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Reposition Your Training for Success

7 Jan, 2008 By: Tom Calinan imageSource

Reposition Your Training for Success

Not a week goes by that some caring dealer principal doesn’t ask me about a
training program for their sales force.  Although a somewhat nebulous question,
usually the person asking is looking for some type of one size fits all
training. They want a “sales meeting in a box” that the manager can use at each
weekly meeting. This approach is fine if all of the meeting participants have
the exact same skill level. There is little chance of that being true. 

I am going to digress to try to emphasize a point: A few years back a large
financial services firm was airing a television commercial that had three
distinct groups sitting with an “investment advisor” at a retail bank.  There
was an older couple in retirement that wanted a steady income, a thirty
something couple discussing saving for their children’s education, and a young
couple with a baby who wanted to save for a house.  The banker listened intently
and then slid a piece of paper in front of them while saying, “For you I
recommend the Super CD.”  The point of the commercial: do not go to somebody for
financial advice that cannot craft a sound investment strategy to help you
achieve your specific goals.

What does this commercial have to do with training?  Everything—it provides
sound advice on how to approach employee development at the individual level. 
This is not to say that all group training is ineffective.  New employees will
certainly need training in areas like phone skills, pricing, leasing,
presentation skills and product.  It is after this initial training that the
real work begins for the manager.

Meeting in a Box

Let’s go back to that meeting-in-a-box desire. You have seven sales people
in the room and your meeting is on how to conduct Internet research on
prospects.  Two of the sales people are highly proficient at conducting internet
research.  They are bored to tears.  Two of the sales people have been with you
for twenty years and they—unfortunately—could care less about conducting
research because they make enough income just upgrading their base of accounts
and do not do any hunting.  The three remaining sales people could learn a lot
from the training if it were not for the disturbance from the four sales reps
that do not want to be in the training.  Future trainings atrophy because the
sales reps begin to find reasons why they cannot attend and quickly your manager
loses interest in conducting the meeting.

The intent of the weekly training meeting was sound; help your sales force
sell more and earn more money. The delivery method, however, even with good
execution, was flawed

Every manager should develop an individual development plan (IDP) for each of
their employees.  In order to compose an IDP the manager will need to identify
any gaps between the employee’s current knowledge, behavior and skill level and
the desired levels.  Then the manager needs to identify specific training that
addresses these deficiencies. 

Let’s go back to the Internet research example used earlier.  Five of the
sales people could use the training.  Two of the five have behavioral issues
that need to be addressed before they are open to learning.  I will get back to
those two shortly.  For now let’s say that we have three sales reps that could
use training and that are open to that training.  Let’s call these three the
students.  Each of these sales reps would have “Develop skill in researching
customers and prospects” as part of their IDP. 

We also have two sales reps’ that are proficient at the research.  The sales
manager also happens to be proficient at research.  Let’s call these three the
instructors.  So we have a few options to help the students develop the skills
and knowledge to conduct internet research.  You may want to set three one hour
training sessions over the next three weeks to be attended by all three
students.  The three instructors would rotate so that each spends one hour
training over the three week period.  This provides the students with three
slightly different approaches to research, allows the two sales rep instructors
to develop as mentors, and focuses training on an identified gap.

The reps IDP would state “Attend one hour training sessions Tuesday at 4:00
PM over next three weeks.  Meeting planner will be sent through Outlook.  You
are expected to have three identified accounts each week to research.  Please
bring your computer.  At the conclusion of the three week training you will be
expected to research an account assigned by me (manager) in less than 20
minutes.”  The IDP would be more specific in the expected learning, but for the
sake of space we will keep it simple.

We should now revisit the two sales reps that are not open to learning.  More
than likely we helped to create this monster by not setting a logical quota or
by allowing the sales rep to manage too many of our base accounts.  You can
allow them to frustrate you and make it difficult to create a developmental
environment or you can work to change their behavior.  Clearly one way to adjust
the behavior is to assign a quota based off of the revenue that should be
generated from the accounts that they manage (refer to PAST ARTICLE on MIF). 
That approach is not the subject of this article.

A different Approach

If the two reps’ unwillingness to research is purely a lack of motivation
because of too much territory, then adjusting the territory and quota will
address the issue.  Frequently, I find that contemporary skills have not been
developed sufficiently in tenured reps controlling large territories. 
Therefore, you will need to find a way to motivate the reps to change—to address
their behavioral issue.  One approach may be to have one of the reps compose a
presentation on macro industry changes over the last three years and forecasts
for the next three years.  This information is available from sources such as
the BTA and from presentations given at ITEX and InfoTrends Conferences.  The
ability to get this data is one good reason to belong to BTA and attend these

How does conducting this research and composing the presentation help with
behavior?  The rep will get educated on the marketplace and find that: Year over
year, placements are decreasing; printers have become substitutes for copiers in
segment I and II; A4 MFPs have gained significant market share; color placements
and prints are increasing significantly; standalone equipment sales are
decreasing rapidly and hardware wrapped with some type of solution is growing
rapidly; and manufacturers have developed a significant direct presence. 

The manager gave the rep a reasonable time frame to develop the presentation,
say six weeks.  When the project was initiated, the manager set weekly update
meetings to keep the rep focused on completing the project timely and to provide
support.  These meetings will also come in handy to discuss the implications of
the findings.  The goal of the project is to allow the rep to come to their own
conclusion that they need to change in order to continue to thrive.  Once the
rep has come to this conclusion the manager can design other training to help
support this rep’s newly found goals.

Developing employees is hard work; there is no quick fix.  The IDP can, and
should, be implemented for employees in every function, not just sales.  If your
management team takes the time to develop your employees, the rewards will be
numerous.  You will increase loyalty to your company, decrease turnover, and
increase productivity, resulting in market share gains and increased profits. 
Stop looking for that “instant training program” and develop your employees.

Tom Callinan is the founding principal of Strategy Development, a management
consulting and advanced sales training firm (www.strategydevelopment.org).
From 1998–2005, he was an executive with IKON Office Solutions. Prior to IKON he
was founder and CEO of Copifax, Inc, an INC 500 C.  He graduated with honors
from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. At

or 610.527.3317.

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