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Industry-Focused Sales Training Is More Than Buzzwords

Your salespeople need to know more than just the buzzwords.

A strategic and comprehensive approach to sales effectiveness must include, among other programs:

  1. New hire training

  2. Product training 

  3. Sales skills training (basic to advanced, as appropriate)

  4. Sales-enablement tools and technology training (CRM, Sales 2.0 tools, podcasts, internal knowledge management systems, etc.)

  5. Other specialized training (business training, creating proposals, cold-calling, working with business partners, as examples)

    • Technical training (for some situations) — basics of the technologies that a company’s software runs on, for example.

    • Training for sales engineers where applicable.  (We formally cover Salesengineering.com and are aware of the great work Peter Cohan of The Second Derivative is doing in that area.)

  6. Industry-focused sales training.

If you hire all your salespeople out of the industry you sell into, and they are experts in that industry, you can skip the rest of this post, since it’s about point number 6.  (You must put those new hires through the rest of the training listed above, in any case.)

For the rest of us, it’s important to understand the growing impact that specific industry knowledge has on a person’s ability to sell. 

One of our clients sells sophisticated imaging software into hospitals, radiology group medical practices and ambulatory care facilities.  Although each salesperson has a sales engineer (software application expert) available when needed, those reps would at at extreme disadvantage if they did not have experience in the very domain into which they are selling.  Most have come out of health care.  Many out of radiology, specifically.  They are an impressive group.  But they’re not alone.  We’ve worked with with companies whose top salespeople came out of the industries those clients sold into as well: the pulp and paper industry, group life insurance, chemical manufacturers, professional services, application software, etc.

If you’re not hiring people from the industry into which you sell, the first thing to consider is whether a candidate not from that industry has a proven ability to move from one vertical industry to another and be successful selling.  Among other competencies, they’ve got to be a quick learner, analytical, flexible, self-motivated… You get the idea.  I want them to prove to me they’ve made that transition before and precisely how they accomplished it.  I’m not taking any chances!

The next consideration has to be to build a program to get new hires up to speed as quickly as possible in the new environment.  I’ve seen a number of successful approaches to this challenge.  When I was a VP of sales in a software company, we used to put new sales hires in customers’ businesses for the first two weeks of their job.  Each day for those two weeks, new hires performed a different role: accounting, order entry, production, inventory control, quality control, purchasing, customer service, shipping, receiving.  After two weeks, they knew how that company operated and how our software supported that operation.  Try it.  It works.

One approach that ESR will be exploring is the specialized training provided by firms like Cambashi.  Among other things, Cambashi provides a number of services to vendors selling into the manufacturing space.  One of the various programs in their Manufacturing Industry Readiness Training Curriculum is the Level 200 Factory Simulation.  Read this and you’ll understand where the value would be for salespeople selling into manufacturing companies:

FACTORY is a simulation game that is held as a 1- or 2-day interactive learning seminar. The game represents the financial circumstances of a manufacturing company – allowing the participants to analyze and understand the fundamental operational functions of the company.

In small groups of three to five individuals, the participants act as the management team of a manufacturing company. The game is set up to represent a business that has been successful during the past few years – but now the economic environment of the company has changed and the business faces new challenges.

The Management team has three years to make decisions and changes that will make the company increase its profitability.

The FACTORY game demonstrates cause and effect in a company. It shows how one decision in a functional department of a company can affect the profit of the company as a whole. The simulation will demonstrate the relationship amongst the departments of a company and how they work together and influence balance sheet, stock value, P & L account, and other financial indicators of a company.

Although ESR has not formally reviewed Cambashi, and therefore can’t recommend them to you, we certainly think that any of you that are selling into the manufacturing space should consider speaking with Cambashi and other companies that perform that flavor of specialized industry readiness for salespeople.  There are other Cambashis for other industries.


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