FailurePart 1

The failure to properly train our sales forces can be attributed to a handful of different factors. In Part I of the miniseries, we’ll be looking at one of the most important issues that can affect sales training:

Problem #1: Confusing “Product” With “Process”

I will never forget my first week as a New York Life agent. There were four of us who were just hired by the company. We were led to a tiny room with poor ventilation. We sat in this room for four and a half days. For the first three days, we started at 7:00 am and ended around 10:00 PM. It was our “Core Sales Training.” We were taught all there was to know about insurance. We learned about whole life insurance and various dividend options. We learned about term insurance with convertible opportunities. We learned about health insurance and pre-existing conditions with first dollar accident options. Finally, we learned about disability and cost of living opportunities. I was becoming a virtual genius in the field of insurance information. I was learning to sell… or so I thought.

On the fourth day, I saw the light… literally! We began at our usual 7:00 am and by lunchtime, our training was complete. Each of us was given about a dozen applications to put in our brief case as we were marched to the front door. Squinting from the sunlight (which we had not seen in four days,) we milled around waiting for our final instructions from Jerry, our sales manager. I will never forget those last few words he said to us:

“Remember boys,” he bellowed with a sly grin, “two a week – ten a month. Now get out there and bring me back some apps!”

He was referring to insurance applications. I was eager to please and out I went to hunt down clients who wanted to hear what I had just learned. When I was lucky enough to actually have a live prospect in front of me, I did exactly what I had been taught. I explained various dividend options and carefully spelled out convertible opportunities within term policies. If customers were kind enough to tell me they wanted to talk to me about their health insurance, I would shift gears and immediately oblige them with a perfect rendition of pre-existing condition clauses and first dollar accident options. Sadly, I was guilty of committing the same sin that I loath in other salespeople. I was talking way too much and not listening… but I was doing exactly as I had been taught.

What does a customer hate more than anything else? Hearing someone talk too much! When all you have been taught in “sales training” is product, your first reaction is to do just that; talk. Instinctually, we want to tell the customer all we know, and all we have learned, particularly when we are new in the industry and we want to hide our fears of not knowing enough. When product training masquerades as sales training, the trained sales people will all demonstrate this colossal error of trying to impress a client with product knowledge.

To make matters worse, many industries make “continuing education credit” mandatory to remain licensed in their chosen fields. Unfortunately, these courses are simply more product classes. By locking these salespeople away in rooms across the country, and then cramming product information down their throats, we are not only doing a disservice to salespeople but we are also doing a disservice to the customer.

Solution #1 – Separate Product Training From Sales Training

We have to stop merely teaching enormous amounts of product information to our salespeople in this country and calling them, “sales trained.” We need to get back to teaching them a measurable process that will assist them in actually doing his or her job better. In this case, the job is to sell, and we need to teach things like:

  • How to listen
  • How to create trust
  • How to ask questions
  • How to problem solve
  • How to help others over their fear of change

This means learning how to work in a consultative manner with customers. When we do this, we will be helping our sales forces, and we’ll be helping customers who need someone to ask them questions that they cannot ask themselves.

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