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Innovation: Getting the Right Information to Your Sales Team

By Massood Zarrabian, President and CEO, OutStart, Inc.

Have you ever wondered how valuable meetings are for training your sales team? Almost every organization has regularly scheduled sales meetings with presentations and ad hoc interactions combined with team building exercises and some partying. The expectations are that at the end of the meeting, the attendees leave armed with all of the new product, service, pricing, and competitive information they need to do their jobs. So, let's look at what really happens in these meetings:

In the old days, presentations were packed and shipped to individual offices after the sales meeting. Usually, these boxes sat unopened until the account executive changed offices or left the company. Then came the evolution to CD-ROMs that were sent with the reps as they left the meeting. Unfortunately, when they looked for the latest presentation or product information, they couldn't find the CD and placed urgent calls to the marketing department for the materials. Next came the information portals, where documents were posted and stored in a central repository.

With all of the advances in process and technology, one question remains: Are sales teams knowledgeable and well equipped? Recent studies say no.

It is proven that employees benefit little from formal classroom settings, retaining 58 percent of the knowledge after 33 minutes, 33 percent retention after three days, and only 15 percent retention after three weeks.1 The results are even worse if they don't immediately use the information. In that instance, attendees retain just five percent of course content after three weeks.

The most learned group from the classroom exercise are the presenters. They are the ones standing in front of a difficult, opinionated, and boisterous audience. It is like a rehearsal for them to present better, improve the slide deck, and prepare for customer and prospect interaction.

Meanwhile, the sales team leaves, and in time they look for the experts who gave the presentations. Call by call, email by email, the subject matter experts have to respond. They are overwhelmed, making it difficult if not impossible to get their own jobs done. Meanwhile, sales teams complain that corporate is not responsive. It is a cycle propagated by the lack of the right method of training, and too much time wasted searching for information.

In the hopes of resolving these issues, companies have invested in document management systems, sales force automation systems (which are mostly disliked by sales because they don't really bring value to them), and the previously mentioned costly sales meetings which are useful for team building, but provide minimal value for training.

There is a Better Way
Sales training should be managed on a continuum and not driven by discrete events. Training needs to move from monolithic two to three-hour presentations to easily consumable topics that can be deployed anytime, available worldwide, and have assessments attached to them. Assessments are essential for understanding staff competencies, and identifying what new topics needs to be developed.

To better prepare for upcoming events like sales meetings or customer interactions, organizations can deploy materials to reps in advance with the requirement that they read through the training topics, take assessments, and earn a passing grade.

The process involves developing the same materials in a more engaging format than simply sitting in front of a 'talking head." In this case, the content may be the same and presented in PowerPoint, but is deployed as eLearning.

Emerging solutions/products are available that leverage communities, expertise management, knowledge capture and dissemination allowing sales organizations to emulate the dialogue they have with the expert, capture it and store it in a knowledge base for future reference. Utilizing technology that makes these features possible, organizations can change the dynamic of a sales meeting to get reps more involved and provide engaging, interactive, scenario-based activities from which all participants can learn.


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