one expects a sales rep to know everything, but they do expect them to know where to find the right answers, rather than fudge their way through a sale.

Include competitor training

If your product line or similar products are sold by a competitor, be sure to train and test your trainee reps on these. Educate reps on the competing product lines, their strengths and their weaknesses. Have them do their own research and present comparisons of your products versus those available elsewhere. Help them identify differentiators and encourage them to role play a sales pitch that involves a competitive sell.

Monitor, check in and refresh

Knowledge retention and true learning is a fine art, especially in today’s information-driven world where data is quickly consumed and just as quickly forgotten. This is why it’s important to stay on top of your sales reps performance once they are out selling on behalf of your company. Ask your customers for feedback, use customer surveys to gauge satisfaction levels and listen in on sales pitches. Commit to holding regular training sessions with your entire sales team to ensure they are up to speed on new developments, new product lines and new marketing campaigns. (Sales and marketing should always be aligned.)

Encourage continuous learning and sharing

A good rep will always look for further learning opportunities, whether through external classes, industry publications, or trade shows. Encourage this behavior, budget permitting. A low-cost alternative would be to hold monthly “lunch ‘n’ learn” training sessions where you encourage a rep to make an informal 10-15 minute learning moment presentation. This could be about a new industry development that might impact your business; sharing best practices from an external training course (a train-the-trainer concept); or providing insights on a deal or transaction that went well (or otherwise).

For more tips read 8 Tips for Training your Small Business Employees on a Budget.

What training practices have worked for your sales teams? Leave a comment below!

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About the Author:

Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

Comments:

Training is worth the investment.I agree with this idea because training can effectively improve the practical ability of the staff.
Thanks for another great post Caron. Very informative and helpful. I always tell people that in life we are all in the business of selling. These great tips will serve my team well. Thanks for sharing.
I totally agree with you. The consumers have a very sound knowledge of various products and services in the market and so the sales team has to be more trained and knowledgeable. If one has to increase sales then certainly it is one area that can be worked upon. Unlike earlier, consumers are well informed and the sale team has to be really smart to deal with such smart consumer. The tips as usual are worth trying to improve our relation with consumers.
If you have a large company, you can also train the staff on a regular basis. For smaller companies, it becomes more difficult. Here you need to train the employed in our daily business and errors increase in the sale.
Sometimes it is hard to decide whether to spend time (with pay) on training, or just throw the sales team into action(since they are paid. It really takes a far-sighted business owner to invest in training for better sales in the future. This is of course, that the turnover rate for the sales team is not too high.
this information is helpful with me thank you very much
Its quite sad to see a company fire a sales person because the rockie was not able to meet a quota for the first month or two. I've witnessed both wrongful termination and hiring frenzy fail. both cost more in the longrun.
Hello Caron, Great article!! I agree that to have a successful sales person or team they must be trained and educated on the products and or services the company is providing. They should also know what the competitors are doing as far as price and service differences. This could give the sales person or team the upper hand when trying to sell to a client.
Everyone needs training and time to learn new works of every field. It is the duty of supervisor or instructor to mold the newbie in proper shape and according to needs of field. And yes continuous education and training is required for all types of representative either they are new or highly experienced.
tdurkin very nice information you just comment on very genuine reason

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