Rick Loy is a sales strategist and training specialist with more than 20 years of experience as a Senior Executive in direct selling.
As an Associate with Strategic Choice Partners, Rick helps companies update their sales efforts in a way that works in today’s direct selling climate while also taking into account the quickly moving landscape from a regulatory perspective.
Becoming Brilliant in the Basics: What is the Company’s Responsibility for Sales Training?
“Pay attention to detail; leave nothing to chance.” My mentor in direct sales stood on this maxim daily, and I watched as he proved its value again and again. It is timeless wisdom we would do well to heed.
One of the “detail” items that can be amplified and accelerated in our companies now is the development of “specific guidance for people to use in their selling conversations”. Why? Let’s reflect for a moment on things we already know:
- The vast majority of our associates have never been in a sales venture.
- Many, if not most, have no appetite for “selling”, even though it’s what we do.
- They will “share “ the product with others if they believe it to be high value.
- They either “fly solo” in their efforts, or are directed by their upline to “just do what I do.”
- Statistically, and for many reasons, most stop trying fairly soon.
So, what do we do with all that? In an industry that, for years, has relied so heavily on a “This is just how we do it!” mentality, the corporate team finds itself at an interesting and recurring crossroads when it comes to sales training. Here are some approaches I’ve seen over the years:
* Leave all sales-training to the upline leaders; let them train as they choose. After all, they know best, don’t they? They have the track record to prove they know what it takes to be successful. This is problematic; the company is ultimately responsible, and accountable, for all content produced.
* Provide some resources on websites or in conferences, but with little energy or planning. The problem with this approach is it takes more of a “check it off my to-do list” approach. Sure, you can say training is available. But is it any good? Is it actually what you want to see duplicated? If it’s worth doing at all, it’s worth doing with excellence and energy.
* Employ the motivational challenge of “You’ve just got to talk to more people.” The content of the training doesn’t matter quite as much as the sharing of that content. But, of course, the content does a lot.
We are better than any of that. Or at least, we should be.
Before serving for 20+ years as an executive in direct sales, I worked as a registered representative for a financial services company. The sales training I received during that tenure was unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. It was thorough, detailed, accurate and, most importantly, effective. I understand fully that what we do in our industry is not the same as my previous engagement. Yet, I see a tremendous opportunity for us to find some healthy, engaging and profitable middle ground for our companies to “own sales training”. What if our efforts here increased retention, engagement, and sales by just 5%? Would that be worth the effort?
3 Reasons the Company Must Take on Full Responsibility for Training
The rationale for a company to fully own sales training and provide associates with the needed guidance is sound.
First, from a regulatory standpoint, each company is 100% responsible for any messaging presented to consumers by the company, by associates, in any form and via any method / tool. That’s sobering, but it’s true. We do well to own this, and certainly can engage key associates to help create and refine it. But the company must be its owner, ultimately.
Second, our messaging shapes the way consumers view us. So, it’s a big deal. Our websites, videos, promotions and imaging are meticulously reviewed to ensure a “best foot forward” effort. Why not apply that same diligence to a simple, cohesive and duplicable guide for the entire associate base?
Third, simple processes can be duplicated quickly by existing associates and absorbed quickly by new associates. Duplication is a key part of what we do; it’s wise to standardize tools and move away from many versions of trainings that result in confusion. This confusion consumes precious time that could be given to business-building activities. With the participation of veteran leaders, companies can establish content in a standardized guide and drive it deep for the entire organization. An environment wherein everyone uses the same messaging – along with their respective styles, strengths and personalities – will unify and solidify key components of the business.
It is worth noting that today some US companies are being very specific and directive with messaging, and strongly recommending that it be employed across the company. It appears that a unified message is actually quite successful. Simple, clear and duplicable works well.
Training Basic Selling Skills: Where to Start
What selling skills do we train? With so many companies and products inside our industry, any recommendations will have to be modified to accommodate the company’s unique offerings. That said, here are intentionally simple, duplicable examples of the training we can and should provide for our associates. They are not intended to be scripts, although the language is solid. But if you’re not exactly sure where to start, creating training that addresses the topics listed below is a perfect guideline for you.
1. Your Mindset for a Relaxed Conversation
- I’m meeting / talking with a valued friend.
- I’m sharing good things with my friend…things that matter to me.
- I’m a bit nervous since I just started, and it’s OK to share that with my friend.
- I’ll own what I know, and what I don’t know.
- My friend may or may not have interest; either is OK.
- I will learn a lot about me and about this process; that’s a win!
- I’ll get better with repetition.
2. Sharing Your Story in 2-3 Minutes
- Invest some time affirming your relationship with the prospect.
- A question: “May I share with you something I have found?”
- Where I was when I learned about this.
- What I saw and heard, and what I felt.
- What I did (purchased / used product, enrolled, etc).
- The results I’ve seen and value I’ve found here.
- A question: “Does any of that pique your interest?”
3. Being Comfortable with Questions
- Questions are to be expected; we all ask them.
- Affirm the question with a smile.
- Questions are most often signals of interest.
- Give simple answers if you can; say “ I don’t know” if you don’t.
- Pledge to get the answer if you don’t know.
- Ask, “Are there any other questions that come to mind?”
- Continue the conversation.
4. Asking Good Questions and Listening Carefully
- Have you ever used products like this?
- What was your experience?
- What did you like or not like about it?
- Why did you stop?
- May I ask what kind of support you received?
- Would you be open to trying my product?
- May I offer you a plan to get started?
5. Language for Moving to a Decision
- Summarize: “So, here’s what I’ve heard you say… did I get that right?”
- Identify: “I understand… I recognized I needed to do something new.”
- Affirm: “I really believe I can help you here, and I pledge that I will.”
- Recommend: “Here’s what I recommend for you today…”
- Ask: “Let’s go ahead and place your order, okay?”
As simple and obvious as these may seem, they work and can make a massive difference in how associates develop in pursuit of their goals. My experience with so many companies today is that they bypass these simple, foundational trainings and instead seek out trendier topics or novel approaches, hoping to find a shortcut to success. Online marketing and social media techniques have certainly accelerated this approach. But ask yourself this question: what happens when my new associate makes a connection on social? Won’t they still need to address the same questions I’ve listed above?
Regardless of the medium used to share these message, the content itself needs to be crystal clear to your new associate. From there, sharing gets so much more comfortable, across any communication channel.
Make the Transition in Your Training
Our respective teams of associates are precious gifts, and we should steward them with the very best we have to offer. Equipping them to be competent, comfortable and confident in the marketplace is a privilege and responsibility that rests on our shoulders. If we do this well, they can accelerate their growth…
- From mechanical to relational
- From tense or intense to relaxed
- From monologues to conversations
- From “telling” to partnering
- From heavy promotion to attracting and drawing others to join
Finally, I repeat the initial quote from my mentor: “Pay attention to detail; leave nothing to chance.”
Footnote: Video presentations with PowerPoint and two “live” trainers guiding the conversation are effective. And, utilizing role-play scenarios in the videos will amplify the learning notably. Additionally, making the text versions available for download from your website can be useful to many.
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