What can the failure to properly train a salesperson cost your company? Unfortunately, this is a number that is extremely difficult to precisely determine, but based on my experience, it is substantial. Let’s explore how we might do a reasonably good job of estimating the answer.
I was recently asked to train a small group of salespeople, all of whom were novices; that is, none of them had ever actually made their living selling. I began by trying to get some idea of how they would respond to some of the questions I know from experience that customers and prospects will use to test how savvy a new recruit is about pricing.
When they came on board, XYZ Building Supply provided these sales trainees four weeks of product knowledge training along with a price list to use when they needed to quote prices. My strategy was to give these green salespeople a written list of price-related questions they were to answer in writing.
The first salesperson made a sales call on a prospect who bought the majority of his materials from a competitor, but would occasionally give some of his business to other suppliers just to maintain a relationship with them. The buyer then asked one of the trainees to give him some prices.
Buyer: “I have always believed in helping a new salesperson get started. Here is a list of material I need to buy—how about seeing what you can do for me.”
Salesperson: “Could I get back to you later this afternoon?”
Buyer: “Sure, that’ll work for me just fine.”
So, the salesperson took a long lunch, priced the entire material list and brought it back to the buyer at 3:45 PM.
After looking over the prices, the buyer said, “I’ve looked over these prices, and I’d have to say I’m disappointed. I thought this might be an opportunity for us to do some business together. These prices are a lot higher than what I’m paying now. You can’t be very serious if you are quoting me prices this far out of line.”
“Mr. Buyer, you know I’m new to all of this. Would you please give me some idea of where my prices need to be and give me one more opportunity to quote?”
“I don’t make a practice of doing business like this, but if you’ll take about 14% off the prices you quoted me, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. Can you do that?”
Embarrassed, the salesperson said, “If I make it an even 14%, will you give me the order?”
“Well, you’ll still be slightly high, but yes, give me your confirmation in writing and you’ll have yourself a deal.”
“Okay, I’ll shoot you an email immediately. When you’re ready for the material, please try to give me a half a day’s notice and I’ll get it right out to you.”
Could this happen at your company? There are dozens of contractors in dozens of markets that will take advantage of inexperienced salespeople who have been given too much pricing authority with too little training.
Offer a written quiz during training. Separate your salespeople while they are taking the quiz and make it clear they are not permitted to discuss their answers as they write the answers to your questions.
Ask them how they would handle this same situation. Have them email you the responses privately. When you conduct the training program, do not embarrass your salespeople in front of the group by disclosing which salesperson gave which answer.
The sales manager should very carefully rewrite the answers to each question and make sure the answers are approved by multiple managers in positions of authority in your company.
Bill Lee is a respected sales and business consultant in the LBM industry. For more information, contact Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.