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Opinion: Bringing sales training back from Mars


Why is sales training in the UK like 'Life on Mars' – trapped in a 1970s timewarp, asks Steve Miller? Isn't it time to drag it kicking and screaming into the 21st century and throw out the seven 'sacred' steps once and for all?

With business revenues falling, UK business leaders have good reason to be concerned about the state of their sales force and what they can actually deliver.

A major part of the problem is that UK sales training interventions are really not up to making the difference and equipping people with the skills and behaviours to meet and exceed business targets.

I say this because I'm being asked time and again to come in to get sales teams refocused and motivated right after expensive sales training and development programmes have been delivered.

Photo of Steve Miller"Words such as objections and close need to be consigned to the scrap heap of sales training programmes."

A lot of sales training is missing the point that we need to focus on the skills and attributes of each salesperson to get the most from them as a human resource.

It's almost like 'Life on Mars' as UK plc is trapped in a 1970s time warp when it comes to effective sales training. Personally I attended a training programme to learn the ropes of sales 20 years ago, so what I learnt then is the second series 'Life on Mars', but seriously things have moved on very little.

Back then it was a training model based on seven 'sacred' steps that didn't really achieve very much - and in the year 2008 they still don't. Yes, it's incredible, but the seven steps are still being widely used. To think sales professionals walk into a business situation and work through the seven steps of a sale is both naïve and certainly not grounded in commercial reality. It is time to revamp, modernise, and bring sales training programmes into the 21st century.

Getting it right

Developing people to sell themselves first is where I believe all sales training should start. It is the foundation of inspirational sales training.

What our clients need to do is support their sales teams by handing them the skills and behaviours to use the language of influence, conduct themselves in an engaging inspiring manner and show them how they can boost their own self-belief.

It is only after you have trained people to sell themselves that you should work with them on a deep understanding of the product or service they will be selling.

Words such as objections and close need to be consigned to the scrap heap of sales training programmes. So much emphasis is put on objections and closing the sale that the elements of customer care, values and benefits and building customer loyalty are lost. As one advertisement sales director highlighted recently objections are simply a few concerns a client may have and closing the sale will happen automatically if the sales professional has sold themselves with inspiring communication skills.

"Developing people to sell themselves first is where I believe all sales training should start. It is the foundation of inspirational sales training."

We need to develop our sales people in understanding and applying the concept of emotional intelligence (EI). A good sales training programme will include training delegates in the intrapersonal and interpersonal aspects of EI. Product knowledge is important, but it's actually secondary. Some of my top sales people often had average product knowledge, but because they sold themselves well and were emotionally intelligent they always exceeded their target. They were easily able to get customers onside and gained their confidence and that's why closing the deal was easy for them.

As well as EI we must train sales teams to engage in a consultative approach rather making sure they have a 'do or die' sales attitude. Really good sales people listen to their customers and get involved with them. We must ensure they have the skills to develop business partnerships with their clients and can work on mutual strategies to build long term relationships.

In a tough market place only the best sales teams will win business. As training professionals we need to act sooner rather than later and bring sales training back from Mars.

Steve Miller is principal consultant at Steve Miller Training Limited


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