According to Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, each year more than 30,000 new consumer products are launched and 80 percent of them fail. There are a myriad of reasons for this, not the least of which is that the sales organizations aren’t getting what they really need from new product training so they can, you know, sell the new product!
Unfortunately, most product training often bypasses the important step of teaching salespeople how to have solution-oriented conversations in favor of a features-based approach that sales reps then regurgitate in the field.
Teaching to Demo Is Not New Product Training
Many companies train sales reps on the features or technical specifications of new products as if teaching them to perform demos. Each feature is explained in exhaustive detail, and the sales reps are sent to the field to show customers this wonderful new product. There are at least three things customers will see wrong with this approach:
- It’s too product oriented
- It’s too detailed
- It’s too boring
One more problem: Your salespeople are most likely taught to sell the customer products, not solutions.
Why shouldn’t product training concentrate on having the right conversation with the customer? Salespeople must be able to help customers define problems and provide a solution, not sell a product. Training should focus on presenting a relevant solution that is uniquely valuable to each customer. That unique value differentiates you from the competition.
Ideally, training also verifies learning and assesses its effectiveness.
That Sounds Expensive
It doesn’t have to be.
The primary purpose of new product training is for your sales reps to:
- Learn the customer problems solved by the new product
- Practice the conversations they’ll have with customers to uniquely position the new product and diagnose relevant needs
- Apply what they’ve learned with real customers in real situations
- Be evaluated on their success (re: impact on the pipeline) by their manager
It’s an iterative process that can be automated, taking trainers and classrooms out of the process.
Almost any CRM platform, such as Salesforce, can have an independent module added that will provide the training and an environment in which sales reps can learn and practice what they need from product training.
The sales reps can then go into the field to apply their new knowledge and skills with real opportunities or accounts in their pipeline. Then their manager can evaluate the learning at predetermined intervals to ensure it met standards, and more importantly, it made a measurable impact on the salesperson’s pipeline.
This Learn, Practice, Apply, Evaluate process (LPAE), powered by your CRM, brings a high-tech solution to a high-touch process. You spend less time and money yet you efficiently present product training as well as measure the training for effectiveness.
If an evaluation shows a lack of progress, you’ll have the data to show you how and when to provide any additional coaching your salesperson requires.
Modules that can perform the LPAE (learn, practice, apply, evaluate) process provide a comprehensive training model that can be customized for each salesperson and each new product. That’s because:
- Training is provided at the point of need
- It’s triggered by the need for learning
- It’s provided for short periods of time
- The training allows the trainee to grasp the new skill without becoming bored or exhausted
You can also track learning activity to ensure each sales rep completes the training.
In the "Good Old Days," large companies could afford to provide weeks of training that pulled sales reps out of the field. Eventually, budgets began to shrink, and trainers were asked to provide the same level of training in a fraction of the time. What’s more, the training still required sales reps to come in from the field to spend two or three days in class.
With such a short training cycle, most of the lessons were forgotten, and everyone went back to doing things the way they always had. Companies were spending millions of dollars on training that was, at its best, ineffective.
The advent of the CRM as the "system of record" for sales organizations provided an opportunity to leverage technology to embed learning and development into the normal cadence of the sales organization. As CRM platforms grew more sophisticated, they were opened for development by third parties, including modules and applications to introduce sales and new product training.
The training and practice could take place anytime, anywhere the sales rep happened to be. An immediate opportunity to apply the new lessons in the field was available since the salesperson never had to leave the region. On a regular basis, the training module would evaluate how successful the sales rep was and provided data to the sales manager to assist with coaching when needed.
For example, if you use Salesforce, you can add a training module to perform the LPAE steps for everyone in your team on a regular basis. One global technology company was able to improve revenue per rep by almost 16% over a two year period while reducing travel expenses and ramp-time for onboarding new hires.
New product training is a misnomer. You should be training your sales team to sell solutions. Provide them with a way to learn and practice new skills, apply them, and determine where they may need to improve. This type of support helps retain talent and save costs.
Bob Sanders has more than 25 years experience in sales, sales management, and marketing. Bob has served as President and CEO of AXIOM Sales Force Development since 2006. His passion about sales behavior and coaching helps develop people into their best selves. Since Bob joined AXIOM as a partner in the fall of 1993, he's helped dozens of companies around the world generate hundreds of millions in additional revenue. Bob holds a degree in Marketing from Miami University. He has been a keynote speaker at numerous corporate events and industry conferences. He is a founding underwriter and frequent contributor to the Sales Management Association. He co-authored AXIOM's “Selling Sciences Program™” workbook and audio program, and is a contributor on "A Journey to Sales Transformation". When Bob is not advocating on behalf of buyers and sellers worldwide, he is an avid cyclist, father, and husband.