I’m going to start from the premise that you will have to train your own sales force. If you can afford to buy a sales training program, by all means do it since even poor programs will provide some new information. The internet offers a large menu of sales training from on-line courses to week-long convocations. There are even some sales training games. In either case, you need to know the basics of sales if you are going to effectively manage a sales team.

If you (who may or may not have had any training in closing a sale yourself) must create a sales force training program of your own, we offer some suggestions below. Whether they are road warriors selling educational programs or local college students selling jeans, educating them in the basics of closing a sale is key to your success. Below we outline a few of the key principles of selling.

The Key is listening

Sales training and listeningWhile the standard caricature of a salesman is a fast talking operator, reality suggests that listening carefully is a much more critical skill. The sales person’s ability to process, repeat and fulfill the customer’s needs is a likely predictor of whether or not the sale is made, assuming, of course, that you have the product or service required.

If you consider your own shopping experiences I’m sure you will find multiple examples of sales people who really listened and responded versus the ones who attempted to push their own agenda. Who did you buy from?

Know Your Products.

The sales person must be an expert on the entire product line he or she is selling. Those college students selling jeans should understand the difference in cut between the various lines of denim and how fit varies by manufacturers, just as the educational sales person must understand the content and intended user of his or her company’s product.

When your customer perceives your sales people as experts, they are likely to both complete the sale and return in the future. A chubby teen girl with visions of metamorphosis through the right pair of jeans can be gently led to better choices when the sales people understand the importance of fit. When she does, in fact, look better to peers, she’ll be back – with her friends.

Another key advantage of insisting your sales people know the products is the confidence boost it provides them. That self-assurance will be of inestimable value in assessing what the customer wants and providing it.

Sell the Benefits

Successful sales people don’t so much sell a product or service – they sell the benefits of the product or service. The educational program in and of itself may be marvelous but the client is interested in how it will benefit him or her. If you can convince the client that the program will result in employees who can better handle changing tax laws or understand a diverse client base you are more likely to close the sale. After all, the customer is interested in making his or her own life easier, not yours.

Know Your Competitors

It’s always important to understand the industry you are in and your direct and indirect competitors. Your sales people should be able to comment with authority on competitors’ products and contrast them with your own. Your customer has likely considered, and may currently own, another product and the sales person’s ability to intelligently contrast the two (or three, or five) will impress and reinforce the image of the sales person as expert. They must never denigrate the competitor’s product, however. It will undermine their authority and may annoy the customer.

We have all had a learning experience at the hands of a sales person which created a sense of comfort with the business and the expectation that we were well served. That’s what you want from your sales force.

Sales Scripts and How to Use them

Sales Training and Sales ScriptsYou have undoubtedly heard them on the phone: the sales person reading from a script who is disconcerted by any interruption and circles back to the script as quickly as possible. The script is important because it ensures that all of the key information is transferred, but the sales people must be secure enough in their knowledge of the business and the products to go off script without becoming flustered. Frequent testing – with interruptions – will help.

Keep Sales Trainings Short

All of us benefit from ongoing education in all areas of our lives and sales is no exception. You want your people to improve their skills without cutting unduly into their earning time. Frequent, short, targeted trainings are preferable to long periods of training. Most people will retain more and, if the subject matter is narrow, be able to implement changes more readily.

For instance, rather than a day long training, consider periodic one hour breakfast meetings which cover one subject area, such as qualifying customers, and offer as much visual accompaniment to the talk as possible. Research suggests that your sales team will retain more of the information if the content is limited and uses visual aids. Maybe the bagels help, too.

Pat Them on the Back

Sales people, like all of us, respond to rewards. You probably already pay them on a commission or partly on a commission basis, which is substantial motivation. But human beings need acknowledgement of their successes. Devise a plan to announce successes to others on the team. Ring a bell, announce sales at staff meetings, put a star on their desk, give them a plaque. The object is to broadcast successes.

Upselling and Cross Selling

I’m constantly surprised that retailers rarely make an effort to cross sell: suggest complementary products or services. On appliances I’ll likely be offered an extended warranty, but the store carries (or should carry) a range of items I may want for my new iPhone or refrigerator. Anything I buy as an addendum to the original purchase is effectively a free sale.

Up selling is the practice of showing customers the higher priced options or additional items: Showing the Accord to the would-be Civic buyer, handing the designer jeans to the person trying Levis, sampling the premium coffee to the person holding the store brand.

Discuss the possible additions to your products and how to offer additional or upgraded products without injuring your relationship with the customer. Bait and switch is an ugly term.

Monitor Performance

Sales training and monitoringIn terms of sales effectiveness, actual sales are a component but not the entire picture. In outside sales one salesperson may have a richer territory than another. With inside sales, one person may attract more high sales ticket customers due to age or “look”. In both cases, other sales staff may be at some disadvantage, but still effective.

So what are you going to measure to determine whether a person is successful? Below are listed some key areas to measure.


How effective are they at converting leads to prospects? This goes directly to the individual’s ability to solve customer problems, build rapport and resolve objections.


How effective is the sales person at qualifying leads early enough to avoid wasting time on those who cannot or will not buy your product? It’s always tempting to keep the potential customer who may buy on the list, but time spent calling, having meetings, and otherwise stringing the customer are time not spent on better leads.

Closure Rate

This is a key indicator of success in the previous to areas since a high closure rate suggests that the sales person is qualifying early and converting leads effectively.

See “What is a Sales Pipeline” for information on monitoring the progress of sales.

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