Education, education, education. Tony Blair used this motto consistently in his first campaign to get into power. And it worked. A few years ago, as I was getting seriously into front-line sales, I was struggling and was wondering if I should make this motto mine. I had some sales experience, more specifically “bizz dev” experience but no sales “education”. So I was considering if it was a right investment of time and money.

I went ahead with it and never turned back.

I am not in the sales training business but, having been through the motions, here are five reasons why I think it was indeed the right thing to do and why, anyone in a similar situation, should consider doing the same:

1- Do you have a sales degree? That is the easiest question one can ask. Because the answer is a straight no. Nobody has one. If one wants to get into marketing, there are marketing degrees. Want to train to be a finance professional? Or be a project manager? Ditto. So what about sales?

None. Zilch. Absolument rien. Nada de nada.

How is that? My theory is there seems to be a widely held belief that sales is a natural behaviour / attitude that people have which enables them to be efficient at sales. True, some personal traits helps. But this isn’t enough. Understanding how sales functions, the dos and donts is hugely beneficial. Sales is not just about meeting people for coffees, doing pitches and delivering demos. So having a formal “education” about it helps as much as it does for other professional fields.

2- Sales in start-ups: When I made this decision, I was in a young organisation (aka in a start-up). In large organisations, there are processes and systems in place. There are existing customers for referral and case studies, marketing for lead generation, etc… But I had no-one to turn to, no machine in place to generate leads and I was wasting time an energy. And wasting time in a young venture is NOT something one can afford. It’s costing more than the cost of the sales training.

3- Sales is counter-intuitive: I mentioned previously that being enthusiastic isn’t, contrary to a widely held belief, a key to sales. It can actually be counter-productive. I was also doing a lot of “proposals” because I believed that’s what sales people do.

God it did hurt…

I naturally realised that doing proposals or demonstrations was not the right way forward. Getting some training helped me performing better and understand what was needed to be in place before doing a proposal or a demonstration (cue: I ended up doing far less proposals and demonstrations but being far more efficient at them).
4- Sales is very “psychological”: When it comes to “complex sales”, i.e. not transactional, I believe that “people buy from people they trust”. And I realised quickly that there was a possible disconnect between what the prospect thought and me. Indeed, us human beings are complex and weird animals. And the ways we react, deal and interact with other people is quite complex (a strong understatement). The training I went for included a psycho-metric test called DISC profile. Being a scientist by trade (pure physics if you ask :) ), I was initially dubious but realised DISC (and similar tools) help to be more efficient as it helps understand broad personality traits of clients, prospects and colleagues. It also helped me understand what made me “tick”, how I operate. Know thyself as the ancient Greeks used to say (well, they said “γνῶθι σεαυτόν”).
5- Sales is very “technical”: As I said, one of the reasons I went ahead with the coaching was this:

{Presentation effort / Sales revenues } = Very low figure
Yeap, I realised the ratio presentations / sales revenues was rather low. I consequently understood that by making presentations, one delivers information rather than acquires information. And acquiring information is what is needed so to understand the issues of a client and the compelling reasons why that prospect could be a client. Part of the technicality of sales is therefore to understand how to lead a process, how to get these questions asked, what questions to ask, how to qualify in or out a prospect and, ultimately, when to make this presentation (clue: as late as possible of an engagement). A good coaching scheme helps to overcome the urge we naturally have to present what we do.

That’s all folks!

Well, these are five reasons. No doubt professionals who specialise in delivering sales training can think of more. As a last point, the format I choose was based on regular sessions over a decent amount of time. I found having something happening over many weeks useful as I realised improving sales meant getting rid of some naturally ingrained habits (eg: sales guy is here to please the prospect or my time is not worth as much as prospect’s time). A format based on a seminar or one short burst would probably be less efficient.

Any views on the benefits (or drawback) of sales training? And, if you’ve been through one, do you regret it or thought it was your best move?