06003 Sales Training: Revving Up the Troops

One of the duties that frequently falls to Product Managers is to train the sales force, getting it prepared to sell the product. As the person who has scrutinized and measured the market opportunity, as the person who has heard the needs of customers and prospects, as the person who has prioritized the benefits required and the associated capabilities that go into the product, the Product Manager has plenty of vital knowledge to pass along to the sales force to help it sell.

However, one of the challenges of having a Product Manager deliver training is that seldom does a Product Manager have experience selling. Most Product Managers seem to have traveled a career path that has come out of a Marketing or Development role. So it’s easy for a Product Manager to deliver a training session that doesn’t do much good.

Read on for a discussion of what to include in your training to the sales force so that they are best positioned to make your product succeed through strong sales.


The First Hurdle: Not the Product!

The first thing that a Product Manager needs to learn is what not to do. And that is not to demonstrate the product, showing menus, screens, fields, and buttons. That is, unless you have a very simple product with just a few fields that can be learned in a matter of two or three minutes. But in most cases your software product is too extensive to try to cover with the sales reps. At most, you would want to show two or three minutes of the software to give the sales reps a feel for the software, literally, an impression of “what it feels like” and no more.

As for teaching details about the how the software works, rely on sales support reps to present these details. The sales reps will pick up this information as they attend demos.

Instead of showing the software to the sales reps, talk about what’s important to them. For example, answer the questions they know they will have to answer when talking to prospects, questions such as the ones below.

Can You Teach Me How to Sell?

But first, let’s take a look at something else you don’t want to have to teach your sales force. And that is: how to sell. How to sell is the one special area of expertise that your sales force is expected to possess. Your aim as Product Manager should be to provide pieces of information with which your sales reps can arm themselves, and use their skills to wield that information so as to make a sale.

If you find yourself needing to provide guidance on the psychology of selling, how to build a relationship with prospects, recognize interest in the product, and determine who has buying power, your sales force doesn’t just need product training, they need training or coaching in how to sell.

If certain individuals raise questions that are more about how to sell, rather then what to know about the product in order to sell it, solicit the help of the more experienced reps in attendance to provide the benefit of their experience and skills.

Give Them a Confidence Boost

For some reason, and it may be coincidence, I have worked with many sales reps who seemed to be super sensitive about the competitiveness (or lack of it) of their product, and were easily discouraged. Maybe good sales reps aren’t easily discouraged, but you’re not necessarily dealing with only good reps, you’re dealing with whatever sales reps you’ve got.

So although it may not be a good use of your time to teach sales reps how to sell, giving them confidence to sell, on the other hand, is worth every effort you spend on it. One of the best ways to do that is to tell plenty of sales stories that involve their share of realistic difficulty, but where your product gained a happy customer in the end.

Information about how the product bests the competition is always helpful in boosting confidence. Especially when it is delivered by you with confidence.

How Much Does It Cost?

And now we come to the questions that all sales reps know they will be asked. This is one of the first questions they have to deal with from prospects (and the good ones know how to deal with it in the right way and at the right time, but that’s sales training, not product training).

Sales reps need a clear and comprehensive understanding of the product pricing and the many options or variables that enter into it.


While we’re on the subject of money, there’s another question about money which is very important to the sales force, though of no interest to your prospects. And that is the commission they will receive on sales.

It doesn’t hurt to emphasize points about the commission that the reps may not be familiar with. For example: “There is no cost of sale calculated on training and implementation services. You get commission on the full price.”

Who’s the Competition and How Do We Compare?

Now, back to the questions that reps will ask. Information about the competition is high on their list of needs. And the top priority here is to give the sales force confidence, so that they sound believable when they tell their prospects about how the product compares favorably to others.

Identify who the competitors to the product are, and explain, where applicable, how specific competitors apply to specific situations, industries, types of accounts, or aspects of your product.

If you have one dominant competitor, it’s worth your while to drill down into specific features and explain in detail how your product is better. If you have a variety of competitors, with none particularly dominant, you’ll want to point out specific competitive advantages of your product and list which competing products they apply to.

What Type of Companies Buy This Product?

The sales force needs to understand what types of companies buy the product. Is there an industry focus, a size of company, a type of organization, public versus private? Explain what market research findings you have, either formal or informal, so that a sales rep can work through a list of companies and determine which companies make the best prospects.

This information can be presented as explained in the section further down called Tell Me About People Who Bought This.

What Type of People Buy This Product?

If this is a consumer product, you’ll need to explain which type of people make the best prospects. Even if this is a business-to-business sale, it’s the people in the company who buy your product, not merely the company. So it’s important to define demographic traits, job titles, geographic areas, situations, and any other factors that make a person a strong prospect for the product.

This information can be presented as explained in the section further down called Tell Me About People Who Bought This.

What Are Their Pains?

Talking about pains, also called critical business issues, gets right to the heart of successful selling using such methods as Solution Selling(r) or Consultative Selling. Pains are the problems, challenges, issues, or difficulties that individuals and companies face that lead them to buy the product in order to solve their problems.

The more detailed and accurate you can be about the pains to the sales reps, the better they will be able to hunt for and uncover these pains in the prospects they speak with.

What Are the Benefits?

The other half of the pain equation is benefits. These are the advantages or positive outcomes that will come from your product, the outcomes that will ease the pains or solve the problems. The sales reps need to understand how to present a picture of the benefits that can be applied to solve each pain.

Benefits are not features. For example, you may have a feature that lets a customer create marketing mailings. But the benefit to the customer is not that they can create these mailings, it’s that they can make more money and grow their business through such campaigns.

A Talk With a Knowledgeable Peer

The best situation for your sales reps to find themselves in is to be having a pleasant and no-pressure conversation with a prospect, one where the prospect feels that they are dealing with a knowledgeable peer, someone who has experience with the same pains, and better yet, knowledge of how to solve those pains. The more the sales training covers pains and benefits, with specialized knowledge and tips on how to solve problems thrown in, the better positioned the sales force will be to engage in these conversations and increase their selling effectiveness.

How Can I Measure and Forecast the Benefits?

Part of helping a prospect decide to pay the required price for a product is helping them measure the product’s benefits. When a prospect can estimate how much benefit a product will bring in terms of increased sales, lowered costs, or time saved (this last measure can be used with employee salaries to calculate a dollar figure), then they can judge whether or not it’s worth it to them to pay the price for that product.

Therefore, provide common examples to the sales reps of how prospects can calculate the dollar value, or other number value, of the product benefits. For example, if a marketing product increases the response to direct mail campaigns by 10 percent, then explain to the reps how to find out what the current return is on a prospect’s campaigns, so that they can figure 10 percent of that.

What Tools Will Help Me Sell?

In addition to the knowledge that the sales reps gain during training, a Product Manager can develop a number of tools that will help the reps as they develop experience selling the product. For one things, the tools recognize the fact that nobody remembers all the details that they first learn in a training session. For another, it’s hard for reps to remember certain pieces of information when they don’t deal with them every day. Here are some useful tools you can provide:

  • Target Market – a description of companies, people, and job titles that are ideal prospects.
  • Pain List – a list of prospect types or job titles and the pains that commonly apply.
  • Pain Sheets – a description with one pain per sheet of a job title, questions to ask to uncover the pain, and descriptions of the associated benefits. These also provide information about how to calculate a dollar value or other number for the benefit.
  • Competitive Comparison – a feature-by-feature comparison with each competitor, or with groups of similar competitors. If you cannot get this granular, make a single table that lists the product’s main competitive advantages down the side, and list the major competitors in columns, with checkmarks indicating whether a specific competitive advantage applies against a specific competitor.

Tell Me About People Who Bought This

Finally, if you could only provide one item when training the sales force, build a list of success stories or case studies that describe the following:

  • a customer who bought the product,
  • what their pain was,
  • what they bought and at what price,
  • how they benefited,
  • what they paid,
  • and what they most liked about the product compared to the competing products considered.

These success stories collect much of the suggestions described above into an easy-to-learn and easy-to-remember set of stories that let the sales reps build a picture in their mind of who to look for, what to sell them, and whey they would want to buy it.

Let the Sales Reps Do the Selling

Once you have armed the sales force with this information, don’t worry about how well they know the ins and outs of the software screens. Sales support reps, or other skilled employees, can provide detailed demos. Step back and let the sales force go about selling the product, and enjoy the results.

— Jacques Murphy, Product Management Challenges



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