Yesterday’s post was a guest article by Bill Caskey on how much should you be investing in training. Obviously, that is an important topic for any salesperson, professional, business owner or company. If you don’t invest in training, you’re losing ground to your competitors who do.
But one of the questions I hear often is how does a salesperson or company know whom to hire for training? Training is a big investment and there are thousands of trainers. How can you determine where to spend the money other than simply picking a name you’ve heard often or resorting to luck?
Individual salespeople often complain that their company doesn’t give sufficient sales training and that they are expected to find and pay for the training themselves. This is usually stated with more than a little hint of resentment in their voice. However, if you’re a salesperson, every piece of training you get—whether paid for by your company or by you—will stay with you for the reminder of your life. When you pay for training, you’re not paying to become a better salesperson for the company you sell for today; you’re paying to become a better salesperson for the remainder of your career. You’re paying for your career development, not for the good of the company you sell for currently. You’re investing in yourself, not the company.
Companies, on the other hand, often skimp on sales training, focusing instead on product/service training. As Bill points out in his article, this is extremely shortsighted. Your sales team is the source of your revenue. They are the ones who keep your business going. The more you can properly prepare them, the more they can produce for you. The few thousand dollars it takes to hire a quality trainer can be more than justified with additional sales. Depending upon your sales force size, the format of the training, and extent of the training, hiring a quality trainer can cost literally just a few thousand dollars.
Nevertheless, once the decision has been made to make the investment, the next logical questions are what and from whom?
What is actually the central question. What do you train? Whether you’re an individual or a company, more than likely the question isn’t really what in terms of what is the one area of training that is needed, but rather the question is probably what are the areas of training and in what order.
All salespeople and managers need constant training—and retaining in those areas they have already been trained in. None of us knows all there is to know on any one aspect of sales and sales management, much less everything about all areas. We work in a dynamic industry. Marketing, prospecting, negotiation, the sales process, sales psychology and all other aspects of selling is constantly changing and evolving. In order to maintain skills and a sharp edge one must be constantly learning—both through trial and error and through organized training from people who really know their subjects and are thought leaders in their specialty.
Consequently, every individual salesperson and company should take the training budget they have committed to after reading Bill’s article and set out a detailed training program that starts with their most immediate need and works its way through the entire sales process.
What is the most immediate need? Obviously, that depends upon the individual salesperson and company. But I suggest the most immediate need isn’t necessarily the weakest area. Rather, the most immediate need is the area of training that can contribute the quickest to increased sales whether that is prospecting, negotiation skills, customer service, persuasion, presentation skills, or whatever.
The whom is more difficult. There are thousands of individual trainers and training companies. How do you decide which is the right one? Here are some guidelines:
1. There Isn’t a Right One: Although some individual trainers and training companies claim to be gurus in all aspects of selling, there isn’t a single individual trainer or company that can offer top of the line training in every aspect of selling. There is simply too much to know, too many areas to master, too many demands for any one individual to be capable of being a top trainer in every aspect of sales. Even companies can’t do it, as it would require a top of the line staff far too great for any individual company to handle. Consequently, you will have to look at experts within the individual areas of selling and work with a number of experts, not just one or one single company.
2. What is There Real Specialty? Every trainer and training company has certain areas that are their real specialties. It might be negotiation, or personal marketing, or the sales process, or presentation skills, or cold calling or any number of other areas. Certainly, some may have two or three very closely related areas that are their specialty areas. When selecting a trainer, focus your attention on someone who specializes in the particular area you are looking for training in. Asking someone whose area is cold calling to train your team on persuasion isn’t your best choice. Hire the cold call expert to train on cold calling, hire a persuasion expert to train in persuasion.
How do you know their specialty? Most high quality trainers identify exactly what their specialty areas are. However if they don’t, you still can find out. Examine their materials and their website. Are there areas they present more material on than others? Do they talk about one or two areas more than others? If they do you can probably bet those are the areas they’re most comfortable working in.
3. Reputation: What can you learn about their reputation? I’m not talking about their name recognition. There are a few trainers that are household names. Although well known, they may not be the best trainers for you or your team. In fact, the best trainer for you may be someone you hadn’t heard of prior to running across one of his or her articles or their website. But just because you hadn’t heard of them doesn’t mean that you can’t qualify them. Look carefully at their site. Who do they work with? Are their other trainers or industry leaders that endorse their work? Do they have others that you recognize and respect participating with them on their site by contributing articles, interviews, or other material? You can learn a great deal about someone by whom they associate with. Do they have testimonials or endorsements from salespeople, managers and companies? If so, are those giving the testimonials fully identified by name, company and location—or is their identity concealed by using tactics such as only initials or one name and one initial? Generally those with a quality reputation have no problem fully identifying those who have given them testimonials.
4. Examine Their Writing: An excellent qualifier is to read their writing. Most quality trainers will have a body of writing that is easily accessible on their website. Many will have published books.
Articles: Read a number of their articles. Don’t just read one or two. You may accidentally pick their best or worst couple of articles and end up with a false impression. Rather read 8 or 10 or more. Do they make sense? Do they have anything new to contribute or are they simply repeating the “common knowledge” of the industry? What areas do they write about most often (that will give another indication of their real specialty)? Does the majority of their writing reflect actionable information or is it theoretical only (you’ll probably get the same in their training)? Have their articles been published in national industry and business publications such as Selling Power, Advisor Today, Registered Rep, Sales and Marketing Management, Sales and Marketing Excellence, and others? National publications are very selective in what they publish so if the trainer has been published in a number of national print publications, it is an indication they have quality original contributions to make.
Books: If the trainer has published a book, read the book. A book will generally contain the trainer’s most original and innovative work. It certainly is a very strong indication of their specialization. Who published the work? Being published by a major business book publisher is an indication of the quality of the work. If the book is self-published or published by a vanity press, the fact the trainer has a book can’t be used to qualify them—nor can it be used to disqualify them unless you actually read the book. Major publishers are highly selective in the work they accept (although they do make mistakes). Anyone can self-publish or have a vanity press publish their book. And even though there is much junk that is self-published, some of the best books are also self-published. Even though being published by a major publisher is a strong indication of quality—the judgment should really be based on reading the book, not who published it.
Who endorsed and reviewed the book? Endorsements and book reviews can also give a good indication of the quality of the trainers work.
4. Interview Them: Once you believe you have found a trainer that is suitable for your organization, interview them. Most trainers will be happy to spend 45 minutes to an hour on the phone discussing how they might be able to help your team. In fact, most quality trainers will insist on an interview prior to accepting a training commitment because while you’re interviewing them, they’ll be interviewing you. They will want to make sure the fit is right also. And don’t interview the office manager. If you must, insist on interviewing the person who will actually be doing the training.
5. Pricing: Pricing is the poorest qualification method, although one of the most often used. Quality training isn’t cheap. If you’re looking for bargain basement discount training, you’ll probably end up with bargain basement quality. However, reputable trainers aren’t inclined to charge outrageous prices either. That trainer whose website promises to change your career by teaching you the true secrets of selling if you only purchase his e-book and CD for $895 is not the person you want be spending your money with.
There are no “secrets” in selling. There are no magic formulas. There isn’t anything that only one or two people know and if you’ll just fork over a huge chunk of money they’ll teach you their secrets. There are techniques and strategies that work and that can be taught. There are trainers who can train you and your team to use and perfect those strategies. There isn’t anyone who can initiate you into the secret world of easy selling—although the internet if overflowing with the sites that promises those secrets.
Finding and hiring quality trainers isn’t that difficult. It does take a little time and investigation to weed out the hucksters and find quality. Investing in the quality trainers is worth every single penny as it will pay dividends for years to come.