Ongoing Sales Education

By Pragmatic Marketing August 10, 2007

“Teach a man to fish….”

The initial product launch may be the only time that sales people get information about your product. Your sales people probably have more information about your competition’s products and strategy than they do about your own.

Think about it. How much time do your sales people spend learning about your product? And how much time do they spend learning about the competition? And being reminded constantly of the competition by their customers?

Sales people need to be schooled continually in the value of your product. By making product information available and accessible, you can give sales people the tools they need to help themselves.

Why won’t sales people read?

Product managers frequently complain that sales people will not read what is already published. While this may be true, in my experience, product managers typically write documents that are heavy: lots of detail, lots of facts, lots of dense prose ... just lots! Yet sales people are time-pressured and often impatient. They want to find what they need right now. Sales people prefer documents with shorter paragraphs combined with lots of bullets and links. They want to scan a document rather than digest it.

Think snacks of product information instead of meals.

Perhaps product managers delude themselves into thinking that sales people should have deep product knowledge. But how realistic is that? Particularly when they have dozens or hundreds of products to sell.

As we illustrate in Pragmatic Marketing’s courses, product managers are well advised to define a repeatable sales process, providing a document that explains how to move the prospect through the various steps of the sales cycle and which tools are designed to support each step. This document serves as the basis for all sales education.

What will sales people believe?

Because sales people generally believe customer stories more than data, populate the sales information with personal experiences: customer success stories, feedback from win/loss, and even quotes from high-profile customers.

Product managers often miss the importance for sales people of the “showcase” account. Most enterprise vendors have a high-profile account designed for showing an excellent implementation to potential customers. As important as this site is for selling to new accounts, it’s even more important for selling the sales people! Here the sales people can see the results of success in a form they really retain.

One sales person said, “You know I can sell but I can’t seem to sell this new product.” We took him to our showcase account and showed him the “before and after” for our product. The “before” picture was a terminal showing unfiltered message traffic, a continuous stream of messages that were a blur on the screen. “You can’t run a network this way,” the sales person exclaimed. The “after” picture was our product, showing only the one or two messages requiring operator attention. And a believer was born.

How much do your sales people believe in the product? If they don’t believe in the product, how can they sell it?

With the information gained from win/loss analysis, you can update the product intranet with tips on how to win and when to run. Which buyers are ideal? Which are not? And why? I had just explained the ideal prospect during sales training when Kevin, the worst living sales person, took me to task for leading the sales people astray. “I’m trying to sell in this environment instead,” he said. “Yes,” I replied, “but we have never won a deal in that environment. 92% of the deals we have won are in this environment. So good luck to you on your deal, Kevin; the rest of you should focus on the ideal market.”

Another key skill is knowing when to walk away from a deal. It seems to sales people that any deal is a good deal but product managers know that some customers and some market segments are just not worth it. Further, it may be time to walk when your sales people hear key phrases that are clearly bombs left by the competition. Product managers should provide solid responses to those issues but it’s often best to walk away when the competition is controlling the deal. My old sales manager used to tell us that we shouldn’t even respond to an RFP unless we had helped the customer write it.

For sales people to be successful—and ultimately for the company to be—we need to arm our channel with a solid understanding of the ideal prospect and the clear benefits those customers receive. And we need to give them the courage of conviction.

You want to see someone who believes? Tell an insurance agent that you don’t have any life insurance. You will have life insurance before the day is through!

On-going sales education

One-time sales training isn’t enough. Product managers need to give the sales force a never-ending barrage of good news about their products.

Intranet pages (less text, more links)

Today’s intranet gives the environment we need to provide extensive product information organized in small bites. Provide a single home page for each product. This page should be the first stop for all sales people who need information on the product. The product page is basically an index with links to the repeatable sales process, current sales presentations and demo scripts, and to all the various sales tools. So much can happen in 90 days that you should review and update the intranet quarterly to keep it current and fresh.

Need I mention that this series of pages must be searchable? Sales people routinely complain that they cannot find anything on the intranet. They can’t because the typical intranet is organized hierarchically. Usability experts tell us that a well-designed product shouldn’t require the user to understand the data model yet most intranets are designed in a hierarchy that only the site’s creator understands.

Wikis and blogs

Wiki is a piece of server software that allows users to freely create and edit Web page content using any Web browser. Wiki supports hyperlinks and has a simple text syntax for creating new pages and crosslinks between internal pages on the fly. Wikipedia is probably the best-known wiki with thousands of articles contributed by volunteers on virtually any subject. Use the wiki to create a product encyclopedia. A wiki for your product is an easy way to keep information updated without getting too hung up in HTML or content management software. It’s also a great way of sharing a product information area with multiple product and marketing managers.

A blog is basically a journal available on the web. The activity of updating a blog is 'blogging' and someone who keeps a blog is a 'blogger. Your sales force will use a blog reader (such as Google’s or Firefox’s built-in reader) to access the latest posts. Your product blog contains news as it happens: new deals, new product information, new announcements, new updates of whatever kind.

Podcasts and the product “flash”

We’ve been doing podcasting since the 80s; they were called cassette tapes in those days. But the idea is the same: provide audio presentations on product features, recent successes, and other news. Sales people can listen to them on their iPods or put them on a CD so they can listen to them in the rental car.

In a similar vein, a product “flash” is a short one-page email (or fax) to address a specific product issue. The idea for a flash usually comes from one sales person’s question; you can assume that if one sales person doesn’t understand the issue, none of them do. Write a short explanation and send it out in email. Also update the sales intranet with this new information.

Visit the sales offices

The next time you’re scheduled for a sales call, also schedule some time in the local sales office. Rather than providing info to each sales person one-at-a-time, a trip to each sales office gets you in front of all the sales people in a region. Give them a product update including what you want them to know about future releases and product announcements. End the session with recent successes so they have another burst of good news. A similar trip to the sales regions is called for when new product versions are released.

Don’t forget that sales engineers are the sales people’s best technical resource. As such, they can be the product manager’s best friend. Sales engineers communicate with sales people continually so make sure that they have access to all the information they need about the product.

“Give a man a fish and you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish and you have fed him for a lifetime”

Don’t let the competition be the only ones providing product information to your sales team. With so much good news about a new product, you should take every opportunity to excite the sales force.

Categories: Roles & Activities Working with Sales
Pragmatic Marketing

Pragmatic Marketing

Pragmatic Marketing, Inc. has continuously delivered thought leadership in technology product management and marketing since it was founded in 1993. Today, we provide training and present at industry events around the world, conduct the industry’s largest annual survey and produce respected publications that are read by more than 100,000 product management and marketing professionals. Our thought-leadership portfolio includes the Pragmatic Marketing Framework, eBooks, blogs, webinars, podcasts, newsletters, The Pragmatic Marketer magazine and the bestseller “Tuned In.”

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