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How to Make Classroom Training Effective

A few days ago, I saw a post on LinkedIn asking, “Is classroom sales training effective?” Unfortunately, like most of these threads, it quickly devolved into post after post of sales trainers saying, “Well, no, most isn’t – but MINE is!” I honestly hate that, because some people are looking for real information about this topic. So, I’ll answer as best I can and I won’t mention my training; if you want to learn about it, you’re more than welcome to, but that’s not what this article is.

The truth is that classroom training gets a bad rap. If classroom learning didn’t work, why would we spend all those years going to school? And don’t give me that “but adults learn differently” stuff. They might – a little – but classroom training still can be very effective. But making it effective requires work – on the part of the trainer, on the part of the trainees, and on the part of management. I’ve been doing classroom training for 20 years, and here are the key elements I’ve discovered.

BEFORE THE TRAINING:

• The trainer should learn about your company, what you do, and what specific functions your people perform, and how that will impact the training.
• The trainer should prepare enough to be at least conversant with the language of the trainees. He/she doesn’t need to know as much about the specific work environment as the trainees – that is unrealistic – but at least the basic terminology; the trainer should incorporate this into the training materials.
• The manager should be open to conversation with the trainer. Sometimes, managers will want to hold back on their true impressions of their staff a bit to have the trainer ‘evaluate’ their people during the training. This is the wrong approach. The trainer’s job is to educate, not evaluate; if you want a second opinion on your staff, this should be a separate project. Sure, all trainers – myself included – will gain impressions and will probably share them, but this shouldn’t be their prime mission. If you want the best training experience, help your trainer help each person get the most from the experience.
• The manager should set expectations with his or her staff. Those expectations should include sharing the trainer’s bio, their agenda (the trainer should provide you with these items), and what the expectations for both learning and conduct will be. For instance, staff should know beforehand that phones should be silenced, side conversations kept to a minimum, etc.

DURING THE TRAINING:

• The training should be as interactive as possible; nobody wants to listen to a talking head all day. The trainer should break up the lectures with exercises, role plays, and other ways to get staff involved.
• The manager should be in the training session. I can’t emphasize this enough. Talk to any trainer – myself included – and they will tell you that the worst and least productive training sessions they have ever done have been those where the key manager is absent. This means that the manager doesn’t know what’s being taught and doesn’t know how to follow up later, and it means that the conduct of the staff can be unproductive.
• Which leads me to this. The staff’s conduct should be professional and they should participate. It’s okay to have fun – good training should be fun – but the primary mission is to learn. On a (fortunately very) few occasions, I’ve had training programs that felt like Romper Room. The trainees just basically played around, talked among themselves, etc. “But it’s the trainer’s responsibility to control the room!” Not really, to be honest. I’m there (and other trainers are there) to help staff learn important techniques to help them succeed. I’m not there to babysit, and frankly, if your staff needs much “controlling,” you have deeper problems than a training program.

AFTER THE TRAINING:

• Most training fails to affect behavior because the training ends when the trainer walks out of the room. To make sure that the training bears fruit, the manager (who was in the training, remember) should reinforce what is taught with follow-up exercises, role plays, and on-the-job observation. Most of the time, less than 20% of what is taught makes it into the actual workplace. Good follow up can radically raise this number.
• The trainer should give some tips or guidance on how to follow up with staff. This can be written or verbal, and it can be as simple as showing the manager how to use the workbook to create future training and dialogue. If the trainer has an advanced program, milestones can be set up to trigger when that program is appropriate.

As a trainer, the most gratifying aspect of my work is when a trainee tells me that they have used my training to make money. The worst aspect of my work is finding out that the training died in the training room. In either case, proper preparation, in-training conduct, and follow up makes all the difference in the world. You’re investing the time and money in training. Invest just a little bit more and make it stick in the workplace.

Five Tips for Maximizing Video Selling

Last time out, I discussed the top trends in selling coming out of Covid-19.  If you haven’t read that one, you should read it now.  But, the #1 trend that I have identified, and that I think will be evergreen (meaning it will outlast Covid-19 and the aftermath) is the increasing use of video in selling.

With everyone working from home, more and more people have gotten comfortable with video conferencing, whether it’s a Zoom call or a different platform.  And many of those people have found it to be a time-efficient way to have meetings.  Those people may want to continue to use video conferencing when you are selling to them – so you might as well make it good.  Here are five ways you can maximize video as a sales tool.

  1. Ask for the upgrade. I said before that video selling lies between two-dimensional (phone) and three-dimensional (in person) activity.  So, when your contact wants to set a phone appointment up (you are making appointments for your phone calls, right?), ask for an upgrade.  “I’d be happy to have a call with you at that time – but would you rather have a Zoom call?”  Remember, more people are familiar with this technology than ever before. On video you can get more cues to and from your buyer – so the more calls you can upgrade from phone to video, the better off you’ll be.
  2. Respect the request. On the other hand, if your customer requests that you meet through video instead of in person, respect that.  Right now, many people are still leery of face-to-face meetings, and if your customer is one of them, you could put them off by pushing for a face to face meeting.  Accept the video call.
  3. Make sure your video is right. The great thing about video is that you have control over the visuals.  Think through your equipment and your backdrop.  Today’s laptops and phones have very high quality HD cameras on them, so that’s not a problem – but the camera lens should be at eye level (so you are making quality eye contact with your customer) and you should be looking AT THE LENS instead of at the screen.  That one’s difficult.    The backdrop should be interesting but free of anything off-color or distracting.  The lighting should be at your front and not your back.  You may want to get a good quality external microphone (mine is a Blue Yeti).  The best way to ascertain all of this is to set up as you would for a call, and then shoot some video of you talking.  Practice and get comfortable.
  4. Learn the technology. Right now, there are many different technologies out there.  They all have their pluses and minuses.  My best advice to you is to pick a technology that you like, get really comfortable with it, and then when you do schedule a video call, you be the person who does the inviting, rather than expect the customer to do so.  I will freely admit that I myself have been a bit tardy on this one.  That said – if your customer already has a preferred tech, go with it – which means you need to be conversant with many platforms and not just your own.
  5. Show up ten minutes early. The same rules apply for this as for a face to face call.  If you’re going to participate in a video call, you should log on ten minutes early, whether it’s your tech and platform or theirs.  If you’re on early, that means that when they log on they don’t have to wait for you; if it’s theirs, that means that if there are any technological hoops you didn’t know about (such as an app to download), you have time to do it before it’s meeting time.

Video calling is something we are going to be working with forever now, at least until someone invents a hologram so we can project ourselves into the customer’s office.  Do these things and you’ll be very effective at it, and you’ll beat salespeople who aren’t.

How to Make Rules For Your Sales Team

How to Make Rules For Your Sales Team

This is another short clip from a Las Vegas speech a few years back.  What I said is still true – there is a three-part criteria for determining the value of any rule you have, or make, for your salespeople (or any other department), and you need to pay attention to it.  If you don’t, you’ll have lower sales performance than necessary, higher turnover, and all the negative effects of those two things.

How to Onboard Salespeople in 3 Steps

How to Onboard Salespeople in 3 Steps

Onboarding salespeople is one of those activities where “act in haste; repent in leisure” certainly applies.  There’s a big difference between “doing it” and “doing it right.” If you rush onboarding now to get them out in the field quickly, you’ll probably regret it later.  This also goes, by the way, for industry experience hires, as I explain in this video.

In this video, I explain how to build a 90-day, three-step process for successfully onboarding salespeople so that they succeed now and later.  Make no mistake – a great onboarding process results in more successful salespeople AND greater sales longevity.

Want my help? I can help you build a great onboarding program as part of one of my Hiring Assistance programs.

Six Tips For Better Video Selling

As I noted in my previous article, our world is changing around us.  Will we get back to face-to-face selling?  Yes, we definitely will.  Will some of our formerly face-to-face customers (whom we are now seeing by Zoom call or other video technology) want to stick to video calls?  Yep.  You bet they will.

But, there’s an opportunity for an upgrade with some of our customers.  As our customers have gotten used to video technology, some of our phone-only customers can be upgraded to video – and that is an upgrade, make no mistake!

That said, it’s important that you do video right.  Here are my tips for a great video call.

5 Sales Trends After Covid-19

5 Sales Trends After Covid-19

Experts tell us that if there is to be a recovery, it’s to be a V-shaped recovery. We are at or near the bottom of the V.  That leaves us no place to go but up.

And second – if that recovery happens, we (salespeople) will be the spearhead taking us up the hill.  As I’ve said before, we are a key economic driver in the country.  That hasn’t changed.  What has changed is HOW we will have to lead the economy back up the hill.  There are certain aspects of our profession that will, in my opinion, be changed both in the short term and permanently – and before you get down in the dumps about it, those changes are not bad, if we embrace them.

  1. Video substituting for phone and in-person activity. Right now, if you’re selling, I’d almost guarantee that you’re doing a lot of it by video conference – Zoom, Teams, Skype, or other platforms.  You might think this will be a temporary substitute for “real” selling.  In some cases, it is; in others, it won’t be.  You will find that some of your customers prefer this type of interaction over face-to-face or phone sales calls.  This doesn’t have to be a bad thing.  Alan Weiss likes to say, “email is one-dimensional; phone is two-dimensional; face to face is three-dimensional.”  Let’s call a video conference two and a half dimensions; it’s somewhere in between phone and in-person.It’s tempting to think of this as a way to lose quality with customers.  And, it’s true that when it substitutes for face to face, you lose half a dimension. But – when you sub a video call for a phone call, you GAIN half a dimension!  And if you can sub video calls for more phone calls (appointments) than you do for face to face calls, you can have a net gain in your sales activity.  This is a good thing – so get good at video conferencing.  I’ll be creating a video later this week on how to maximize video conference time. What is certain is that this trend will definitely influence, if not create, the next trend.
  2. More efficient sales calls. One side effect of the above trend is that your sales calls will, of necessity, become more compressed.  Sales dialogues are typically shorter because a lot of the “fluff” of conversations goes away when you’re on phone or video – you won’t talk as much about the weather, the game last night, or other extraneous “stuff.”  Instead, your customer will want you to focus on the matter at hand.   You’ll find yourself covering the same, or more, ground in 30 minutes (or less) than you used to cover in an hour.  One positive result of this could be more sales calls; if more of your appointments are video appointments, they will both be shorter and you won’t have to spend time driving between them. Hence, more appointments per day.What that also means is that, if you’re not good at the meat of sales calls (asking great questions and making great presentations, you need to GET good at it.  If you don’t, you won’t get customer time.  And speaking of customer time and efficiency, if you’re not tracking and recording your customer time, you’re going to lose to people who are.  To do that, you need to consider the next trend mandatory (too many don’t).
  3. CRM. Don’t get me wrong; CRM has been out there for decades – but I’m still shocked at how many companies aren’t using it, or aren’t using it well.  It’s time.  Actually, it’s past time – but if you haven’t yet, do it now.  CRM facilitates communication among all the people in-house that can affect the customer experience, and if you are dependent upon in-person communication to make the experience a positive one, you’re in trouble right now.  Your customer information is the most critical and valuable asset you have – beyond your products and even beyond your people.The key is to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  I see even small companies spend months or even a year or more finding “the right” CRM; in the process, you’re losing customer data.  There are many systems out there that are cheap or even free that will allow you to be up and running with all your salespeople within days.  I use HubSpot.  It’s free, online, and it has a really nice mobile app.  You don’t have to use it – but you should use SOMETHING.  If you decide to switch later, you can always port your data over.  But if you don’t have any data, you’re losing sales to sales teams that do. Falling behind is going to be bad for you, because the speed of the sales world is picking up – which accentuates another trend that has been going for awhile:
  4. The end of the Good Time Charlie. There are salespeople out there – I call them “Good Time Charlies” – whose sales technique consists of telling jokes, laughing, and buying things like lunches, football tickets, etc.  Those salespeople are handcuffed right now – it’s hard to buy lunch when you can’t get face to face with your customers.  Tickets to sporting events don’t matter much when you can’t GO to sporting events.The truth is that sales has been pivoting toward more substantive and value-based selling for years, and the “Good Time Charlies” have been losing ground for awhile now – but now, they’re stranded in the water.  If you’re one of them, or you employ one of them, it’s time to change.  And speaking of change – embrace it.  That requires the next trend:
  5. Agility. Know what?  I do think the above four trends will be evergreen after Covid-19.  There’s also the possibility that I could be wrong; that one or more of the trends will change (I don’t see it, however).  Or, it could be possible that new trends or tech emerges.  So – the most important trend going forward is agility.  Don’t get locked into a single approach; one of the great things about selling is the constant change.

It’s going to be a Brave New World of selling after we come out of this.  The key is to be brave and embrace the new.  Over the next five weeks, I’m going to be going into each trend in specific detail, so keep reading this space.

How Salespeople Can Maximize Their Time And Relationships During Covid-19

How Salespeople Can Maximize Their Time And Relationships During Covid-19

If you’re like most salespeople, you’re working as hard as you can to get a good path forward going during the Covid-19 crisis. Maybe you’re having more trouble getting ahold of prospects, or maybe you’re struggling with in-house interactions.  And, if you’re like me, you’re getting very tired of two popular video types that I’ve seen:  The “Sunshine and Roses” video, or the “Get off your butt and just sell” video.

I think it’s time to get real.  Let’s get serious about where we are in the sales profession, what’s available to us right now, and how we can best use our time and talents to recover from Covid-19 as best we can.  In this video, I explain my thoughts.

How to Get Veteran Salespeople to Use CRM (video)

This is the answer to a question I get asked frequently.  “Troy, my veteran salespeople (and maybe some of my non-veteran salespeople) don’t want to use my CRM program.  How can I persuade them to do it?”  I’ve seen a lot of people attempting to answer the question, but they all come at it from a tech-centric perspective, not a sales-centric perspective. Well, I’m a sales guy, so this is from a sales perspective.

When It Comes to Service, Don’t Put on the Ritz – 7 Ways to Improve Your Customer Experience

When It Comes to Service, Don’t Put on the Ritz – 7 Ways to Improve Your Customer Experience

In my experience, most customer service training is about “conflict resolution,” when in fact, it should be “conflict avoidance.” Many customer service issues – and the attendant harm to your customers’ experience with you – don’t have to happen. I was reminded of this when I decided to have a snack.

I love Ritz crackers. Well, at least I used to. For the past few years, I’ve noticed that far too many Ritz crackers turn into crumbs as soon as you open the package. I threw away a new box yesterday because I opened all four sleeves, and it was impossible to remove an intact cracker from the package. Although I’ve seen this a lot, and I decided to do a little research. My research, quickly, found that thousands of other people had posted about the same thing.7 Ways to Improve Your Customer Service

On their Facebook page, there is a thread that is six years, and over a thousand comments, old, of people reporting the same issue. Here’s the funny part. Someone at Ritz took the time to respond to every post. They said (paraphrasing; not all responses were identical in words but they were in sentiment):

“We’re sorry this happened to you. Please send us a private message with the batch number and the store where you bought the crackers so we can investigate.” Thousands of times, thousands of comments, and this was the response – essentially, pretending that it’s an isolated problem with just a few affected boxes, when in reality this is pretty much a systemic problem.

What’s happening is that someone at RJR Nabisco has decided that they have two options: First, they can figure out why this is happening now and didn’t before and fix the problem, or they can train some entry-level employee to type out rote responses every time someone claims, knowing people will continue to buy the crackers because of the brand. They have chosen option number two.

This syndrome isn’t just confined to big corporations, either. I see small and medium sized companies doing the same thing every day. Don’t do that. If you have a recurring problem, here are the steps you need to take:

  1. Be honest. Is this a real problem? In other words, is what the customers are experiencing a genuine problem with the product or customer service, or an isolated incident? If it’s happening consistently and repeatedly, it’s not an isolated incident. It’s like the person who has been married seven times – at some point, you have to admit that it’s not them; it’s you.
  2. Embrace transparency. You must realize that, whatever the problem is, it’s going to get out. That’s one of the ways that social media has changed the world. The old saying used to be, “If you do something good for someone, they’ll tell one person. If you do something bad TO someone, they’ll tell ten people.” Now, either way, they have the capability to tell the entire world. Ritz’s customer service person i
    s responding to those customer complaints as if they were communicating one-on-one. You have to recognize that not only will the PROBLEM get out – how you HANDLE the problem will get out.
  3. Why is the problem actually happening? Is it traceable to a human error (most are), a product or raw material error, a process error, or a customer error? Nearly every ‘service’ issue is traceable to one of those things.
  4. Fix it. Human errors or customer errors are fairly easily fixable by training and setting expectations; processes can be rewritten, and product or raw material errors can be addressed – but first, you have to know what they are.
  5. Individualize your communication. One of the aspects of this that really upset customers on the Ritz page was that, not only was Ritz pretending that these were isolated instances (hundreds of times over), they were giving the same rote response and not responding to individualized queries. When customers ask questions, answer THEIR question – not everyone else’s – and respect THEIR situation. Yes, you might be communicating with the entire world (see #2 above), but you’re still dealing with THEIR problem.
  6. Set customer expectations. Too often, customers are blamed for expecting “too much” of a product or service, when in fact, it was the seller who set that expectation in the first place. I once worked in an industry as a sales manager where our service manager said, “It’s your salespeoples’ jobs to sell fantasy; my job is to sell reality.” In other words, my team was supposed to paint an unrealistic picture of what the result would be, get a contract signed, and then turn them over to service, who would reset their expectations. Not surprisingly, customers weren’t delighted with this approach, and I left that industry not long after that conversation. If your sales or marketing is painting an unrealistic picture, you need to fix THAT – false expectations will damage your business far more than losing a few deals because someone else is “selling a fantasy.”
  7. Make it right. Find a way to make the customer “whole” again. This can be done any number of ways, but the worst way is to give them more of a flawed product. I’m thinking of the airlines who, upon delaying you for hours and messing up your plans, give you a voucher for more flying. Or Ritz, who offered to send a replacement box of crackers.

If you know you have a problem, you need to either fix it or acknowledge the problem BEFORE the customer buys, so they can make an educated decision about whether or not to buy.

In the case of my beloved Ritz crackers, all I want is something I can put cheese or peanut butter on. After reading that thread on Facebook (and throwing away many, many bad crackers over the last couple of years), I’ve decided to switch to a different cracker that holds together. Will I go back? Probably not. If you have a problem, don’t acknowledge or fix it, and your customer finds out, they probably won’t, either.