A Focus On Sales Training
Apr 20, 1997 12:00 PM, Beth Rosengren
To be the best salesperson you can be, you need some basic training. This profile tests your sales skills so you can focus that training efficiently. Despite the fact that sales skills are learned, there is no boot camp for salespeople. You hire salespeople and just watch them win or lose and watch your profits and, if you consistantly choose poorly, your business rise or fall. What you need is a way to stage a mock battle, watch for weaknesses, then either give salespeople a dishonorable discharge or schedule them for further training in problem areas.
Further training for a salesperson? Absolutely. Babies aren't born with an order book clutched in their little fists, so it is safe to say that sales skills are learned. Therefore, as with any profession, sales is a matter of learning the basics and becoming proficient. Most people fail in selling because they lack knowledge of what it takes to sell or because they have become amnesiac about the knowledge they already have. When that happens, the resulting decrease in orders causes salespeople to panic and become even less effective.
As market competition increases, the need for highly trained salespeople is greater than ever; but unless you test for expertise (or visit fortune tellers), you can't always forecast an applicant's sales skills until after the person starts working. By the first month alone, the cost of advertising, training and recruiting can exceed $1,000. This hit-or-miss method can be an expensive way to reveal a new hire's capabilities, especially if several trainees fail. Sales testing can remedy this by saving companies time and money in building an effective sales force.
Testing for skills instead of personality is the answer, according to Gregory M. Lousig-Nont, Ph.D., industrial psychologist and creator of the Sales Success Profile, a sales proficiency test.
"Sales tests of the past have evaluated salespeople on subjective values, such as motivation and personality characteristics, instead of the specific skills needed to close deals," says Lousig-Nont. "Sales success is the result of the knowledge and implementation of the specialized skills needed to close sales; it is not a genetic aspect of personality. We know this is true because sales aptitude and actual sales rise significantly after a person has been through a strong training program."
Personality doesn't forecast ability. Someone might be dynamic, bright and energetic, but that doesn't mean the person knows how to sell. If someone had the personality of an airline pilot but no piloting skills, would you fly in a plane with that rookie at the helm?
"A personality test may tell you whether a person is extroverted, self-confident or has a high energy level, but it won't tell you whether that person knows how to close a sale," Lousig-Nont says. "Sales success is a matter of using the specific skills that salespeople in all walks of the profession agree are necessary to close sales."
So how does skills testing work? The Sales Success Profile, for example, tests for 13 sales skills, including the ability to approach, involve and build rapport. The ability to identify a buyer's need and motivation, skill at overcoming objections, time management and balanced aggressiveness when closing are also addressed, along with areas encompassing courtesy and friendliness. The pattern of answers reveals a salesperson's skill level. The salesperson is then ranked by percentile in these tangible sales skills, compared to a sampling of more than 350,000 salespeople.
An answer pattern can reveal many types of characteristics. When examining the profile of an individual with little sales experience, tests can define who is unskilled but trainable and who is not. An unlikely sales candidate is characterized by generally low scores overall; however, very low scores in social courtesy and human warmth can make it questionable whether this person even enjoys working around people. You can't train someone to like people. If a sales manager must decide between untrained applicants, the better choice would be applicants whose scores are higher in the polite and friendly areas. Such people are trainable because they actually like people. People with high approach and involvement scores may be intuitive about rapport building, while those with high scores in ethics and handling problems probably know how they want to be treated by a professional salesperson.
Testing can also weed out the sales scholars who are professional sales students, not sales professionals. These sales disciples religiously attend seminars, spend hours listening to sales success tapes and read every book ever published on sales. Unfortunately, because they place such high standards on themselves, they give up easily when rejected. Because of their widespread knowledge, they interview well and are difficult to expose without testing.
Salespeople who fear rejection may show acceptable overall scores but rank low in call enthusiasm and often have low scores in prospecting, cold calls and time management. These people would be better suited for inside sales until this fear is overcome. Nonaggressive nonclosers will have low closing scores, test high in the polite and courteous segment and come out very high in friendliness and warmth. These people, although skilled in other aspects of the sales process, are often afraid to ask for the sale. If the first attempt at closing fails, they are reluctant to try again. They are very good for customer service positions where closing is not necessary and are excellent candidates for training because they truly like people; they just need to acquire more sales skills.
Overtly aggressive closers are characterized by high closing scores but range extremely low in the polite, courteous, friendly and warm sectors. These individuals are extremely aggressive and will do almost anything to close the sale. They do not care whether the product or service meets the customers needs; all they care about is closing the sale. Consequently, they are perceived as pushy or high-pressure salespeople and are generally not good in positions where long-term repeat client business is desired. When salespeople start answering questions in a manner that indicates they are looking for their commission rather than taking care of their client's needs, then scores representing warmth and friendliness decline.
Ideal closers are characterized by a high closing score balanced by significantly lower scores in the polite and courteous areas. The friendly, warm score should fall between the closing and polite score. The lower polite and courteous score indicates these salespeople will close aggressively; however, the higher friendly and warm score indicates that they will only attempt to close when the product or service meets the prospects needs. They are not perceived as pushy, and they temper their aggressive style with a caring attitude.
Assessing your staffYou can discover these traits about an applicant with a simple test, and you can determine the sales abilities of current employees, often freeing a good salesperson from a slump. When salespeople lose track of some of the sales basics, this results in fewer earnings, a loss of confidence in their abilities and the unavoidable slump.
"I have yet to see a salesperson in a slump who hasn't gotten there by forgetting the basics," Lousig-Nont says. "Sales managers can't assembly-line their training and expect it to work. But with the information gained from the sales test, one can design a custom training course in the areas salespeople are overlooking or wavering in. By using exams to identify and address weak selling areas of an existing sales team, companies can tailor their training to fit the needs of each salesperson, thereby increasing both the sales team's effectiveness and the bottom line. Testing actually identifies the areas where sellers are weak and gives them the opportunity to rebound by recovering lost skills, preventing costly sales slumps."
Are you now thinking you never would have the time to do all this testing and scoring? You don't have to. It's more simple than it looks. Many tests are on computer discs, and they take little time to score. The Sales Success Profile, for example, takes approximately two minutes for scoring once the candidate has completed the pencil-and-paper test. Upon completion, the administrator enters the answers into a computer. The program instantly produces a detailed written analysis along with training tips. For those without computer access, answers can be faxed to the national scoring center. The procedure takes about three minutes, and the written report is mailed or faxed to the caller.
Whether you are considering new hires or having difficulties with current employees, certain skills are required for an applicant to be a success in sales.
Determining whether the salesperson possesses those skills can be done in three ways: test, go through an expensive trial and error method, or add that fortuneteller as a permanent member of your staff. Which method do you choose?
The Sales Success ProfileThe following are questions taken from the Sales Success Profile, a sales skill test developed by Las Vegas-based Lousig-Nont and Associates. The Sales Success Profile assesses actual selling skills, not personality. To find out how skilled you are in the sales profession, take the following quiz. You may be surprised by the results.
The questionsWhy do people buy things? (You may circle more than one answer.)
1. They want to keep up with the competition.
2. The purchase improves their self-image.
3. They can keep up with the Joneses.
4. The purchase gives them pride of ownership.
5. The purchase makes their company operate more efficiently.
6. They simply need it.
When you ask a "closing" question, what should you immediately do? (Circle only one answer.)
1. Summarize all the key features quickly to refresh their memory before they say "no."
2. Ask if you did a good job presenting the product.
3. Ask if the product is out of their price range.
4. Re-emphasize that this is the best product for the price on the market.
5. Say you will leave to give them a few minutes to consider their answer.
6. Shut up.
When people are ready to buy a product, they usually give you "buying signs" instead of just saying they are ready to buy. Being able to recognize buying signals helps you know when to close. Which one of the following are examples of buying signals? (You may circle more than one answer.)
1. They ask more questions and ask more technical questions.
2. They say they are going to seriously consider your product.
3. They talk about things that would happen if they owned your product.
4. They ask whether you could demonstrate the product one more time.
5. They check to see if they have enough money.
A prospective client says the home you have just shown her and her husband is exactly what they have been looking for. She says the home has all the features they want, and they are impressed with the quality of the construction. However, the linen closet is not as big as in most homes they have looked at. What would you say? (Circle only one answer.)
1. "The other homes you have seen are not built nearly as well as this one."
2. Simply ignore the comment, and continue to point out the other positive features this home offers.
3. "The first concern of our architects was to design this home for years of enjoyment."
4. "On what will you base your final decision to own a home, the linen closet or the overall features and the quality of construction of the home itself?"
5. None of the above.
Which of the following is the best source of new clients? (Circle only one answer.)
1. Individuals who have expressed an interest in your product or service by calling or writing.
2. People who have bought similar products from your competitors.
3. Advertising and public relations articles.
4. Clients who may have been dissatisfied with your products in the past.
5. Qualified referrals from satisfied clients.
When a prospect responds to an ad by calling on the telephone, what should the salesperson's primary goal be? (Circle only one answer.)
1. Attempt to qualify the caller.
2. Get an appointment to meet the prospect.
3. Find out what the caller is interested in.
4. Determine whether the caller has enough money to buy the product he is interested in.
5. Find out other people the caller may know who might be interested in the product.
Which of the following would be helpful for a salesperson in building positive client relationships? (You may circle more than one.)
1. Send every client a thank-you note.
2. Handle client problems fast.
3. Return your clients' telephone calls immediately.
4. Keep every promise you make.
5. After the sale, remind the client how much better your product is than the competitors.
6. After the sale, keep in touch with the client.
During a presentation, if you are asked a question you don't know the answer to, what should you do? (You may circle more than one.)
1. Ask, "Why? Is that important to you?"
2. Bluff your way through; otherwise they will lose confidence in you.
3. Tell them what you think they want to hear.
4. Say, "Sorry, I don't know, but I will find out."
5. Say, "That's a very good question."
The answersQuestion #1: All answers are correct. People have many reasons for buying. Having preconceived notions about a buyer's motivation can cause you to lose sales. Sometimes people have unusual reasons for buying things. It's up to you to ask good questions to find out what they are. When you are able to meet your client's needs, you have an excellent chance of making the sale.
Question #2: The definitive answer is number 6. By remaining silent, not only are you applying gentle pressure on the prospect, you are assuming the sale. On the contrary, if you chose number 1, you are assuming they are going to say no. There's an old saying, "Whoever speaks first, loses." After posing a closing question, this is the time to be silent and give the buyers a chance to respond. Their response might even be "yes." Or they may ask for more information or even reveal why they are not ready, allowing you to use your superior selling skills to close the sale.
Question #3: All answers are buying signals except number 2. This statement translates to "I'll think it over." Good salespeople do not accept "I'll think it over." You should ask questions to find out why the prospect is hesitant in order to uncover the hidden objection. Once the objection is out in the open, chances are good you will be able to overcome it and close the sale.
Question #4: A great answer is number 4; you are not only overcoming their objection, you are doing so with skill and finesse. The second best answer is number 2 because some objections can't realistically be overcome. Sometimes simply ignoring the comment can make it go away, especially if the issue is not a particularly important one to the prospect.
Question #5: Although all of these answers are acceptable, the best answer is number 5. A satisfied client is the best endorsement there is. An example is in the realty business. Studies show that the average American homeowner moves every three to five years. Therefore, real estate salespeople should establish a firm commitment to relationship selling. Relationship selling is based on a win-win philosophy, transcending the immediate gratification of the one-time transaction with an eye toward building an ongoing relationship. Successful salespeople have a long-range goal of establishing a long list of satisfied customers who repeat business and are delighted to refer them to their friends and colleagues.
Question #6: The best answer is number 2. Ideally, answers 4 and 5 should be undertaken when you are face to face with the prospect. Good selling involves interaction with the prospect by being sensitive to motivations, fears and misgivings. According to Tom Hopkins, author of the best-selling book, How To Master the Art of Selling, a new breed of salesperson is developing. He explains that successful salespeople today don't act like the stereotypical salesperson of the past: fast talking, aggressive, filling every second with conversation. He labels this style of salesperson as the "interesting extrovert." Keeping a lower profile, professional salespeople of the nineties are what he calls "interested introverts." Instead of using the gift of gab, they disarm their prospects with their sensitivity and listening skills. By achieving this style of selling, you can learn your clients' needs, motivations and misgivings and gently guide them into discovering the benefits of your product or service.
Question #7: All of the answers are correct except answer 5. This answer is un-ethical and reflects badly on you as a salesperson; in fact, looking again at the real-estate market, this activity is in possible violation of real-estate law. Successful salespeople are extremely ethical. They recognize that if a sale sacrifices your integrity, everyone loses. They don't need to resort to lies to close a sale. Don't sacrifice your integrity to close a sale.
Question #8: Answers 1, 4 and 5 are all acceptable answers. Answers 2 and 3 are unethical and could get you into trouble.
ScoringQuestion 1: All answers are correct. Give yourself 5 points each for each answer you circled (a possible 30 points).
Question 2: Give yourself 5 points if you answered number 6.
Question 3: Give yourself 5 points each for choosing answers 1, 3, 4 and 5 (a possible 20 points).
Question 4: Give yourself 5 points for choosing answer 4.
Question 5: Give yourself 5 points for choosing answer 5.
Question 6: Give yourself 5 points for choosing answer 2.
Question 7: Give yourself 5 points each for choosing answers 1,2,3,4 or 6 (a possible 25 points).
Question 8: Give yourself 5 points each for choosing answers 1,4 or 5 (a possible 15 points).
Your tally85 to 105 points: Congratulations! You possess the necessary skills to become a success in the profession of sales.
60 to 84 points: You have a good understanding of sales skills and have the potential to be great in sales. By revisiting basic selling techniques through books, videos, tapes and seminars, you can sharpen your skills. Then you may skillfully isolate objections, handle them and use professional techniques to close the sale.
Less than 60 points: You either have not been schooled in basic selling skills or are experiencing "burnout." Salespeople experiencing burnout view selling as a three-step process: step 1 - get the commission; step 2 - get the commission; step 3 - get the commission. You may have forgotten the basic selling skills or are refusing to practice them. You need to take the time to establish rapport and thoroughly answer objections. Today's consumer is rather astute; as soon as they sense a salesperson cares more about making the sale than helping them make a wise investment, they are gone.
Rosengren is director of public relations at Lousig-Nont & Associates, Las Vegas.