New Age Product Sales Training for New Age Salespeople

Author: 
RK Prasad, Co-Founder and CEO, CommLab India

If you have been in sales for as long as I have been, you notice the changes taking place in the selling world – particularly the challenges faced by the younger sales force. It was fairly easy for me to awe my customers with the product I was selling – Brother electronic typewriters, back in the early 80s. I could capture their attention by the sheer ingenuity of the product. I was their educator explaining its unique features vis-à-vis the traditional typewriter. The electronic typewriter ruled the corporate offices for a fairly long time until it was ousted by the computer a few years later.

But even at its peak, there were not many companies manufacturing electronic typewriters and there were not many variations in the product line. I had to update my product knowledge only a couple times each year. Once you learned the nuances of the selling the product, the rest of the job was done with individual selling capabilities. Today’s sales force does not have such luxury.

New Age Challenges
Organizations today have expanded globally and as a result, the operations and sales territories of these companies are spread across multiple countries and continents. It is not surprising to come across a sales manager who is covering EMEA (i.e. Europe, Middle East and Africa) or for that matter, NCSA (referring to North America, Canada and South America). Training employees across such diverse territories on products is a challenge by itself, and to do it quickly and cost-effectively is a bigger challenge.

On one hand, you have expanding territories, and on the other hand you have product proliferation. Today, salespeople have to handle more products in the product line. Take any leading organization manufacturing computers and laptops. They have multiple categories and new products are launched every year under each category. The products are not simple and training salespeople effectively so that they retain essential information and recall when needed is another challenge.

Added to that, salespeople have to confront knowledgeable customers who do not depend on them for preliminary information. They get that from the Internet. So salespeople have to be prepared with value-added information and be prepared to deal with a wide range of customer objections.

In such situations, a one-off product training session would be grossly inadequate. As a matter of fact, according to a whitepaper published by Sales Force International, 50 percent of the learning is forgotten within 5.1 weeks of the training event and about 84 percent of learning is lost after about 90 days "without systematic, ongoing learning and reinforcement." Therefore, the initial product training has to be supplemented with periodic learning that would serve as reinforcement learning.

Micro Learning To the Rescue
Connie Malamed, an e-learning expert, consultant and coach, defines Micro Learning as "an emergent learning strategy known for quickly closing skill and knowledge gaps." She says this would be an ideal instructional approach in situations where information changes quickly, and people find it difficult to keep up with things – both are situations that our sales force faces on a daily basis. Individuals also seem to be in favor of such bite-sized modules. In a 2014 survey by Rapid Learning Institute at the ASTD conference and expo, about 94 percent of respondents preferred short modules of 10 minutes or less.

Connie further states the key characteristics of micro learning are brevity, granularity and variety where knowledge can be shared in any format (video, quiz, animation, game, etc.). These short learning modules are no longer than 10 minutes – and ideally between five and seven minutes. They address a specific learning objective and cater to just-in-time knowledge.

So, if we were to evaluate the knowledge that sales people need when they hit the field or face a customer, the following come to our mind:

  • Features, advantages and benefits for each product version
  • How-to guides (assembling and installation instructions, if relevant)
  • Product demo videos
  • Customer case studies/success stories to share with prospects
  • Possible accessories for cross selling
  • Distributor information in a particular location
  • Pricing and possible discounts/offers
  • Product versions and competitor equivalent – comparison and USP
  • Market updates
  • After-sales service information

Therefore, if we were to create micro learning modules, they can be in the form of videos, e-learning courses, or for that matter, podcasts. We could also have downloadable eBooks. What is more important is making these resources available to salespeople at the time of their need – just when they are about to meet a prospect or when a customer poses a difficult question and the saleperson does not have a ready answer. Salespeople are not compelled to follow a sequential path of learning. They can just click on the module that is most needed at that point of time and access it. If you make these available to the sales team on their smartphones, they are all set – armed with just the right information when they need it the most.

Sales is about products (or services) and product knowledge is a significant factor in selling. This knowledge is very dynamic and salespeople are usually overwhelmed with the pace at which they need to update their knowledge. In such situations, micro learning is a good option to consider as it delivers what is required, in the right quantity and at the right time.

RK Prasad is the founder-CEO of CommLab India, a 15-year global e-learning company. Follow him on Twitter at @RKPrasad or email rkprasad@commlabindia.com.