Our Thinking

Technology Has Upped the Sales Training Ante

Luke Kempski

Ten years ago, customers had few resources for comparison shopping. Most of them relied on salespeople for information. Now, customers can get product details, price guides, reviews and more with a swipe of their smart phone.

Technology hasn’t made salespeople obsolete. But it has raised the bar. I know when I consider a purchase, I expect salespeople to be smarter than ever, not just about their own products and services but also those of competitors. Due to these higher expectations, training salespeople is no longer just a good idea. It’s an essential investment whether you sell to consumers or other businesses.

Identifying the Problem

We’ve all experienced the frustrations of interacting with a salesperson who knows less about a product than we do. What keeps salespeople from being knowledgeable? The product could be new or just unfamiliar. A salesperson may be well versed in best sellers, but less so in products with a smaller niche.

It’s easy to see how this lack of knowledge hurts sales. Ironically, training that forces the memorization of product features also has the potential to decrease sales. Customers don’t just need technical specs. They also want to know how those specs adapt to meet their unique needs. But making that clear can be difficult for a salesperson who’s used to listing product details without personalizing their value.

Creating an Adaptable Solution

One or our clients, Kennametal, a global supplier of metalworking tools and engineering solutions, experienced this challenge. “New products are the lifeblood of our business,” said Lori McCreary, Kennametal’s director of global brand and marketing communications. “The faster we can make it to market by training our 2,000-plus sales people and distributors, the greater our conversion rates.”

With each new product, Kennametal’s sales team had to learn new technical specs and competitive advantages. To make this easier, Kennametal created a multilingual e-learning solution. The resulting e-learning courses bring product documentation to life. Salespeople can use them for personal study, or as part of classroom learning. They can even take audio on the road to brush up on product details before sales calls.

When the Stakes are High

I’ve seen sales training work for Medtronic as well. As a global creator of medical technologies, Medtronic doesn’t just have the potential to increase market share. It also has the potential to save lives.

While its cardiac rhythm disease management division led the industry in long-term health management solutions, Medtronic needed a way to update physicians on new product developments. We worked with them to create an e-learning program and interactive simulation. The simulation, accessible via desktop computer or tablet, leads salespeople and clinicians through a case study demonstrating the new implantable cardioverter defibrillator device. The case study can be used for training or in sales presentations.

What to Keep in Mind

Good training emphasizes both product knowledge and selling skills. For many businesses, this requires a blend of in-person and online learning. While lunch-and-learns or seminars can provide personal interaction, web-based training can reduce travel costs and increase reach.

Like Medtronic, you can even consider creating a performance support tool that salespeople use during customer interactions. This works especially well for companies with large, complex or constantly changing product lines. Either way, be sure your training includes opportunities for the salesperson to practice before they “go live” with your most valuable customers.

What training challenges has technology and the more knowledgeable customer created for your sales team? Are you trying anything new to “up the sales training ante” in your organization? Let us know in the comments section.

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