Recently, on a visit to a media company where I consult, the sales manager and I decided to conduct an interactive sales training with a twist. The goal was in-depth training in several specific areas. The training method that I am about to describe cannot be pulled off by every sales team, but the benefits are worth the effort for those who can achieve it.
I have always been an advocate of bringing in existing clients to a media company to visit the sales department, so the client can share the specifics of their business. They can teach the sales department about how their company operates, plus the language and key elements of their business. Many sales managers utilize this technique to train their sales forces with great success. What about a different spin on the client visit for the sales force?
I asked the manager to identify three accounts that were current buying customers. I asked her to contact the economic decision-maker (the one who makes the decisions and works directly with the reps) at each of these three accounts. The sales manager identified three distinct customers. One was a heating and air conditioning company. The others were a satellite dealer and a women's fashion clothing retailer.
The clients were notified about three days in advance. The spin on the client visit was that the reps would do live role plays with the clients in various skill areas where the reps needed improvement. The three training areas included a physical in-store survey to gather information and setting up an appointment by calling the client on the phone. The second role play was a first call Customer Marketing Profile (CMP). The rep was required to spend 20 minutes learning more about the customer's business in order to find the opportunities to return with a marketing proposal for the business. The final role play was a closing presentation where the rep presented the closing template and a spec creative campaign. Note: The spec campaign had been previously created due to time limitations.
The sales training lasted for three hours. The reps were notified one day in advance as to the subject matter for their role play. Each client had one hour allocated. The first 10 minutes were used to introduce the rep's call objective since the client was not given advance notice. The actual role play was the next 20 minutes. The last 15 minutes were spent recapping the call with the clients present. At about 45 minutes, we thanked the client for coming. After the client departed, the next 10 minutes were spent discussing the call and how to improve various skill sets based on the reps' observations. The format was repeated for the next two clients.
Some unexpected and positive results occurred:
1) One rep woke up at 3 a.m. to practice her role play. Of course, this rep hates to role play. Good! Her sales are increasing.
2) Since the reps were not allowed to role play with an existing account, the exercise gave the reps, as well as the clients, a better appreciation for how seriously we take the sales function as well as how much the media company values the clients' businesses.
3) The clients LOVED it! Before I left the market, I went to each client and personally thanked them for coming on short notice. The short notice was intentional, so that the client would not stress out about the role play. In my visits to the customer, I heard some of the most amazing testimonials. I was also able to see how the skills and professionalism of the sales force had improved.
4) Practice, drill, and rehearse. The reps did great! Did they love doing the role play exercise? Probably not. However, some reps did want to show off some of their new skill sets. The only substitute for live training is ..live training!
Some final notes: A rookie staff might not be ready to do a real client role play. The manager will have to be the judge. The timing has to be right. Of course, the reps need to have a system in place, so they are all speaking the same language. Otherwise, there is a hodgepodge of role plays, and no one understands what is trying to be accomplished.
Could your sales staff pull this off? The benefits are worth the effort. Get on the phone and dial up some clients for the next sales meeting..now!
Sean Luce is the Head International Instructor for the Luce Performance Group and can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.luceperformancegroup.com.