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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:

If you are able to get someone who already has the experience and track record to generate revenue, I would recommend it. If not you better make sure to get them some books and training to get them to the next level because it might be a fluke and some deals get on board luckily but with no training it will take a long time to get to the next sales level.
Achieving commitment from the employees is done through mutual relationship creation with the exchange of promotional items and also promoting transparency in the management. Training and development programs are the deciding factors in sales.
Wonderful article Caron I am in the security industry and people think that sales will start to pick up just because they hire a sales rep, hah. Yeah right. It takes years to develop the skills and know how to get some actually generating revenue. If you are able to get someone who already has the experience and track record to generate revenue, I would recommend it. If not you better make sure to get them some books and training to get them to the next level because it might be a fluke and some deals get on board luckily but with no training it will take a long time to get to the next sales level.
I agree that this is where many companies fail- they forget that their employees are a long term investment and that to grow your company, you must grow your employees. Its a shame that mentorship programs are very rare if not unheard of in this day and age

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