New Product Sales Training

Replacing “death by Powerpoint” accelerated new product sales

THE REQUEST – (To the Application Engineer or Product Manager) I hear what sounds like, “We’re launching a new product and sales needs a pound of training… would you please go put together some product training? It’s an important new product, and we want sales to “take off”, so go ahead and take them off the streets for a whole afternoon.”

THE TRADITIONAL APPROACH – The traditional approach says to teach them about the product. If some is good, more is better. That often means:

  1. Borrow from your treasure trove of existing presentations, specifications, and photos. Also find all of the launch information you can, especially their brochures and data sheets and PowerPoint presentations.
  2. Create a logical outline. It will include a very detailed product overview, detailed blow-by-blow definitions of key features, pictures, and possibly a product demonstration or even a hands-on lab.
  3. Sort, filter and sequence the 100 slide PowerPoint product presentation to reduce the deck to 40 slides, since sales peoples’ time is valuable and some of the information is “too techie”.
  4. Take an afternoon to present to sales, keep everyone 30 minutes longer, and wish for more time.  Once done, sales people disappear into their cars, and you feel good because you ‘got out a lot of information’.

THE PROBLEM – Sales people don’t really care about the product, just about when, where, and how to sell it. The trainer provided a ton of facts but left each sales person to filter out those which don’t apply to their jobs, sequence those that do, and then guess at the rest that are needed to do their jobs. 

Unfortunately, most Sales people are not good at solving these kinds of puzzles, and no two Sales people are likely to come up with the same approach or answer. If you were to do an exit interview after the training, sales people will tell you, “blah, blah, blah…something new… blah, blah …feature” they can bring up to a few of their customers. The problem gets exponentially worse at the annual sales conference, when multiple products and services are discussed, one after the other, with all blurring together to create an ever more challenging sort, filter, sequence, fill-in problem. And when sales continue to lag, product management calls for a ‘relaunch’, thinking that repetition of the same might somehow stick.

THE IMPLICATIONS – Beyond sales feeling overwhelmed, or “tuning out”, or coming up with their own selling approach, the company is facing a huge problem. Product groups expect and need sales to ramp up aggressively, but sales people don’t know why, where, or how they should sell this. Further, sales management just took their entire sales force “off the streets” for an afternoon to inform them that there is a new product that does a bunch of technical things and will really help the company’s sales somehow. Do the math for what that just cost your company, and you’ll be horrified.

MAKING ALL THE DIFFERENCE – You should be doing skills training, not education. Instead of teaching about the product, you should be teaching sales the JOB of selling the product. It’s not about what you want them to KNOW, it’s about what you want them to DO. By presenting the material in the context of their job, you have a real chance that you’re teaching them exactly what they need to do, and they will actually remember and be able to apply these skills to their job. While that sounds simple, your entire prep and delivery will take a completely different path than the traditional ‘teach ’em the product’ approach.

Instead of enlisting the technical product expert, you’ll need to work with a few groups, like marketing, business management, sales management, technical experts AND training professionals to ensure you have straightforward answers to put together awesome sales training that teaches sales exactly why, when, where, what, and how to sell this new thing.  Instead of assembling a bunch of product or service facts to filter, sort, and sequence, start with the sales job, and gather only what’s needed to enable sales to do their job. Your training outline may now look like:

  1. Why Sell This New Product
  2. Your Role /Others Roles – what you expect them to do / others to do in the sales cycle.
  3. How to Identify Opportunities (and when to walk away)
  4. How to Generate Interest
  5. How to Identify Decision Makers and what they need to say yes.
  6. How to Engage the Other Sales & Support Resources properly.
  7. Call to Action – specific actions to apply these skills post-training to jump-start sales.

With the help of a training professional, you’ll be able to put together the right materials, job aids, examples, and quizzes to ensure your sales force is ready to go sell.

THE RESULTS – Surprise, your training now takes 20 minutes instead of all afternoon, leaving your sales teams with more customer face time, clear direction and a lot more chances they will take action to sell your new product.

My sales team in Cincinnati pushed back when they received a “pound of product training” years ago, prompting me to develop the training approach above. In addition, I provided a simple chart to identify and clearly communicate sales, specialist, and distributor roles for every new product and service, as well as a “selling brief” that helped with  just those tasks the sales people needed to perform, for reference. Our training took 15 minutes, not 20, and the tools were adopted as a best practice throughout the company. My sales people stuck around to discuss specific customer opportunities, we set up sales calls for the best customers before leaving, and sales applied these skills correctly in the days that followed.

While there are a lot more road hazards and skills needed to design and deliver great training, creating a clear and concise training course that matches the attendees’ jobs makes all the difference between a resource drain and a sales gain.

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