Tag Archives: Training

How to Develop Your Selling Skills

Last week, we talked about the need for salespeople to build and expand their selling skills in order to adapt to, and compete with, artificial intelligence.  This week, let’s talk about exactly HOW to develop your selling skills.  “But, Troy, I work on my selling skills all the time!”  No, you probably don’t, if you’re like most salespeople.

I ran a poll on the biggest LinkedIn sales group.  I asked, “On the average, how much time per week do you spend improving and practicing your sales skills, not counting time you spend selling?”  The results were about as I expected:  “Less than one hour” – 48%; “1-2 hours” – 32%; “2-5 hours” – 13%; “more than 5 hours” – 7%.  That old 80/20 rule really is looking valid on this one.  So, how should you be practicing?

My recommendation is this:  Pick one critical skill of selling, and work on it each week.  Next week, pick a different one, and so on.  That will keep you from getting bored and falling into a rut.  The critical skills are:

Prospecting:  Work on your approach.  There’s no prospecting approach that can’t be made better; in many cases, making it shorter makes it better.  Your initial approach statement should be 10-15 seconds – no more.  That goes for telephone prospecting (you do that, right?) or live, face to face prospecting.  Refine it, hone it, improve it, and test it.

Questioning:  The most important skill set in questioning.  Develop two new, great questions to ask a prospect.  Practice them, and more importantly, practice LISTENING ACTIVELY to the answers.  Repeat and refine.

Presenting:  You already know that I don’t like one size fits all presentations.  However, I do like a “modular presentation,” where you are prepared at a moment’s notice to present on different benefit/feature combinations, or aspects of your service.  Think of it as a mental “slide deck” where the slides can be rearranged, inserted, and deleted on the spot.  Practice one “slide” per week.

Proposing:  Present price and terms confidently and in a way that doesn’t invite distrust or uncertainty.

Closing:  Practice getting comfortable with asking simple, to the point, closing questions – and then shutting up.

Handling objections:  Make a list of common objections, and then come up with your first, best response to each one.  Practice clarifying, isolating, and resolving objections.

As I said, rotate these around to stay fresh and incrementally build your skills over the long haul.  And practice.  Most salespeople don’t practice skills except in front of the customer.  That’s dumb.  In front of the customer, mistakes cost you money.  In your office, it costs you nothing except a little time and a little pride (if anyone else sees).

And here’s the mentality you should use in your practice.  Some of you know that I am a former and reformed wrestling fan (today’s product is just insulting to the intelligence, in my opinion).  Still, I like listening to podcast interviews of past wrestling personalities.  It’s mind candy for when I drive, and I drive a lot – but occasionally, something really profound emerges.

One such profundity came from a wrestler and wrestling trainer named Dr. Tom Prichard.  The host and Prichard were discussing a particular dangerous wrestling move that had been botched on a recent show, and could have caused paralysis or even death.  Prichard said, “People shouldn’t do moves that they don’t know how to do.”

The host agreed and said, “Practice till you get it right, right?”

Prichard said, “Nope.  Practice until you can’t get it WRONG.”

Wow.  That’s pretty profound, isn’t it?  There’s a big difference, as I thought about it, between “until you get it right” and “until you can’t get it wrong,” and it’s the difference between conscious thought and habit.  I encourage you to follow Dr. Tom’s advice.  Whatever technique you are working on, practice it to the point that you can’t get it wrong, and you won’t.  How much does that take?

It depends on you and your mental makeup.  Studies show that habits form at 21 repetitions.  Maybe it takes that much for some techniques; maybe it takes less than others.  I’d suggest that when you realize that you aren’t having to invest the same level of conscious thought to get through a particular technique, you’ve got it.  Then, when you’re in front of the customer, that conscious thought can be invested in paying attention to the customer, their reactions, and their words.

Because – even though they aren’t practicing the way you are – the customer is always the star of this particular show.  Don’t forget it, and keep working to develop your selling skills.

Are You Asking Enough Sales Questions?

Sales Questioning Poll ResultsAre you asking enough questions?  A couple of weeks ago, I ran a poll on a very popular LinkedIn group.  The poll question was simple:  “On the average, how many discovery questions do you ask a new customer on an initial appointment?”  If you’ve read any of my work at all, you know that I believe that the root of good things in selling is asking a lot of good questions; in fact, questioning is the longest unit in my training programs.  Well, I’m starting to feel like I’m on an island with a pretty small population.

The results were shocking to me.  Spoiler alert:  37% of respondents said that they asked 1-5 questions on a first appointment; 41% asked 6-10.  In my opinion, the sweet spot for a quality discovery is 11-15 questions; only 11% of respondents were in that bracket. 12% were discovery overachievers who asked more than 15 questions.   After I pushed my lower jaw back up (it had dropped to hit the desk), I realized that within weakness in the market, there is opportunity.  And it’s YOUR opportunity.  If 77% of salespeople ask 10 or less questions, they’re not getting to know customers very well.  That’s your competition.  Want to beat them?  Ask more questions.  But what should you be asking about?  I’ll tell you.

  • Your contact’s professional history. “How did you come to be in this position?” is a great question.  People love to tell their stories, and this question gives you a great window into their viewpoints as well as being a good rapport-building question.  For instance, a plant manager who started out turning wrenches might respond to different value propositions than one who came to the plant fresh from getting an MBA.
  • The company’s past, present, and future. Yes, many companies put this info on their website.  Have you ever seen a website that was out of date?  Me too. And if you are working from obsolete or incorrect information, you might end up presenting the wrong solutions.  Ask – or, better, refer to what you read and ask for your contact’s viewpoint on it.  That way you show that you’ve done your homework AND that you’re curious.
  • Company priorities. Just because your “stuff” is the most important thing in the world to you, it doesn’t mean that it’s the most important thing to your customer.  Where does your stuff fall on the list of priorities for your company or your contact?  This will have a lot to do with the importance and urgency of your proposal.
  • Needs regarding your stuff. Notice that we are just now starting to ask about what you sell, and what their needs are regarding it.  That’s because your end of the world is a small part of the big picture in their world – and you need to know the lay of the land before you start probing what’s wrong in your part of the world.  By the way, don’t neglect asking about what’s right in your part of the world – if you don’t get the sale, this is going to be a big part of the reason why.
  • How they define success. Ultimately, all sales questions boil down to understanding how your customer defines a successful purchase, and how you can help them achieve it.  Still, at this point, you should probably ask a direct question about how they will define success.
  • Process questions. You should also understand the customer’s buying process, and how it will impact this purchase.
  • More questions. There’s more to ask – but you get the idea. Are you asking enough questions?  Here’s what you should know:  If you ask six questions, you are now better than 37% of your competitors.  If you ask 11 questions, you are now better than 78% of your competitors.  And so on.  And you should, of course, drill down on many of those questions.

Is my survey scientific?  Nope.  It was a LinkedIn survey.  This probably skews the numbers, but does so in a positive way.  Salespeople on LinkedIn groups who respond to surveys like this one are probably higher on the scale of the profession, because they’re more engaged.  So, if anything, that means that the real numbers are worse than what’s reported on my survey. In the comments, some “salespeople” expressed disdain for the very idea that comprehensive questioning is important; one even said, “If a salesperson is a dynamic opener, he doesn’t need to ask many questions and can close the sale in one call.”  I suppose there are areas of selling where that might be true, but it’s not in a highly professional sales universe.

The bottom line – when you are considering your questioning and discovery, here are some things to remember:

  • More is typically better.
  • Asking questions shows you care.
  • The worst question is the one you don’t ask.
  • From time to time, you should re-ask questions of current customers; things change.
  • Great salespeople are always working to improve their questioning skills.

That’s all for now.  If you’ll excuse me, I have to get the look of amazement off my face.

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.


• 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.


• 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.


• 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.