Sales Training vs Product Training

Tony Lannom, Regional Manager at Axiom Sales Force Development, has over twenty-five years of sales and sales management experience in a broad range of industries including software, electronics, and communications.

I started this morning just like any other: with cup of coffee in hand, I begin reading my emails. The first email I came across began with the statement: “Product training is the most important aspect of sales training.”  While I wasn’t interested in the free webinar the email was offering, the statement evoked a thought: Is product training more important than sales training?

Many organizations invest money, time and effort to teach sales people all about the products and services they sell. Perhaps as a direct result of this effort, we often find sales people spending the bulk of their time attempting to pitch their products and services to prospective customers.

So what’s wrong with this approach? To fully grasp the problem, we have to put ourselves in the position of the prospects. Prospects often sit through sales presentations learning about the sales rep’s new products and services. The prospect must then attempt to make the connection between these products and any applicable impact on their organization. Unless the product clearly solves a top-of-mind problem the prospect recognizes, most simply won’t conduct that thorough an analysis.  It becomes a bit like channel surfing – if their attention isn’t grabbed quickly and decisively they simply move on to something else.

Unfortunately this pitch, or even the value prop approach, works often enough that many believe it’s a good idea, but what about the more than 80% of meetings where this approach didn’t lead to any meaningful opportunities for either party?

Placing priority on product training runs the risk of focusing sales people in the wrong direction: our solutions instead of the prospect’s company.

Does this mean everyone should abandon all product training and focus exclusively on selling skills?  Of course not.  However, all training should focus on the customer first.  Moreover, equipping sales people to engage in meaningful conversations about the customer’s business must be the top priority for the organization.  Assume for a moment that a sales person knows nothing of her products. As long as this seller focuses her energy on gathering critical information from the prospect, the meeting is likely to be more productive than a product pitch. This assumes the sales person has the skill needed to gather critical information including details regarding the prospect’s organization and the criteria the buyer would use to evaluate any proposed solutions. Obviously there are additional information objectives that would be important from the prospect’s perspective, but you get my point.

Leaving the meeting with meaningful information from the prospect, the person could simply take this information back to his company and seek help finding an ideal solution. Imagine a seller returning from a sales call and stating: “Here are the business objectives I learned from my prospect… Here are the criteria the prospect will consider in order to make a decision….Do we have any solutions that address these problems and align with their criteria?” Assuming once again the sales person knows nothing about his company’s products; it seems likely there would be adequate help to define the ideal solution.

There is no question that equipping sales people with a clear understanding of the solutions they offer is important to the success of the sales organization. However, when product training becomes the top, or sole priority, there is a risk that the sales people becoming too focused on their products, and not focused enough on prospects’ best interest.

Have you run into obstacles with product focused training programs? If so, were you able to find a good balance between products and skills training?

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