Man on phone sellingA sales rep is a terrible thing to waste, and yet many small companies squander their sales talent because of poor training and management practices. Here are two techniques that have worked terrifically for me – perhaps you can make them work in your operation.

1. Start Reps on the Phone

When sales reps are in the field all by themselves, how do you know what they’re doing? You can demand all the reports you want, but there’s no substitute for observing a rep when it comes to mentoring and developing skills.

For this reason, I always liked to start reps on the phone, right outside my office, where I could hear them and watch them. It took me about one day to figure out how hard they worked, how organized they were, how well they knew the products, how well they communicated, how aggressively they closed, and just about everything else I needed to know to help a recruit become a star.

One day.

Phone work accelerates the training process exponentially. Besides alerting you to areas of weakness, you can become an in-the-moment mentor.  If a rep has a problem or runs into something new, he/she can get an immediate and authoritative answer that can be applied quickly. In the field, important questions might pend until the end of the day or the end of the week … or might be forgotten altogether.

Some reps complained that phone sales was harder than field sales, that they needed to be in front of the customer to be effective. My response was, “That’s good to know. If you master phone sales, think how easy field sales will be.” In practice, reps who failed on the phone failed in the field; those who excelled on the phone excelled in the field.

2. Do the Thinking for Them

Especially when reps are new, you want them to be totally focused on execution: i.e., developing leads and closing deals.

Accordingly, I gave new reps highly structured campaigns during the first six months or so. The campaign detailed the target market, what to sell, how to present it, how to price it, a special offer to help close, and a list of probable objections and responses.

Forcing the rep to focus on execution again accelerates the learning curve. Left to their own devices, new reps can slip into a mode of putting off execution (i.e., selling) in favor of more comfortable tasks such as tweaking presentations or putting together hit lists of prospects. But nothing succeeds like success, and the sooner you help the rep get some wins, the more confident he/she will be.

Another thing I learned was to start small. Don’t make a rep’s first assignment selling a core product to your best prospects – better to have reps stub their toes on secondary products and markets. This protects their egos and your brand.

Assigning highly structured campaigns is emphatically not intended to stifle creativity. In my experience, the best reps find ways to improve on the campaign in short order – which helped me to start the next rep off with an even stronger campaign.

Over to You

These two techniques are as close as I ever came to 100% accurate predictors of success. They take a bit of effort and time on your part, but a small business has few assets more valuable than a highly effective sales team.

What techniques have you used to develop sales superstars?