Is there a gap in communications between your sales people and the marketing department? Several recent surveys reveal that in many companies this is becoming a growing problem. The issues presented point to lax sales standards and a lack of adequate sales training and management. Many of the problems point to the reality of fast changing markets driven by technology while the sales force lags behind. It is important to focus on the five major issues and recommendations on how to resolve these issues if they exist in your business. These communication issues break down into five major problem areas:
Sales People Don’t Understand the Products They Sell
Sales professionals tend to look for the shortest path to a result. The tendency is to understand the products they sell just well enough to get the sale. The marketing manager has a completely different perspective. They immerse themselves in their product or product line. Their expertise is necessary to communicate the marketing message effectively.
Product knowledge has always been an essential element of sales success. However with the shift toward relationship selling based upon customer needs, the role of the sales person is shifting towards one of a product manager. In relationship selling, cross functional teams are being increasingly employed where a total understanding of not only the product’s capabilities but also the company‘s capabilities, is essential. Short cut selling with minimal product knowledge is no longer “good enough”. Sales managers need to focus on building higher levels of product knowledge and expertise so sales reps can identify and solve customer problems to meet the needs of the customer.
Marketing People Spend Too Much Time Answering Basic Questions From Sales People
Sales reps need to be totally immersed and well versed in all aspects of their products and the abilities of the company to support their efforts. This problem exists only because management allows it to exist. Managers need to compel their sales force to take total responsibility for their actions. Sales people need to take the extra time to study rather than call for unnecessary back-up. This is a waste of corporate resources and only heightens the overall cost of sales. Standards of expertise need to be defined and established with basic levels of expertise expected from all salespeople. Marketing managers need to become more forceful to only provide support for problems that exceed that performance level.
Sales People Don’t Understand the Competition
An essential area of expertise that should be mandatory for each sales rep is a clear expectation and a concise understanding of their competition. They should know who the competition is within their territories, where they are, what major accounts are using them, what products they are using and the capabilities of those products in relation to their own product.
Additionally they should be well versed on the strengths and weaknesses of both their product line and that of the competition. They should know how to sell against the competition by maximizing the strengths of their own product line. This should become an established standard for each sales representative. Without this level of expertise they are unable to sell effectively in their territory, intelligently report back to the business or make recommendations for product improvements.
Sales People Don’t Understand Their Customer’s Needs
This problem is a result of the sales track method of selling. The sales rep typically presents his or her product as a solution without a clear understanding of the problem. The sales process continues to the close by presenting features and benefits and handling objections until the close is reached. Problem solved, the sales rep moves on to another customer. Unfortunately, problems aren’t solved and expectations aren’t often met. Customer focused and relationship selling focus on identifying needs, building solutions, arriving at a consensus and working with the customer until their expectations are met.
The sales rep must master the critical skills of identifying problems and fashioning solutions in a changing marketplace. They must know how to marshal the necessary resources to support the customer and work toward a common solution. Hit and run selling is no longer effective and it places your company at a competitive disadvantage.
Additionally many companies are creating territories based upon industry rather than geography. This is productive in increasing levels of expertise which makes the sales rep more effective in identifying needs and crafting solutions.
Sales Training Doesn’t Provide Lasting Benefits
The previous four issues point right to the bottom line… Training! Companies must understand the basic needs of an ever changing marketplace. Customers have changed… Markets have changed… Buyers have changed…. But salespeople are still using outdated methods to sell. The issues described in this article point to the need to create a level of expected expertise for every salesperson just to competently compete in the marketplace.
Sales reps need to become information managers. They need to have a advanced level of expertise on their products, competition, customers and their company. They need to know how to employ this knowledge to best serve the interests of their customers.
Training standards must be established to train salespeople to attain this level of expertise, using that expertise and employing current sales methods to increase their overall effectiveness. Simple training without support and reinforcement is a poor overall investment. Most sales people forget what they learned in training within thirty days if extra support is not provided.
Training programs need to be designed to teach this knowledge, reinforce the application and to coach sales reps in the field when problems occur. When this is implemented, the bar is raised for performance and professionalism in the sales force.