The saying: ‘salespeople are born and not made’ can lead to a neglect of training. New recruits need to undergo training as learning by observing the skilled performance of an experienced salesperson is not enough. A training programme should be devised that sets out to achieve the objectives of giving knowledge and developing selling skills. Training should not be restricted to a company’s own sales force, but where appropriate should be extended to an organization’s intermediaries.
Knowledge goals should relate to matters like learning company history and background. At the end of training, the salesperson should have achieved defined knowledge goals such as being able to name six major benefits of a particular product and explain how these benefits are derived from relevant product features. Goals should reflect a statement in the job description like: ‘The salespeople must be knowledgeable about company products and their applications’ or ‘The salesperson must ensure that the company’s products are well displayed’ where the knowledge goal would be in terms of learning merchandising techniques and in-store promotion schemes.
Skills goals spell out what the salesperson needs to do. In the first example under knowledge goals above, skill goals would be an ability to relate product features to consumer needs and find and interest new customers. In the second, the skill goals would be concerned with display building and selling merchandising ideas. The salesperson needs knowledge of the company relating to its structure, product mix and customer policy and needs to understand how the remuneration system can affect earnings. Product knowledge is important in understanding applications and related consumer benefits. Market knowledge involves continuous updating in relation to competitors’ products so that the salesperson can converse with conviction to buyers. Sales interview training should be broadened beyond sales procedures, to include the salesperson’s role, pre-sales preparation and after-sales service.
Good work organization usually results in more business. The salesperson should be trained in time management procedures so more time is spent with customers and less on travelling or waiting. Reporting from the field is an essential aspect of selling and sales reports help a company to take appropriate action in areas like customer relations, competitive activity and market changes which are pertinent to the ‘market intelligence’ input into the marketing information system.
Methods of training
Lectures, demonstrations, case studies, videos and seminars help, but the salesperson will derive greater benefit from participation in sales situations or simulations. This is more effective if feedback is provided quickly. Ideally, this should be by video where scenarios are acted out and replayed by the trainer to trainees in a constructive manner. The SPIN model of selling developed by the Huthwaite Research Group and described by Rackham10 emphasizes the importance of questioning skills in identifying customer requirements in the selling process, and hence the overall need for strong communication skills on the part of the salesperson and indeed this company specializes in sales training.
Field performance assessment
There should be a set of standards against which a salesperson’s performance in the field can be evaluated. The job description plus related knowledge and skill requirements should provide the necessary criteria. The sales manager should sometimes accompany the salesperson on a normal day’s work and should observe, but not interfere. After the period of observation, the manager and salesperson should meet to discuss the latter’s performance. Evaluation can be formalized through use of an appraisal form that will include product knowledge, selling methods, work habits and organization, mental attitude, development needs and general commitments.A typical appraisal form. The salesperson, when being appraised, is given marks or a letter rating. There is a section for the last grade awarded to see if there has been an improvement, no change, or a decline since the last appraisal. The salesperson should be allowed to see comments and together with the manager, should sign the form. An advantage of the appraisal form is that it acts as a record of abilities. It can also be compared with the previous year’s results to see whether progress has been made and act as a basis for quantifying qualitative attributes.
The sales manual
The sales manual, issued to salespeople for reference, is a useful source for initial training and for established salespersons to improve performance. It contains information on methods of operation and guides salespeople in their duties covering such matters as:
Salesperson appraisal form
Personal development and training
Continuous development through updating courses, seminars and conferences ensures that the salesperson is equipped to deal with changing marketing conditions and competitive activities. Company policies and specific sales objectives can be imparted to salespeople at these regular sessions with a specific agenda or theme.
Sales force structure
Territory design and journey planning can be organized for the sales force in a the following ways:
Because of the complexity of representational arrangements, some companies employ executives whose main task is to ‘build’ territories, and readjust them as situations demand. These are known as sales engineers, even though they are not engineers in the accepted sense. The ‘building’ analogy is taken further by the development of territories by using ‘sales bricks’ which relate to geographical area in which all known buyers are listed. The bricks are about equal in sales potential e.g. one brick may contain 10 buyers of furniture and another brick may have 15. In such an example, the brick would have been calculated on the basis that the 10 buyers are, on average, likely to make slightly larger purchases than the 15, but total purchasing capacities are about the same. As the bricks are built up, they can be transferred in units from one territory to another. Once this is done, schedules listing all customers can be prepared and linked to their buying potential. Many pragmatic or personal factors contribute to the final design, so decisions are not necessarily clear cut; if a customer has a distinct preference for a particular salesperson then it would make sense for this person to make visits. Other practical considerations are:
A long-term view should be taken in relation to territory design taking into consideration prospects for future growth. A loss may even be tolerated at the beginning in the interests of higher potential later. Some companies, particularly in the food trade, use ‘brokers’ to sell for them because of the high total costs of employing sales representatives. Factors that may point to the necessity of revising an existing territory include:
Once design of the territory i.e. size and number of customers is agreed, salespersons can play an important role in helping sales management to be more effective. This will depend on self management by the salesperson and important criteria are:
It is not always clear who these people are, so it is advisable to find out from the company itself through people like a receptionist or a junior buyer who may be able to suggest the most suitable contact.
Documents and samples should be included for presentation and careful planning enables the salesperson to know what will be needed according to the aims, including:
Planning, activity controls, and better organization of sales routines help the sales force become more productive. Systematic journey planning is important and it involves:
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