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Best Training Practices
Will Kenny
3927 York Ave N
Robbinsdale, MN 55422

How Do Your Sales Reps Know What They're Talking About?

successful selling takes know-how AND know-what . . .

When you hear the phrase "Sales Training," what topics come to mind?

  • Listening for the prospect's pain/need?
  • Overcoming objections?
  • Ways to ask for the order and close the sale?

Those are all "how to" topics, common in most sales training. They deal with skills, with communication, and they apply to a very wide range of products and services. There are an unbelievable number of books, blogs, newsletters, and consulting services dedicated to helping your sales reps master these skills.

There is no doubt that these selling skills are valuable, even crucial, to the success of almost any business organization. That's why so many companies spend a lot of time and money hiring professional sales trainers to teach their employees the skills needed to turn leads into prospects, and prospects into customers.

Sell What YOU sell

While many sales skills taught by professional trainers apply to almost any product or service, you don't sell almost any product or service!

Look at it this way:

  • Your competitors can buy the same general sales training you can, but
  • they cannot sell the same products and services you do.

Successful selling depends on the ability to communicate the unique advantages your product or service brings to the prospect. It is a transfer of both knowledge and enthusiasm from the sales representative to the prospective customer.

But where do the sales reps get that knowledge and enthusiasm?

Is Sales Training a Pro-Am Event
in Your Company?

We've all seen "Pro-Am" events in sports, where, say, a professional tennis player teams up with an amateur player, usually a celebrity. The results can be very entertaining, but no such "pro-am" team is ever going to win Wimbledon.

Unfortunately, many companies take a "pro-am" approach to sales training:

  • The skills of their sales reps are cultivated by professional sales trainers, while
  • their product knowledge is acquired from bright, knowledgeable, but ultimately amateur in-house trainers.

These "amateurs" are generally the company experts -- the engineers, designers, programmers, clinicians, legal and financial authorities who are involved in creating and refining new products and services. They can be valuable players in the training process, to be sure -- but that's not the same as being effective trainers that will produce the results you need.

To put it another way, if these in-house experts are also effective sales trainers, that is generally a coincidence, rather than a direct consequence of their expertise. It is a bonus, and you should consider your company fortunate, but it certainly is not typical.

Knowing, and Getting Others to Know,
Are Two Different Things

Did you ever have a brilliant math teacher who did very little to help you understand mathematics? Or a language teacher who spoke fluently, but didn't produce students who could speak the language? Have you ever met a doctor, an engineer, a programmer, or, for that matter, an insurance agent who knew what he or she was talking about, but couldn't get it across to you?

The experts your company employs to develop new products and services are on staff because of what they know and what they can do. When they were hired, no one thought about whether or not they would be effective at teaching non-experts, working in the very different context of sales. Their idea of which information is important, and which is not, is valid in the laboratory or the design center, but it is often wildly inaccurate when applied to a sales call.

In short, they are experts in the product, but you need experts in communicating about the product.

Experts who work with the product in the design center, or the laboratory, can be unfamiliar with two important real-world contexts:

  • they may not understand the salesperson's constraints and opportunities. For instance, most sales calls don't allow unlimited time to explain every aspect of the product or service to the potential customer.
  • they may not be aware of key issues and needs for practitioners, that is, they may know too much about the theory of their product or service, and too little about the practice of it. Excellent medical researchers and clinicians may never have run a medical practice as a business, for example.

After all, being the best on the shooting range, hitting
the bull's-eye on a paper target, doesn't mean you'll be one of
the survivors of the gunfight at the OK Corral.

Your sales people have to be able to pull up the appropriate knowledge -- and leave out the stuff that is just going to get in the way -- in the course of a real-time interaction with a prospect. That's why we hire professional salespeople, really. An understanding of the challenges sales reps face, and the life their prospects live, should filter what the sales force learns about the product, and how they learn it.

Get an All-Pro Team Involved in
Your Sales Training

Maybe you're lucky. Maybe you have an array of in-house experts who are highly skilled at giving sales reps what they need -- and just what they need -- to be successful. But that's pretty rare, and too much is riding on the productivity of your sales force to just assume that the experts will get the job done.

Get some professional help involved in the developing the product knowledge side of your sales training. You may have those skills in your company already. Professional trainers on your staff or other communicators (e.g., employee communications and marketing departments) can help your experts refine their messages to the sales force to produce better results.

And if you can't find the help you need inside, get an instructional designer or training developer to work with your staff to enhance their impact. You already have the knowledge you need, so hire the skills that are lacking, the ability to communicate powerfully and effectively to transfer the necessary knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, your product or service.

It's All About Results

You're probably up against competitors who have some highly skilled sales reps. "All-Pro" training will give your sales force huge advantages over "skills-only", "Pro-Am" trained salespeople from other companies.

To beat the competition, invest in professional talent on both the "know-how" and the "know-what" sides of the equation.

© 2007 Best Training Practices -- Will Kenny

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