Create Your Own In-House Sales-Training Program
Creating an in-house sales-training program requires a big commitment of time and money, but it can pay off quickly, experts say. “There’s a strong correlation between a sales-training program and improvements in sales and percentages of leads closed,” says Joan Stephens, president of Stronghold Remodeling in Boise, Idaho.
Such a program requires direction by a strong sales manager—or sales leader, the preferred term for Steve Johns, a Moore, Okla.-based sales-training consultant for remodeling companies. “Most sales managers’ incomes come from selling, so spending time setting up a program costs them money,” he says. “A sales program needs to compensate its leader for building the sales team and taking time away from his own selling.”
Making it ongoing is critical, Stephens stresses. “Seminars are good for revitalizing people, but it’s hard to sustain change from just a weekend program,” he says. “To see change happen, you have to keep at it. Sales people need ongoing reinforcement, or they fall back into old habits.”
In fact, any program should begin with sales basics. “Many sales managers believe their staff knows the basics, and that’s not true,” says Beverly Koehn, a housing industry consultant based in San Antonio, Texas. “Seasoned professionals develop their own approaches that skip steps. Then their sales start to slip, and they don’t know why. They have to be reminded to do the things that got them where they are.”
Johns suggests holding a formal meeting at least once per week to discuss problems, techniques and other sales activities. Stephens, who also owns a Sandler Training Institute franchise in Boise, has salespeople attend the training program for two and a half hours every week in their first year and then at least once per month afterward. Sandler centers are located throughout the country, she adds, and online activities also are provided to help salespeople anywhere participate.
Three Styles of Training
Training programs can take three forms, Johns says. Managers can train, using a classroom setting and discussion; they can teach, working with a small group or one on one; or they can coach, by going on ride-alongs to see how the sales person performs and talk about it afterward. This also can include role-playing in the office.
Every type of training should be used, and a wide range of materials should be included, Stephens adds. “People use different styles of learning,” he says. “Some are visual, some are auditory and some are kinesthetic—they learn by doing. And every group will have some of each type.” Programs should provide consistent information in all formats to ensure everyone remembers it. This can include books, tapes, online presentations, new product demonstrations, magazine articles and any other ideas the managers can produce.
“Today, if someone wants to learn, there is more stuff available than they can absorb,” Koehn says. Key resources are online bookstores like www.builderbooks.com, which is operated by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). Seminar programs put on by local chapters of NAHB and the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) also offer great resources.
Many remodelers overlook their suppliers as a tremendous resource for product demonstrations and other support. “There are many suppliers, including building-supply stores, that would love to talk with companies, but they aren’t invited,” Koehn says. “There are many resources out there to help build sales-training programs.”
Creating an ongoing investment also is critical, Johns notes. He suggests that 10 percent of net sales should be set aside for training materials. “That’s a little high for many contractors, but it will help generate new jobs and aid sustained growth, so it’s an investment, not a cost.” Koehn, who suggests contractors spend at least 1 percent of gross sales, agrees. “Very few do it, but those who do are just blowing the doors off everyone else. Your only asset is your people, and they have to be at their best.”
The key is to keep working at it, Stephens says. “The focus should be on ‘Just Noticeable Differences,’” she explains. “People get discouraged, because they view training programs as changing them from black to white. That’s too dramatic, so they go back to the familiar. You want to help them make easier, incremental changes that they can sustain through reinforcement in an ongoing training program.”