Training a Sales Team: Tips for Sales Managers

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Sales Management. Simplified." by Mike Weinberg. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Why do sales jobs have such a high staff turnover? What can you, as a sales leader, do to improve your team’s performance?

One of the reasons for high staff turnover in sales roles is that sales representatives often lack training in the essential sales skills (e.g. making cold sales calls, closing techniques, etc.) Therefore, coaching your sales team is essential to generating optimum performance.

In this article, we’ll take a look at some tips and techniques for both training a sales team generally and coaching them in specific skills.

Training a Sales Team

Training your sales team in essential sales skills—and continually coaching them in any persistent weak spots—is essential to driving sales. After all, your team can’t excel if they don’t know how to do their jobs properly.

Research shows that coaching improves performance: One study found that more than 70% of coached employees reported an improvement in their work quality. Other benefits of coaching include increased employee self-confidence and increased self-reliance.

Use Shadowing to Identify Areas for Improvement

To kick off your coaching, Weinberg recommends regularly shadowing your salespeople—either by conducting joint calls if they work in inside sales or joint visits if they work in field sales. You’ll gain firsthand knowledge of how each team member works, helping you to identify their strengths and weaknesses. You can then coach each person based on their weaker areas. 

(Shortform note: Coaching through joint calls and visits has additional benefits. For instance, this approach may increase the likelihood of your feedback sinking in. Your team members will apply pointers for improvement more effectively if those pointers relate to a real-life situation they can remember, like a sales call or visit, rather than an abstract, hypothetical situation.)

Train Your Team to Make Good Sales Calls

Weinberg argues that training your team to make good sales calls should be a priority for all sales managers since calls are often the first point of contact with potential customers. If a salesperson gets the call wrong, winning over the customer becomes much harder.

(Shortform note: Since Weinberg’s time of writing, some salespeople have moved away from making initial contact with prospects over the phone, instead doing so through digital means (for instance, via email or through social media platforms such as LinkedIn—a phenomenon known as “social selling”). However, that doesn’t mean that teaching your team members how to make good phone calls is pointless. They’ll probably still need to speak with customers over the phone at some point during the sales process.)

According to Weinberg, sales managers should ensure their salespeople have:

1) A structure for the call that always begins with discovery (ascertaining the customer’s needs) rather than a blind pitch. Trying to pitch a product before you know what the customer actually wants is a waste of everyone’s time. (Shortform note: This customer-centric sales approach is arguably at odds with that of Jordan Belfort, author of Way of the Wolf. Belfort’s selling ethos is less about finding out about (or catering to) what the customer wants and more about the seller closing a deal at any cost—even if the product doesn’t meet the customer’s needs.)

2) Pre-prepared research on the prospect. (Shortform note: Weinberg expands upon this recommendation in New Sales. Simplified. He suggests using social media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter to research prospects. Other valuable research tools include your customer relationship management system (if a sales rep has contacted the customer before) and the customer’s company website.)

3) A list of questions to ask the prospect. (Shortform note: Again, Weinberg discusses this step in more detail in New Sales. Simplified. He argues the most important questions to ask are “discovery questions” that ascertain frustrations and problems the prospect is facing. The salesperson can then suggest their product or service as a solution. This advice ties in with Weinberg’s above recommendation that salespeople should prioritize discovery over blind pitching.)

4) Knowledge of how to handle common objections. (Shortform note: In Sell Or Be Sold, Grant Cardone recommends a widely applicable objection handling technique: Ask the prospect to devise a solution to the objection herself. If she succeeds, she’ll show that the objection wasn’t too major.)

5) A post-call strategy for processing the prospect’s information: For instance, is their personal data saved or discarded? (Shortform note: Another arguably important element of post-call strategy is planning how and when to follow up with the prospect. Have they requested further contact? If so, when, and in what format (for instance, face-to-face or virtually)? If not, when might it be appropriate to follow up to generate more interest in your product or service?)

Train Your Team to Pitch

Weinberg believes that as well as training your team to make good sales calls, you should also train them in giving a strong sales pitch. He states that your team’s pitch should be a simple, short, and engrossing “story” that clearly communicates your company’s value to the customer. It shouldn’t contain too much information about your company’s history or every product or service it offers—this will bore the customer. 

How to Craft a Strong Pitch

Beyond the basics that Weinberg covers, how can you craft a strong sales pitch for your team? In The Little Red Book of Selling, Jeffrey Gitomer offers the following recommendations:

Incorporate humor into the pitch. Making customers laugh relaxes them, facilitates friendship and respect, and ultimately creates an atmosphere conducive to buying.

Make the pitch creative to add memorability and help it stand out from competitors’ attempts. For example, start the pitch with an unexpected question like “How much does inefficiency currently cost your company?”

Encourage your people to sell themselves as well as the product. For example, ask them to craft a short pitch about what they do and how they can help customers, and encourage them to recite this pitch at the start of each sales call. Customers won’t buy a product unless they trust and respect the salesperson. 
Training a Sales Team: Tips for Sales Managers

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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