Thursday, May 5, 2016

Product Training or Sales Training?

When I ask the question “Do you have sales meetings?” most often the answer is to the
Without teaching about the
science of selling,
your meeting room
may as well be empty
affirmative.  Weekly, monthly, quarterly or something else is the standard answer.  But when it comes to content, a few follow up questions are often needed.  That’s when the truth comes out; distributor sales meetings are rarely about sales.  Oh, sometimes the numbers are reviewed.  Goals are generally discussed near the beginning and ending of each year.  And occasionally, distributors talk about the need for results on some supply-partner’s new product line.  Rarely, if ever, do distributor leaders actually talk about the science of selling.

Over the past few days, I have participated in over a half dozen conversations (phone, email and social media) on the topic of sales meetings.  Allow me to highlight.  In one conversation a manufacturer asked one of their top distributors if they did sales training.  Immediately and with great pride, the distributor manager launched into a conversation on the product technology training his team had covered over the past few months.  The manufacturer tried to steer the meeting back to selling skills with the mention of the Strategic Account course they recently put their team through, but the conversation immediately turned to product details. 

Just this morning I received the following message from a new LinkedIn.com connection: 

I enjoyed the article you posted on selling.  I am always interested in what’s happening in distribution sales, as it is a pretty unique type of sales.  Most of the information I get is product based, so I always find it refreshing when I see something that addresses the type of selling I do.”

This is not an isolated situation.  Over the years I have heard this comment from distributors in the Industrial, Safety, Automation, Fluid Power, PT and Electrical markets, as well as the Irrigation, Automotive Parts, Sporting Goods and Motorcycle parts industries. 

Considering distribution is an industry which is primarily a “sales function” driven business, I believe this is both a threat and an opportunity. 

If you are a long-time reader, you probably realize we cater to distributors who are knowledge-based and solution selling organizations.  Most of us pride ourselves on our product and application skills.  We add massive amounts of value to our customers, but the customer has to get to know us first.  Further, our industry is ever being squeezed to be more efficient.  For distributors, 60 percent of our budget is spent on our people and salespeople represent a large share of the outlay.  Developing, refining and growing selling skills serves to address both the speed of relationship and sales efficiency issues.

Why do we continue to ignore the sales skill part of the equation? 
Here are some possible answers:
  • Managers believe their sales teams are already seasoned veterans and training would be a waste.

  • The manager’s mistaken belief that professional sellers devote time to improving themselves through books, tapes, podcasts and online programs.  (My apologies and best regards to the one percent who actually do this stuff.)

  • Salespeople resist training especially if they believe management will require changes in activities

  • The “salesmen are born not made” theory which still persists despite research to the contrary.

  • Cultural tradition – they didn’t have sales training back when I was a “rookie” and I turned out all right.  (Maybe you’ve heard me reference “dinosaurs” in previous entries.)

  • A belief that sales training doesn’t work for our industry

  • Training is expensive


We wrote this in an article published by “The Distribution
Center Magazine” a publication dedicated to the HVAC/R distribution industry:

“… people are our greatest asset.” Yet, according to research conducted by Jonathan Bein, Ph.D., of Real Results Marketing, only 22 percent of distributors have a learning management system.  Sadly, distributors struggle to fund skills-based training for their organization during tough times. 

This will sound strange coming from a guy who offers training for a fee, but I would much rather see distributors spend 20 minutes a week reinforcing sales or leadership training than put their teams through a two-day session without follow-up.  Training can be part of your culture for next to nothing.

Sales meetings with selling skills content can be part of your culture. Every month, hundreds of great ideas are published in trade publications and in online blogs.”  

Why not take 20 minutes from your sales meeting to discuss one sales related topic?  The sales manager can provide personal examples and challenge the team to try something for the next couple of weeks and report back to the group.

Keeping with this theme and using “The Distributor Channel” blog as a reference, here are a few topics to explore:

To have a real strategic plan for our accounts we need to take inventory of what we know now and what we should learn in the future. Our plan must revolve around positioning ourselves to really be solution providers. In some instances, this means understanding that providing solutions to the customer is a poor use of our resources.

After nearly a year of calling on a couple of major accounts, orders still weren’t flowing.  As our day wound to an end, he asked me point blank, “How long should I pursue an account before I give up and move on?”  Here are some thoughts for you to consider.

From where I sit, standardized pricing, or whatever you want to call it, is destined for failure in our business. Our customers are tight with their money. They don’t want to pay more, they want to pay less.  This is a great introduction to using a pricing process.

This seems a bit silly, but I keep running into people who talk Gross Margin without really knowing the formula.  If you’re anything like me, this is a huge pet peeve.  BTW: this one is great for your suppliers too.  They clearly don’t teach this equation in most MBA programs.

A Challenge for my Friends…
Spend a little time thinking about the half dozen issues you, your coworkers or maybe your team have in the selling process.  It might be setting appointments, breaking past voicemail, getting customer time, establishing new accounts or a rash of other topics.  Jot them down and determine how you could introduce the subject into your next sales meeting. 

A Post Card from Iowa

Send me the ideas for your next sales meeting along with your address and I will send you a genuine post card from Iowa.  For one lucky reader who sends an idea, I will provide a customized PowerPoint covering your selected topic along with discussion points.  That's a minimum of 15 minutes of sales training for your team…

4 comments:

Priyanka Sekar said...

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Preethi Asha said...

Thanks for sharing this Informative content. Well explained. Got to learn new things from your Blog on SAP

Preethi Asha said...

Thanks for sharing this Informative content. Well explained. Got to learn new things from your Blog on SAP

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