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Unfortunately, the task of selling never becomes any easier and as competition continues to intensify, sales people will face issues that can be extremely difficult to deal with i.e. decreased product uniqueness, increased competition within safe markets, longer sales cycles and shorter product life spans.

Every organisation that intends to survive in the re-engineered environment which arrived with the new millennium must, in my view, respond to those realities.

During the seventies, eighties and nineties, it was common for large corporations such as Hewlett Packard, IBM, and Compaq etc to put their new sales recruits through a twelve to eighteen-month induction training programme.

Today, salespeople consider themselves extremely fortunate if they receive an initial two weeks of induction training or product familiarisation workshops. So what has changed?

Have companies discovered that training is not necessary?

On the contrary, training appears to be even more important today than it was thirty years ago and it is becoming more critical all the time.

Lower Training Budgets But Higher Expectations:

The dichotomy facing Sales Directors is how they reconcile the fact that most corporations today provide less upfront induction training for their sales staff than in years past, yet attach increasing importance to staff development?

This should not come as a surprise, because current stock market thinking provides a powerful disincentive for firms to invest in their people on an ongoing basis.

An organisations investment in their human capital, in the form of training and other forms of education, is not separable from general expenditure. It therefore appears as a cost on the corporate balance sheet.

Tough Choices:

Unfortunately, as a consequence, many Sales Directors, have concluded that their only realistic option is to cut back on induction training and instead look to recruit sales professionals who, in theory anyway, already possess the necessary skills needed to do the job.

They then send them out to win business armed with what they know. However, most of those same Sales Directors are discovering just how difficult it is to find skilled salespeople, who have all of the essential skills and personal traits. And anyway it is not possible to equate experience or seniority with success.

In skills development, there are many similarities to sport i.e. does an athletic champion stop training as soon as they win their first medal? In music, does a concert pianist stop rehearsing as soon as they have given their first recital?

In art, does the artist stop improving after they have enjoyed the first exhibition of their work?

The answer in all cases is obvious and we should apply the same common sense principals to the ongoing development of our sales teams.

The reality is that selling in todays climate is both an art and a science. Selling is a profession that demands a far wider range of skills than ever before, skills that require continual fine-tuning and constant practice.

In Summary - Ongoing Reinforcement and Development Is Essential:

The operative word here is ongoing.

Even if salespeople have undergone progressive sales training, there’s no guarantee that they will be successful.

It is common knowledge that skills grow rusty over time and salespeople are prone to pick-up bad habits along the way or to simply skip steps and take shortcuts that can lead to long-term trouble.

Perhaps even more important these days, is the fact that markets, competition, technologies, and customer preferences are all in a constant and accelerating state of change.

This fact requires that sales people are able and willing to rethink their sales strategy and approach frequently and receive a regular top-up of skills and motivational coaching.

The following article was contributed by Jonathan Farrington

Copyright 2006 Jonathan Farrington. All rights reserved Jonathan Farrington is the Managing Partner of the jfa Group.

 

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