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High Return – Low Cost Sales Training

When I’m making a purchase I want the most out of the money I spend. Sometimes I’ll buy the most expensive choice and other times the least. But in either case I’m looking for the greatest value for what I spend. When it’s time to provide sales training for your sales team you’ll be faced with a wide range of costs and programs to evaluate. Ian Altman, in his article How Much Does Sales Training Cost written for Forbes/ Leadership presents figures of $500 – $5000 (per sales) rep for public trainings and $3500 – $25,000 (per team) for private training. Within that range of training choices lies an incredible value that’s worth every dollar you’ll spend. But in this blog, I won’t be addressing those choices. Instead, I want to share how a low cost sales training through a team book study can possibly be the value your looking for at a cost of $15-$200 per sales rep. I’ve been leading these book studies with great results for years and so can you, if you follow some simple steps.

The Cost and The Expert

Books cost $15 to $30 in most cases, and some might have supplements and workbooks you can buy to help with the learning. Instead of having to take the team out of the field, the reps read on their own and the discussion takes place in your sales meetings. The expert or trainer is the author. Authors spend a tremendous amount of time organizing a book to help the reader learn. Your job as the manager is to help facilitate the learning that will take reading a book from being an exercise in acquiring knowledge to being a catalyst for positive change.

Weekly Meeting a Must

In order to make this book study work you’ll need to have a weekly sales meeting. If you currently don’t have them this could be the catalyst to start a new good habit.

Five Training Best Practices Used with a Book Study

Companies who invest in training follow five best practices to realize the greatest change. We’ll follow the same best practices to gain the most out of your book study.

  1. The manager participates with the team.
  2. The training is brought in-house to be private.
  3. Decisions are made to implement the learning.
  4. The training is spaced over time.
  5. The manager provides reinforcement and accountability of what has been learned.

In between the best practices I’ve included some feedback from a few sales people who recently went through a book study reading Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play.

1. The manager participates with the team as a facilitator

As the manager or owner you’ll have the following roles to complete to participate with your team.

  • Find a book to study. If you’re not sure where to start or which book to choose from, here are some suggestions to help you get started.
    • Let’s Get Real of Let’s Not Play by Mahan Khalsa and Randy Illig. The authors not only provide a rock solid sales methodology that teams from many industries can apply, but they keep things real by providing great examples of how to communicate in many different scenarios.
    • No More Cold Calling by Joanne Black will help you initiate, resurrect or elevate your company culture into receiving more referrals. It takes more than just wanting referrals and providing excellent service to increase referrals. Joanne will lay out exactly what to do.
    • Be a Sale Superstar by Brian Tracy. This could be a good starter if sales meetings or this type of study is new for you. You can’t go wrong with Brian’s 21 easy to read topics. The topical format makes it very easy to generate discussion and action items.
    • Check with your colleagues or associations
    • Ask at a sales LinkedIn group or other association network.
    • Google it.
  • Read the book before you start the study or at least get a feel for it. Remember you are not the expert, the author is. You are not reading to learn every point the author makes. Rather, you are reading to find content that can fit your selling culture or process.
  • Read along with the team throughout the study. Remember this could be saving you thousands of dollars.
  • Facilitate the book study during the sales meetings.

I think the book study helped me to better my sales skills as it helped remind me of useful ways to approach a customer/prospect. Talking about the key points of the book with others in my sales team and manager helped to reiterate their application in various sales situations.

2. Bring the training in house for the whole team to learn together and from each other

The book study takes place during your sales meetings so you have everyone involved and it’s in house. There’s synergy to be gained by learning through discussion instead of you teaching. If you facilitate a discussion about the topics read, the sales people will teach and learn from each other. Don’t make it a point to do everything the author is teaching but rather focus on each rep being better when the study is over. Here is how to facilitate the learning in the least amount of time.

  • Buy the books and workbook materials if available and hand out at your introduction meeting.
  • Introduce the book study to the team and prepare them for what’s coming. Explain the goal of improving their selling skills so they can improve their results. Let them know you will not be the teacher, but instead you’ll be facilitating discussion for them to learn through.
  • Set the reading assignment and work assignment if you have workbooks for the first week. Ask the sales people to use highlighter, sticky notes or underline points that they like, have questions about or disagree with. Let them know you’ll be using their points to drive the learning.

I think the book study is great to get you out of your own head and look at other ways to make a sale.

3. Decisions are made on what to implement into the company culture and process

Through team discussion you’ll arrive at decisions of what to implement. The best way to start a discussion is to simply ask, “Who want’s to start us off? What did you highlight or underline?” Usually people say, “I liked this……” You can then ask what others think and if it is not clear on how to implement into your process ask the question, “How can we use the authors suggestion in our process?” Then, confirm if most agree it can help and write it down as a decision to implement and support. Keep a list to check on each week.

I feel the reading and studying of the discovery process on how to identify and communicate immediately notice of “yellow” or “red” lights has been very helpful and equips me to walk away or walk through the potential sales obstacles, whichever is the best choice based on the circumstance.

4. The learning is spaced out over time

By spacing out the study you make room to reinforce what people have learned so the learning turns into a new habit.

  • At the beginning of each study you review the decisions made at the last meeting and check to see who put the learning to use. Each week the application decisions will build and the weekly follow up will reinforce the learning and application.
  • Each week decide on how much to read. Usually a chapter for each reading but sometimes you might slice a big chapter into pieces or call for two small chapters.
  • You can skip a week now and then. Make the learning enjoyable not a chore.
  • As the weeks add up take time to review all the decisions made since the beginning of the study and see how the team is doing.

The group discussions not only helped me learn from my teammates, it gave me added strength hearing about the pitfalls and challenges they endured as well as the ‘aha’ moments and victories.

5. The manager provides accountability for the learning to take root

  • If you’ve been keeping your list of decisions accountability takes place weekly by asking who has implemented them. Then ask how it went. Ask for other feedback to reinforce learning or flush out challenges. Solve the challenges as a team.
  • At the end of the reading, send an email to each of the team members and ask them to take some time to list their most useful take-aways from the book study.

Facilitation Tips

  • Keep in mind you are facilitating learning which is different than teaching.
  • Your best tool is asking questions and listening well to ask more questions that can help others learn.
  • Let the author be the expert and refer to sections to read if you want to draw out a point to discuss. This will keep the team listening to the author.
  • If you do bring out a point that you like, always finish with a question to the team about their thoughts or how they see themselves applying the point.
  • When useful insights are identified make sure you document them on your decision to implement list.
  • Review past decisions to implement and ask who has used it.
  • Never make a big deal if people have not used a decision to implement. Simply review them at the next meeting. If they are good points people will use them.

Other tips

  • It’s okay to skip some chapters if they don’t apply.
  • Remind the team of the weeks reading assignment at the weekly sales meeting
  • Send a reminder email of the reading assignment a couple of days before the sales meeting.
  • It’s okay to skip weeks between reading assignments.
  • Review the chapter yourself before the sales meeting to have some highlights in case the conversation is slow.

As I said in my opening paragraph, sometimes bringing in a private training could be the best value for your team at that time. But don’t overlook a book study as I have yet to lead one that did not result in change and improved sales. Have you led any? What is your experience?

Rene is the President of Sales Manager Now, a company that provides fractional sales management services to small and family-run businesses. He has twenty-seven years of experience in sales leadership, coaching, and consulting. He is also the author of the Part-Time Sales Management handbook and is based in Auburn, California.

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