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Solving the Six Biggest Problems with B2B Sales Support Training

By Michael Cannon

How would you answer the following question? “What is the goal of training developed by Marketing and delivered to Sales (Direct, Channel, Inside, Outside)?”

Most BtoB product management/marketing professionals who develop sales support training would answer this question with some version of: “Our training should teach Sales what it needs to know in order to effectively sell the product.”

While this goal may seem reasonable, what you will learn from reading this article is why it’s one of the main reasons most training developed by Marketing is loathed by Sales, and what to do differently.

First, let’s agree conceptually that Sales does indeed “need to know what it needs to know in order to effectively sell the product,” and that from a sales support perspective, one of Marketing’s jobs is to enable Sales to sell the value of the company’s products and services, e.g., win more business.

Now let’s take a closer look at the problems that most commonly derail training programs when the focus is on that one overall goal and then explore some time-tested, actionable solutions to those problems.

Problem One: Sales Support Training Is Not Developed in Context

Given a sales enablement context, sales support training becomes just one of many learning tools used by Sales, and it is usually not the primary one. The other types of learning tools that enable Sales to effectively sell the value of your products are:

Sales Tools — Non-customer-facing internal documents such as call guides, qualification questionnaires, competitive comparisons, objection guides, ROI calculators, etc.

Marketing Collateral — Customer-facing external documents such as brochures, application notes, customer case studies, presentations, etc.

Internal Experts — People within the organization who support Sales, such as sales managers, sales engineers, product managers, other salespeople, etc.

Next, you need to place these sales enablement tools in the context of how Sales learns, listed here in order of priority:

  1. Where should I spend my time?
  2. What do I need to prepare for the call or meeting or presentation, etc., and from whom/where can I get it?
  3. From whom/where can I get answers to the prospect’s questions, concerns, etc.?

Only 10% of what Sales learns comes from sales support training

When you think about training in the context of the sales learning model, what you discover is that only about 10% of what Sales learns comes from sales support training. And, as you will see in #2 below, salespeople use training primarily to determine where to spend their time.

The other 90% of the real learning comes from the sales tools, marketing collateral, and internal experts. Sales uses these learning tools just prior to, or after, an event in the sales process, i.e., before or after a sales call. Salespeople are just-in-time learners.

Thus, giving Sales “everything it needs to know in order to effectively sell the product” in one training session is not smart because it’s not how salespeople learn. It’s also not realistic. Salespeople cannot possibly remember that much detail, especially when they have many products to sell. The solution is to develop sales training in the context of how Sales learns, and getting the training goal right will help you do this.

Problem Two: The Training Goal Is Wrong

When you place sales training in the correct context, the right answer to “What is the goal of the training delivered to Sales?” is that Sales should be motivated to “start selling” the value of your product. This is a much more realistic goal for most sales training. You want to sell Sales on a great opportunity. And there is a world of difference between a training program that’s developed using the right goal versus one using the wrong goal.

With the right training goal, Sales will walk out of the session excited about the opportunity, confident that it can be successful, and committed to “start selling” your product, which are three great measures of motivation.

To create this kind of sales training you need to reframe the way you think about training. It’s more like a sales pitch, infomercial, promotional education, or motivational training.

To sell Sales on a great opportunity, you must use the principles of persuasive communication. First, you need to define your audience and understand its challenges. Then, develop a story that frames what you want, or what you want the audience to do, in the context of how it helps the audience get what it wants. Then, create your communication tool. Remarkably, most marketing professionals fail to use these principles when it comes to developing support training for Sales.

For example, some of Sales’ key challenges are determining what products to sell, to whom, and how. The sales staff is constantly evaluating where to spend its time. Sales is trying to figure out how to generate the most revenue in the least amount of time. The key question you need to answer persuasively in your sales training is some version of “Why should I spend my time selling these products or services?”.

What most sales teams see is an 80-slide “feature forest tour”

Now think about sales training developed with the wrong training goal. How well does it answer Sales’ key question? What most sales teams see is an 80-slide “feature forest tour” that delves deep into what the product does, how it does it, a long list of undifferentiated features and, sprinkled in along the way, some unproven customer benefits.

This type of sales training is unmotivating. It does not get Sales excited, confident, or committed to sell your product. On the contrary, it makes your product look difficult (i.e., time-consuming) to sell and often discourages Sales from even “trying” to sell your product. Objectively, this type of training is really technical product training, which is more suited for sales engineers, consultants, and trainers.

You can solve this problem by revising the goal of the sales training delivered to Sales: get Sales motivated (excited, confident, and committed) to “start selling” the value of your product. That’s what Sales really wants and needs.

Problem Three: The Training Model Is Not Correct

The sales training model in most organizations provides only two categories of training: product training and sales skills training. Product training is usually the technical product training, described above, for each platform, product, application, peripheral, service, etc., and is aligned mostly with the needs of sales engineers, consultants, and trainers. Sales skills training includes sales process, presentation, negotiation, account management, etc.

The training model is not in alignment with the needs of sales teams

What is missing in the model is a place for training that aligns with the needs of inside/outside and channel sales teams. This category of training is often called sales enablement training. It’s the kind of training that motivates and provides Sales with just what it needs to “start selling” the value of your product. Here are the three primary types of sales enablement training:

  • Product Training for Sales
  • Competitive Training for Sales
  • Sales Opportunity Training for Sales

The operating principle for sales enablement training is to determine the least amount of information that Sales needs to know in order to be motivated to effectively “start selling” the value of your product. These training sessions should be no longer than 30 to 60 minutes, maximum.

It is important to understand the emphasis on brevity for this category of training. First, the more material you cover, the more complicated your product sounds, and the more you push Sales away from selling your product. Second, Sales will not remember much from your training, so going into a lot of detail makes no sense. Third, most salespeople have many products to sell, which means they are not going to remember much about each product. Lastly, as you saw in the sales learning model, only 10% of what Sales learns actually comes from training.

Improving the effectiveness of the training delivered to Sales requires the creation of a new training category called sales enablement training. It aligns your training model with what Sales needs and how Sales learns.

Problem Four: The Learning Objectives Are Not Aligned

When you separate technical product training from sales enablement product training, it is much easier to see and get the learning objectives aligned and right.

For example, the learning objectives for technical product training might be to articulate what the product does, explain how each feature works, outline how the product is different from other company or competitive products, demonstrate the product and/or key features, install/configure the product for the client’s needs, train customers to use the product, etc.

The learning objectives for sales enablement product training might be to understand what the product does, know which customers and buyers to target, understand the size of the opportunity, know what key customer applications to focus on, understand conceptually how the product solves the customer’s key business challenges, understand conceptually how the product is different from other company or competitive products, understand what tools are available to help them sell the product, etc.

Most training delivered to Sales by Marketing is based on topics

Getting the learning objectives right requires a change in process. Most training requested by Sales and/or delivered by Marketing is on a specific topic (product, competitor, or market). A discussion on the required learning objectives and associated content modules for the topic is often missing.

This occurs primarily because Sales is not experienced enough in instructional design methodologies to communicate what it needs to this level of detail. And Marketing is not experienced enough in instructional design methodologies to help Sales think through what it needs.

The result of this lack of alignment on learning objectives is a lot of frustration. Sales feels its time was wasted because it did not get what it wanted or needed. Marketing feels a lot of its time was wasted developing and delivering training that was not useful to or valued by Sales.

There are two ways to solve this problem: ad hoc or organizational. With the ad hoc solution, each time that training is requested/proposed, the developer must initiate a discussion with Sales about the category, type, learning objectives, and associated content modules of training (for example, sales enablement product training with the learning objectives as defined above).

With the organizational solution, Sales and Marketing jointly create and agree on a sales training requirements matrix, which incorporates the points above into a set of courses that Sales can request, or Marketing can propose, on topics of its choosing. Training templates are then created and used for the development of each course. It’s an efficient way to establish a set of best practice sales training courses that quickly eliminates most of the sales training problems.

Problem Five: The Customer Content Is Ineffective

There is a lot of market research backing the assertion that most companies, and the marketing firms that support them, produce mostly descriptive — what and how — content. This style of customer communication describes what the company does, the solutions offered to select markets, the products and services offered, the features of each offering, how the offering works, and, if done well, a little bit about the benefits of doing business with your company and the benefits of buying your solutions and/or offerings. This descriptive style content is typically wordy, general, generic, and anecdotal.

What customers want most is content, and sales conversations, that persuasively answer questions such as:

  • “Why should I consider your product?” for demand creation
  • “Why should I meet with you?” for meeting creation
  • “Why should I change from the status quo to a new solution?” for opportunity creation
  • “Why should I buy this new solution from your company instead of your competitors?” for order creation
  • “Why should I buy now?” for urgency creation

What Sales also wants most is to have, and to provide customers with, persuasive answers to these primary customer buying questions. You can see the problem. Most of the content we create to engage customers, and provide to Sales, is descriptive. The persuasive “why” content is missing.

In order to have more influence over the customer’s decision to buy, and get greater alignment with Sales, you must first differentiate your messaging from your content. Then you must define the styles (descriptive, persuasive), categories (corporate, solution, product, market segment), and types (see questions above) of messaging required for market success. Then create and integrate both your descriptive and persuasive customer messaging into your go-to-market content, such as collateral, campaigns, sales tools, and sales/channel support training.

Most of the customer engagement content is descriptive.
The persuasive content is missing.

Persuasive messaging answers the customer’s primary buying questions (see above). It’s clear, relevant, differentiated, and provable. It communicates your key capability advantages, how they solve meaningful customer business problems, and how they produce significant customer business value. Persuasive messaging also aligns with two of the learning objectives mentioned above: 1) to understand conceptually how the product solves the customer’s key business challenges (“Why Change?”™), and 2) how the product is different from competitive products (“Why Buy® from You?”).

The impact of not providing customers and Sales with persuasive messaging/content or not answering these primary buying questions is enormous. It’s the main reason why most customer content is considered ineffective and is a key contributor to why sales support training is also considered ineffective by Sales. You can solve this problem by adding persuasive messaging into your go-to-market platform. The first step is to learn more about the principles and methodology needed to create and integrate persuasive messaging into your go-to-market content, such as collateral, campaigns, sales tools, and sales/channel support training (see the resources box below to learn more).

Problem Six: Visual and Verbal Delivery Is Poor

Lastly, you can address all five problems above and still have a less-than-effective training course if your visual and/or verbal delivery is poor. Typical visual delivery problems include slides that are mostly text, have dense text, or consist of visuals that don’t clearly support the key point of the slide. It’s like having a bad producer produce what could potentially have been a great movie. You can solve these problems by making sure your developer has been trained in basic instructional design and PowerPoint creation. Typical verbal delivery problems include, in the reading of slides, a flat tone/pitch, a lack of excitement, and/or a heavy accent. It’s like having a bad actor perform in what would otherwise have been a great movie. You can solve these problems by making sure your presenter has been trained in basic presentation skills.

It’s critically important that you have the right producer and actor for your sales training, meaning that they have the knowledge, development and delivery skills to implement the solutions above, and that you get Sales excited about the opportunity, confident that it can be successful, and committed to “start selling” the value of your product.

 Resources to Implement the Most Influential Customer Communications

Michael Cannon is an internationally renowned marketing and sales effectiveness expert, best-selling author, speaker and an authority on enabling B2B companies to engage customers with the most influential communications. For more information visit silverbulletgroup.com.



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