Executing the Sales Training Program

Effective program execution depends upon instructional skills as well as coordination of planning and housekeeping details. Program administra­tion involves doing what can be done to produce a training atmosphere conducive to learning. The execution step requires four key organizational decisions: (1) Who will be the trainees? (2) Who will do the training? (3) When will the training take place? (4) Where will the training site be?

1. Who Will Be the Trainees?

Identifying trainees is more complex for continuing than for initial sales training programs. A company identifies the trainees for its initial sales training program when it firms up sales job descriptions and hires sales job

applicants. While continuing sales training programs are prescribed for all personnel in some companies, the general practice is to select trainees according to some criterion. Four criteria are in common use: (1) reward for good performance, (2) punishment for poor performance, (3) convenience (of trainee and trainer), and (4) seniority (the greater the seniority, the greater the opportunity for added training). Those selected for continuing training should be aware of the criterion used.

2. Who Will Conduct the Training?

Initial sales training in most of the companies is managed by the train­ing department of an organization with support from the marketing and sales teams. Responsibility for continuing sales training resides with the senior executives and the training department. Introduction of new prod­ucts, adoption of revised sales policies, perfection of improved selling tech­niques, and similar developments call for training. The senior executive is in the best position to recognize the need and design and execute appro­priate sales training programs. Sales training is a never-ending process, and, regardless of who is responsible for training, the senior executive has continuing responsibility.

Sales training staff. Top executives usually delegate sales training performance to subordinates. Large sales organizations often have a sales training department. The training department conducts the training by involving marketing and sales managers for different aspects of the training. Companies also take the help of experts to train their employees for specialized skills.

Training the sales trainers. No training program, however carefully designed, is more effective than the people conducting it. Consequently, many companies have a training program for sales trainers. The starting point is to identify the subjects that trainers should know thoroughly: the company and its policies, the products, the customers, and their problems, the salesperson’s job, and sales techniques. Not only should sales trainers have expert and specialized knowledge, they must be effective teachers. Throughout their period of preparation, the theory and mechanics of teach­ing (and learning) are stressed. Trainers are required to master these, learn how to apply them effectively, preferably through doing practice training themselves. They also learn to plan and organize teaching materials for clear and effective presentation.

Outside experts. Many companies hire outside experts to conduct por­tions of sales training programs, generally those relating to sales techniques.

Numerous outside training consultants present sessions on sales techniques (for instance, Neuro-linguistic programming selling techniques) and, through broad and long experience, achieve high effectiveness. Other outside experts, including university professors and similar “moonlighters,” also offer this instructional service.

3. When will the Training take place?

Timing group versus individual training. Opinion is divided as to the proper timing of group and individual training. Most sales executives con tend that newly recruited trainees should receive formal group training before starting to sell. When there are large numbers of new personnel, group training is the way to train at the lowest cost per person. In planning the curriculum and the sales school, however, management determines the content that should be taught in the field—group training is more effective when supplemented by individualized field training. To minimize overlap, and to maximize training results, there must be an integration of what is taught by group methods in sales schools: product knowledge, company information, market information, and the theoretical and practical funda­mentals of selling. Practical training in sales technique is best handled individually, in the field. Individualized training is conducted in the field office. On-the-job training features personal conferences (of the trainer and trainee) and demonstrations (as the trainer explains “this is how to do it”).

Timing initial-sales training programs. Timing of initial-sales train­ing depends upon the number of new personnel trained each year, and this, in turn, depends upon the size of the sales force, sales personnel turn­over, and management’s plans for changing sales force size. With a large number of new personnel, comprehensive highly structured programs are scheduled several times a year, dates being set after consideration of recruiting quotas and deadlines. There is an optimum number of trainees who are effectively trained in an initial-sales training program. It depends upon training aims, content, methods, and the amount and availability of training talent.

Timing continuing-sales training programs. Effective sales manage­ment believes that training and learning must be continuous—new infor­mation must be assimilated and older concepts modified in the light of new developments. New products, new refinements of selling techniques, new product applications and uses, new customer problems, new selling aids, new selling suggestions—all these and other developments require that each salesperson’s training continue as long as he or she is on the job. In some situations, sales personnel are kept abreast of new developments

informally, perhaps through field distribution of information bulletins. But when new developments accumulate, are unusually important, or imply a need for substantial changes in salespersons’ attitudes and behavior pat­terns, a formal retraining program is scheduled. Many companies inte­grate retraining programs into a series of sales meetings or a single sales convention. Continuing-sales training programs are designed and “sold” as a means of helping salespeople do their jobs more effectively. If it is demonstrated that training results in more takehome pay and increased job satisfaction, salespeople are motivated. When salespeople see that these benefits are obtainable through the continuing sales training program, its chances of successful execution are enhanced.

Right execution of the sales training program is critical for its success. Here, right timing of the training program impacts the implementation success. Training program for new hires is usually planned before the start of a new financial year so that the sales persons are working in the field at the time of new fiscal year.

4. Where will the Training site be?

Some companies hold initial sales training programs at the central offices; others conduct separate programs at branch offices. Each practice has advantages and disadvantages. The centralized program generally provides better product training, but higher costs are incurred in bringing trainees to the central point. In many companies the small number of trainees does not justify decentralized initial training, and central location is a necessity. Numerous large companies, by contrast, have the option of decentralized initial training. They can train new salespeople near their future territories and acquaint them early with field selling problems. Except in a company with a vast pool of administrative and training skills, initial sales-training programs should be at central locations. Retraining programs for seasoned sales personnel also are held either at centralized or decentralized points. These programs are often short, so the decision may hinge upon where the needed instructional talent is and whether it is more economical to transport and house the trainers or the trainees. If retraining programs coincide with sales conventions, they are held nationally (at convention headquarters), or regionally, on a decentralized basis.

Companies usually select a location that is centralized for most of the sales representatives. This help to reduce the travel time and travel costs. Travel time is critical as sales person will be away from the field and this is a nonselling and unproductive activity. Companies also consider the availability of lodging facilities at a reasonable price depending upon the budget of the training program.

5. Instructional Materials and Training Aids

Critical to successful execution of sales training programs are the instruc­tional materials and training aids. These vary not only for different compa­nies but for programs with different aims, contents, and methods. Pertinent features and uses of the main types of instructional materials and training aids are discussed in the following sections.

  • Manuals. Often known as workbooks, manuals are used in most group-type sales training programs. The best manuals contain out­lines or summaries of the main presentations, related reading mate­rials, statements of learning objectives for each session, orienting questions or thought provokers, cases and problems, plus directions for sessions involving role playing or gaming. Many include concise statements of selling, pricing, training of sales personnel, and other policies as well as details on company systems and procedures. Some contain information on the products and their applications. Discretion should be observed in selecting items for inclusion. It is easy to clutter up a manual with information of little value. Manuals often are designed with a dual purpose: to serve as study guides during training and as references later. Many are in looseleaf form to facilitate additions and changes.
  • Other printed materials. These include company bulletins, sales and product handbooks, information bulletins, standard texts, tech­nical and trade books, and industry and general business magazines and journals. Company publications are used chiefly to furnish field sales personnel with up-to-date and needed information. Keeping field sales personnel informed is also the reason many companies provide subscriptions to industry and general business magazines. Text, technical, and trade books supplement workbook materials, although trainees rarely read them thoroughly during formal training. The usual expectation is that the books will serve later as references.
  • Advance assignments. To conserve time, many programs require trainees to prepare assignments in advance. In some situations, these are reading assignments chosen to provide some minimum compre­hension of subjects scheduled for coverage in formal sessions. In other situations, the assignment is to read a case and prepare a plan of action for use in a scheduled session. It is important that trainees understand the purposes of advance assignments and receive clear instructions (most expert trainers recommend written instructions). Trainees’ motivations are strengthened when opportunities for feed­back are built into advance assignments, for example, if trainees are required to submit a written precis of reading assignments and briefs of all cases scheduled. Advance assignments are used for groups as well as for individuals—in many companies, for instance, trainees are divided into groups and instructed to prepare specific individuals in the groups to play particular roles (note the built-in feedback feature).

Advance assignments serve another purpose. They consume time out­side formal sessions, reducing trainees’ inclinations to “go out on the town” or otherwise goof off. In addition, because they require extra time, advance assignments should convince trainees of the extraordinary opportunity—” you have to prepare for higher productivity.”

Psychological “readiness” of the trainees is linked with the schedul­ing of the training program. The timing of the training in the sales cycle is critical. Also, sales people need time to complete pretraining assignments. Most of the sales representatives are busy with their monthly sales closing in the last week of the month so conducting training for sales people in the last week of the month is not advisable. Similarly, sales people are busy with the submission of different reports like a monthly report, reports on primary and secondary sales. It is not recommended to conduct a training program in the first few days of the month. Many companies prefer to do training for sales people between 4th to 22nd days of a month.

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.

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