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Is Information Overload Killing Your Product Training?

Thursday, May 14, 2020
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How is new product training conducted at your sales organization? (“Product” also refers to services and solutions.) Is it interactive with hands-on activities and discussions followed by ongoing coaching and reinforcement? Or is it a one-time lecture where product managers drone on about the product’s whiz-bang gadgetry?

If it’s the latter, you’re not alone.

In a study being conducted by the University of Northern Colorado (UNC) and GrannisGroup to identify the best ways to train salespeople on new products, 53 percent of respondents said they always or often experience trainers who overwhelm them with too much information.

This leaves salespeople feeling dazed, confused, and hesitant to jeopardize customer relationships by introducing products they don’t understand or believe in. The downstream effect is product launches that are delayed or derailed; revenue that is slowed, reduced, or lost altogether; and the competitive advantage of being first to market squandered.

We can’t fault product managers for being enthusiastic about their “babies.” After investing so much time, money, and, quite possibly, their reputations, it’s no wonder they want to sing to the heavens about their progeny. The problem is that an exhortation about bells and whistles isn’t training. It’s a snooze-fest.

In the UNC–GrannisGroup study, 56 percent of salespeople said product managers dazzled them with the new product’s features but did not teach them how to sell the new offering. There’s a big difference. One is show and tell. The other is teach to sell.

Sixty-three percent of salespeople reported that product training was often or always developed at the last minute. Cobbling together a PowerPoint at 30,000 feet on the way to the sales kickoff meeting in Orlando is not going to move the needle. Worse, 73 percent of salespeople reported that, after the initial sales training, there was no reinforcement or coaching.

At the core, there are two issues: one, product training is an afterthought and two, product managers have not been taught how to train salespeople. If new products are to succeed, we must allocate time, budget, and resources to train the sales force. If product managers are to train our sales teams, we must teach them the principles of training and the idiosyncrasies of how salespeople learn.

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A few easy-to-implement changes will have a significant impact. Here are three to begin the process.

1. Give Salespeople What They Need

The survey asked, “What do salespeople need to be successful selling new products?” The top four responses were:

  • 69% understanding the customer need
  • 44% knowing the right buyer to call on (title, job description, challenges)
  • 41% clear description of the offer with features, benefits, and value
  • 37% probing questions.

Start product training sessions with why. Why this product? What is the customer’s problem? How big is the problem? What is the impact if it’s not resolved? What is the value if they implement your solution?

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2. Make Product Training Sales-Friendly

In our survey, we asked salespeople to identify the top three ways product training can be made more consumable. Their responses were:

  • 75% Make the training interactive (not all lecture).
  • 49% Include success stories from other sales reps.
  • 42% Simplify the content.

Do the homework necessary to explain concepts in clear, accessible language. During the training, get salespeople involved. Have table discussions, games, and competition. Salespeople like to have fun. They like to learn from each other.

3. Align the Content of Product Training With the Steps of the Sales Process

Here's an example:

Sales Step
Product Training Content
1. Identify
Prospects
- description of the ideal prospect
target organization, ideal buyer(s), psychographics
2. Connect
- tips for getting appointments
- talk tracks for opening sales calls
3. Diagnose
- probing questions
- tidbits of intelligence
- titles and roles of decision-makers
4. Present
- features, benefits, value
- tools to demonstrate value
- when to engage product managers or sales engineers
- competitive landscape
- pricing, packaging, sister solutions
5. Close
- objections and how to respond
- pricing flexibility
- negotiation tips
- contracts and booking procedures

Make these shifts and salespeople will head back to their territories full of confidence, knowledge, and determination—and your new product launch will be a success.

About the Author

Roger Grannis is principal of GrannisGroup, a consultancy that helps sales teams execute on new product launches.

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