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Experts Table Conversation with Donald O. Nicholson on Sales Training Best Practices

🕑 7 minutes read | Sep 05 2018 | By Jasmine Martirossian
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In our Experts Table series, we interview leading experts to feature the practices that they have found to work best in the areas of learning and development and to share the stories in their voices.

Sales do not just happen. Organizations must be intentional about selling from understanding the pain points of their customers to articulating the benefits of their product or service in such a way that customers, both prospective and existing, can see how it will fill their competitive gaps and grow their business. Plain and simple!

I spoke with Donald (Don) O. Nicholson, who has over 25 years of executive management and leadership experience and has been conducting Sales Training workshops for just as long. Don has led the sales function in many multi-national corporations, including Intertek Testing Services, and most, recently served as President and CEO of DEKRA North America. Sales training was always (always) critical to Don’s executive success, and he is now focused on delivering sales training through Nicholson Business Services. Having led sales teams and delivered sales training for nearly three decades, Don shared his views on key aspects of sales training that organizations have to keep front and center to ensure that their sales organizations are succeeding.

Start Sales Training with Onboarding

Organizations should start offering sales training as soon as the new salespeople join the organization. This means that sales training should be a critical part of their onboarding experience. This often gets overlooked.

Even the most experienced sales executive needs sales training as part of the onboarding process for any new sales role. Focused High Energy On-Boarding Sales Training will ensure that you (the Sales Manager) are achieving the best time to revenue for the new salespeople that have joined the organization. This is much better than just dropping them into the organization and expecting that they will learn on the fly.

Know How to Sell Your Products

You would be surprised to see how inconsistent most organizations are with their sales training. The sales managers themselves are often not the best people to offer sales training. Part of the reason is that sales managers are not necessarily good teachers, coaches, or trainers. Often, they are too deeply immersed in what they are doing and may lack an outside perspective. It is often the outside perspective that shines a light on the fact that how the product or service is being sold may be inconsistent and may not even be the best approach for growth.

Know the Metrics and Mathematics of Your Sales

Again, sales training must ensure that the sales organization across the board is taking a consistent approach to the metrics they use and that everyone understands the mathematics of their sales. To be more specific, this requires that the salespeople have complete clarity on the actual amount of work (think metrics) they have to do every day to be successful. Understanding the mathematics of sales means that every single salesperson knows what steps need to be taken to get a Yes from customers. And every day, every sales professional must know where they are with each potential sale in terms of their place in the sales process. I am sure it seems odd to some, but aside from ability, math is the key to success in sales.

Have a Sales Process and Train on It

No Sales Process = No Sale. You have to have a sales process and you need to train every salesperson in the sales process. By the way, this involves not just the new hires, but the existing salespeople as well. Unfortunately, many sales organizations do not have a documented sales process nor do they practice one. So, the sales process needs to be created and documented first. Remember, the mantra is No process, no sale.

Having a documented sales process allows boosting the morale of the sales team as well. With a process in place, people have a clear understanding of goals and know what they need to do to succeed. You will see, sales will, in fact, easily grow exponentially, when a sales process is established, trained, coached and practiced each and every day. Believe it or not, repetition of what works, WORKS!

Nine times out of ten when we are called to help a sales organization improve, we find there is no selling process. This is the equivalent to a football team going out on the field to play a game with no documented plays or practice of them. Nine times out of ten when we are called in to work with an underperforming sales representative, we find they are not following a process.

Evolve Your Process

Creating and documenting your sales process should not be viewed as one and done approach. Your process must keep evolving, and it must have the fluidity to respond to changing market needs and trends. This means that as you constantly measure everything according to the existing sales process, you also identify opportunities for improvement. Again, close the gap, go back to train your salespeople on the new aspects of the sales process.

Build Relationships and Generate Leads That Are Interested

It is great when marketing passes leads to sales, though many organizations do not have that luxury. Even then, the marketing qualified leads have to be turned into sales qualified leads, which means that as part of the sales process, salespeople must work to establish relationships with people who are interested in the product or service that you are selling. Building relationships are hyper-critical to selling. Without relationships, there are no sales.

Be Visible in the Field and in the Business

Nothing is ever sold through email or sitting behind a desk. If that is what you are doing as a salesperson, then I hate to tell you, but you are part of a glorified customer service team. Salespeople have to be out there meeting people, establishing relationships, putting a name and face together. If the only time you as a salesperson go to the airport is to go on vacation, then you are not in the business of sales.

Can’t say enough about how important it is to be in the field, and to be visible and active. Salespeople should join the same organizations, committees, and associations that their customers are members of.

Understand Your Customers Competitive Gaps and Their Needs to Grow

Unless you are exceeding a customer’s need, you won’t close a sale. Keep in mind, you are most likely trying to displace your competitor who is already providing the product or service. Find out what the gaps are in your competitor’s solution and position your solution to overcome those gaps. It’s that simple.  This means you must engage with the customer in a meaningful way. And this, in turn, means less talking about yourself, your product, your services, and more focus on the customer asking the questions about the gaps. And make sure that you are informed of the latest trends and best practices for your industry, so you can also add value in your meetings with customers.

Rely on Question-Based Selling

Question-based selling is your key to better understanding your customer’s needs. Plus, everyone wants to be heard, rather than be talked at. Make sure to have a list of key questions that you should be asking. Be flexible to adjust the list as part of your conversation. All of this too should be part of the sales process and sales training. Question-based selling allows you to understand the customer’s needs so that you can position your product or service in such a way that you can close the gap that the customer experiences. Interviewing your customer is how you get a sale.

Hire Sales Talent Based on Culture

Organizational culture is extremely important in making hiring decisions. Be clear about your culture, and hire the right talent that will be a great fit for the culture. Skillsets alone are not enough, hire on attitude, hire on culture, hire on attributes, and then train for the skills. This will ensure that you have a strong sales team that delivers and exceeds the sales goals.

After reading this blog, I ask you to take 30 minutes and drop back and take an empirical look at your selling organization. Note how, your top sales professionals typically understand, share and (most important) ENJOY the working and business culture of your company and directly your sales organization. It is their natural working/selling style, so it is an excellent match, which produces excellent results.

Conversely, when you see a struggling sales professional, I bet you will notice that they are to some degree missing the sales team culture that you are driving, preaching, and living. Culture is everything when hiring talent, my friends. It is EVERYTHING. I see many times that too much importance is put on a resume and past experience when hiring talent. Culture and attributes and the key to hiring success. Again I say Culture and Attributes are the key!

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