Exercises for Experienced and Inexperienced Sales People

Salesforce development without outside sales coaching training. Sales coaching and sales training for use by managers.

Sales Training Exercise

If you watch football training sessions or the equivalent in any sport, you will see a lot of repetition. The players or athletes involved will be practising basic manoeuvres, over and over. Winning rests on absolute mastery of the basics.

Research gathered by Malcolm Gladwell for his book, Outliers, suggests that developing expertise in anything takes about ten thousand hours of doing it.

Sales managers can employ this well understood principle to improve results without spending any money. Having salespeople set aside time to practice the basics increases performance no matter how experienced they are.

If you are in a selling role consider this question: How much time do you spend each day/week/month practising the basics?

You would not be alone if you struggle to recall any time spent doing this in the last year. Training courses rarely take the time to allow practise through repetition. It takes too long and can be perceived as boring.

Reading or listening to books about selling, as most authors point out, has no value unless the principles, ideas, or methods are tried out, practised, and practiced.*

Trying new things in the field is risky. The results could be worse than they would have been doing things the old way, leading to lost business or poorer performance. If you play golf and have had professional lesions you will know how hard it is to use what is learned on the practise range to improve in a real game.

Here are some basic exercises that will test even experienced salespeople. Those who improve their ability to answer these questions improve their performance. See tips for practising at the end.

  1. Answer the question, “How are you different from all the other suppliers who offer similar things?” This is one of the most difficult questions to answer in a convincing manner. Superlatives just don't work. Those who simply say, “We are better than the others” without substantiating the statement with evidence, simply undermine their own integrity. The best answers string together three facts that allow people asking the question to draw their own conclusions.
  2. Answer the question, “How do we know that what you are offering is the best value?” If a customer asks this question it is because they want to avoid the cost of evaluating other potential suppliers. The most common answers we hear in training classes have two flavours. One involves acknowledging that the customer should check out competitors and the other indicates that good discounts are available! A better solution would be to explain why the customer would be getting the best value available using a string of three facts.
  3. Respond to the objection, “the price is too high” This is a classic objection that is most often raised early in a selling conversation or at the end of the buying process. Even experienced sellers can be caught out by it. The best way of handling it is to have customers turn around their own objection.
  4. Give reasons for a customer engaging in a conversation Most sellers quickly learn the key value or benefit statements that customers respond to however, delivery can always be improved. The most common sin is being too long winded. Anything that takes longer than about 15 seconds, risks causing the customer to tune out.

If you are in sales management, ask each team member to answer these questions or to respond as they would in a customer situation. Record their answers on your phone and discuss ways to improve what they say.

Do one exercise at a time. It’s important to allow people time to create better responses and to try them out immediately.

Their own ideas will always be easier to adopt than anyone else’s.

It’s important to offer encouragement to improve rather criticism of an inept response. It’s not much use practising response to a question or statement just once. Have each team members revisit each exercise at least once a month until it seems the responses can't be improved. Then repeat the exercises again after three to six months to incorporate new developments. Answers should keep on improving as they take into account new innovations and ideas. 

As a manager you might be expected to do the exercises yourself as a demonstration of what is good. It is helpful to acknowledge that your responses are also subject to improvement because even the best can be improved through practise.

If you are a salesperson, recruit your manager or a peer as coach and work through the exercises as prescribed to increase your effectiveness and confidence. If the exercises above don’t represent difficult aspects in your selling environment, replace them with those that you or your people have the most trouble with.

Practise is about doing the mundane while exercising the imagination. As Einstein put it, “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination”.

Without practise, practice is given over to chance. If you aren’t already practising, you are almost certainly missing an opportunity to raise your game and enjoy better results.

* Since the distinction between the word, ‘practise’ and ‘practice’ may depend on where you learnt English, in this article I have used the British definition – i.e. ‘practise’ is a verb meaning to do something repeatedly whereas ‘practice’ is a noun that refers to the act itself.

Article by Clive Miller

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