Regardless of the type of sales training program, defining its specific aims is the first step in its planning. Defining the general aim is not sufficient. Although, for example we may want to increase the sales force’s productivity through training, we must identify what must be done to achieve increased productivity. General aims are translated into specific aims phrased in operational terms.
Specific aim definition begins with a review of general aims and the means currently employed to attain them. The process cannot be completed until sales management perceives the training needs from which specific training aims derive directly. Training needs, then, must be identified. The following discussion focuses on factors that management considers as it seeks to identify training needs for (1) initial sales training programs and (2) continuing sales training programs.
1. Identifying Initial Training Needs
Determining the need for, and specific aims of, an initial sales training program requires analysis of three main factors: job specifications, individual trainee’s background and experience, and sales-related marketing policies.
Job specifications. The qualifications needed to perform the job are detailed in the job specifications. Few people possess all these qualifications at the time of hiring. The set of job specifications needs scrutinizing for clues to the points on which new personnel are most likely to need training. Other questions related to job performance need considering: How should salespeople apportion their time? Which duties require the greatest proportion of time? Which are neglected? Why? Which selling approaches are most effective? Answers to these and similar questions help in identifying specific training needs of newly recruited sales personnel.
Trainee’s background and experience. Each individual enters an initial sales training program with a unique educational background and experience record. The gap between the qualifications in the job specifications and those a trainee already has represents the nature and amount of needed training. But it is not practical to adjust training precisely to individual differences. Time and money are saved by putting all recruits through identical programs. In some organizations, where training mechanisms are highly flexible, information about trainees’ qualifications makes possible some tailoring of programs to individuals, thus increasing both trainee satisfaction and program efficiency. In all organizations, determining recruits’ real training needs is essential to developing initial training programs of optimum benefit to company and trainee alike.
Sales-related marketing policies. To determine initial sales training needs, sales-related marketing policies must be analyzed. Differences in products and markets mean differences in selling practices and policies, which in turn, point to needed differences in training programs. For instance, selling a line of machine tools requires emphasis on product information and customer applications, whereas selling simple, nontechnical products demands emphasis on sales techniques. Differences in promotion, price, marketing channel, and physical distribution all have implications for initial sales training. In the case of promotion, for example, if advertising is not used or is used relatively less, sales training should prepare sales personnel to handle considerable promotional work, but if advertising is used extensively to supplement the sales force’s efforts, new sales personnel need to learn how to coordinate their activities with advertising.
2. Identifying Continuing Training Needs
Determining the specific aims for a continuing sales training program requires identification of specific training needs of experienced sales personnel. Basic changes in products and markets give rise to needs for training, as do the changes in company’s sales-related marketing policies, procedures, and organization. Sales force may be required to undergo a training program for the launch of a new product or for the adoption of new technology in the field. Sales management must know a great deal about how sales personnel perform to identify training needs and, in turn, to define specific aims. How does management gain this knowledge? Salespersons’ reports are scrutinized for symptoms of needed training. Sales records are inspected to uncover performance weaknesses. Sales personnel are observed personally with a view toward detecting deficiencies. And details contained in the sales job description are compared with the qualifications possessed by individual sales personnel. A clear picture is obtained by completing a chart similar to that in Figure 11.1 for each member of the sales force.
Source: Richard R. Still, Edward W. Cundliff, Normal A. P Govoni, Sandeep Puri (2017), Sales and Distribution Management: Decisions, Strategies, and Cases, Pearson; Sixth edition.