1) Strong and thorough understanding of both your own and competitors' product offerings
3) Effective selling skills
Imparting product knowledge is relatively easy. Intensive trainings and regular assessments on the team generally get the job done well. A dose of mystery shopping and market intelligence will also give you a good grapse of competitors' offerings, their strengths and weaknesses. It is in the areas of motivating and equipping sales person with effective selling skills that is much trickier and as mentioned in the summary, widely misunderstood.
Very often, we assumed that sales people are primarily motivated by money. As such, many attempts to energize the team and boost sales figures are centered around monetary incentives. While I do not dispute the importance of money, I am confident that planning around exclusively money as the chief motivational tool for a sales team will miss the mark. We cannot ignore the importance of recognition among peers. In fact frequently, recognition takes on an even higher importance compared to money.
The third area of sales management that consistently proves to be elusive is ensuring that salesmen are well armed with effective selling skills. There are numerous external training programs in the market that cater to this. I have personally attended many. However, ask any sales person right now which program they've attended left a deep impression and undoubtedly had a positive impact in his sales career and a big percentage will draw a blank.
It is not because the trainers and their course contents are incompetent. It is more of a case of differing needs of different sales people in different industries. A generic sales training will find it diffcult to get into the true psychological setup of a particular sales person.
For example, the challenges of selling in a B2B environment are very different in relation to a B2C environment. In B2B, one of the critical skills could be to get to the decision maker in a corporate environment with all its politics, hierarchy, culture etc. In B2C though, the key could very much be accurately assessing lifestyle needs of the consumer, getting the kids occupied and out of the way during critical decision moments etc.
With such widely varying requirements, it is unrealistic to expect any of the current 3rd party courses to be able to cater effectively. In my experience, most such courses often turn out to be more of a lesson in good customer service or a rallying cry to "reach for the skys" and fulfil lofty income potential. Despite the obvious gaps in requirements, yet more and more organizations are paying serious money sending their sales teams to these trainings without a proper evaluation on their mid to long term effectiveness.
As dicussed earlier, recognition plays an important role in truly motivating top performers. There are many ways that we can lavish recognition. The traditional methods will include giving out monthly / annual awards, public praises, special perks such as paid holidays, private parking lots etc.
However, I believe we can also tap into Web 2.0 and it's spirit of openess for new and radically different ways to provide recognition. Every sales person has stories to tell. You can call it their heroic war stories if you like. You'll be amazed how they would love to share tales of them overcoming all the objections that came along the way while they close that very difficult customer, how he managed to strategize and get that appointment with the high level decision maker etc.
Certain school of thoughts suggest that top sales people often like to keep their selling trade secrets to themselves and getting them to share openly and genuinely is difficult. In my observations, they might be shy initially, but once you get the ball going and inject a good dose of fun in these sessions, there are usually no problem to get them sharing. And it can be very motivational and inspiring. Not only will this be motivating to the "sharer" (they get to show off and most of us likes to show off to a certain extent), it will also provide motivation to the audience, which of course, is the remaining part of the team that you will want to motivate as well.
To achieve this, I suggest that we can adopt a blogging or tweeter system for a few selected sales people to regularly and openly share their "selling adventures" with the rest. Tweets are great as they are short and provide easily digestable snippets of information.
With doubts on the effectiveness of the current sales training systems available in the market, I believe a much more effective system will be to get proven sales people to train sales people in similar industries / segments.
These "trainers" will be the people who have been there done that in similar business situations as the audience. They will naturally have a much easier time convincing that they are worth listening to. After all, as mentioned, they have been there, done that with results to show.
In the training sessions, they will need to share the various obstacles and common objections sales people in the industry will frequently face. From these objections, the performers will usually have tried and proven ways to overcome them. This can be from highlighting certain product features, identifying competitors' weaknesses, voicing words that can push the right buttons. With different products, different words can hit different buttons. "Lifestyle" can hit the right note with a car buyer, "cost savings" for B2B purchaser and "recognition" for a premium high visibility product like condominium.
If you look closely, you will now realize that what I am suggesting the sales management to do through blogs and tweets cater nicely for both recognition and sales training as well. As the strong performers are sharing their war stories, they are at the same time motivating and training the rest as well.
Another important concept for sales people to learn is "level of activity". There are no short cuts to success. Successful salesmen need to have high levels of activity. Days are pack full with appointments, sales calls, paper work, quotations to send, powerpoint slides to prepare etc.
The problem with the weaker salesmen most of the time is that their level of activity is simply not up to standard. They are not successful in making appointments, they don't set aside time to do cold calls in disciplined manners etc. What is important to note is that they are also generally not aware what is the required minimum level of activity. They usually believe that their days are packed as it is, not aware that it takes much more then that to succeed.
This is where the openness of Web 2.0 can yet play another effective role. Many calendar applications can be shared among users. It will be good if there's a transparent system where sales people can all share their calendars. The weak performers will then realize that their level of activity are significantly lower then their stronger colleagues. At the same time, this put pressure on everyone to keep the pace. The big challenge in this is to ensure everyone conscientiously key in their days' activity and as genuinely as possible. However, I believe when there's common good to be gained, people can be encouraged to do it. No point hiding from yourself. Sales results don't lie at the end of the day.
Speak to the sales team and get them to see the benefits for all.