X was a sales manager of a mid-size consumer goods company. He was considered to be the star sales person with growing month on month sales. Recently, he quit the company and moved on for better prospects. On his exit the following were discovered.
- He pushed products to select distributors using his personal credibility and convincing skills.
- He gave longer credit period to entice distributors to stock up in anticipation of future sales and achieving higher ROI.
- The distributors are saddled with huge stock that they are unable to sell and do not have knowledge of selling and,
- Payment is yet to come by and the company is at the risk of losing a valued partner.
Does this sound familiar to you? This happens a lot in sales where due to pressure of achieving monthly sales targets, the focus of sales persons is to push distributors to give orders so that they can log in monthly sales. However, over the long term this can prove to be detrimental to the very existence of the company.
What was the problem in the way X was managing sales? X was only concerned with the primary sales (sales to his distributors), he was not concerned with the secondary and tertiary sales (sales to retailers and customers). There was no sales balancing done by X i.e. ensuring that primary and secondary sales are in alignment to each other.
Product training to help sales balancing
Most training stops at describing product features and at the most, benefits. It does not really emphasize on the value it brings to each layer of the sales tiers. For example, the value proposition to a distributor differs from that of to a retailer which further differs to that of customers. Does product training address them individually? Not always.
Best in class organizations create product training that focus on training,
- their sales managers (for primary sales),
- distributors’ sales persons (for secondary sales) and
- retailers (for tertiary sales).
Forward thinking organizations and those with niche products have training for customers too. This may seem to be hard and difficult for small and medium organizations who do not have the budget or resources to train the whole gamut of sales personnel, distributors, retailers and customers. However, with technology and online training options, it is not as difficult and expensive as it may appear.
E-learning curriculum is a great option that enables customized solutions that cater to end-users’ learning needs. Here is what one can do. Create small bite sized modules about products that address a single learning objective. For example, the modules can be as follows:
- Understanding product’s features
- Profile of the end customers
- Identifying the right distributors and retailers
- Return on Investment (ROI) to distributors
- Product’s advantages and customer pull to Retailers
- Product’s benefits to Customers
- Customer problems and how the product solves them
- Customer objections and how to overcome them
- Pitching product vis-à-vis competitors’ products
- Troubleshooting simple problems in product usage
- Handling products the right way
- Testimonials or case studies
- After sales service guide
- Handling complaints
These are some of the topics that revolve around products and ideally should be part of product training. They need not be long and theoretical but short modules of less than 10mins focusing on the essentials.
Now, a training curriculum can be created pooling relevant modules based on the target audience i.e. sales personnel, distributors or retailers and customers. For example,
- For Sales people: Understanding product’s features, Profile of end customers, Identifying the right distributors and retailers, After sales service guide could be relevant.
- For Retailers: Product’s advantages and customer pull to retailers, customer objections and how to overcome them, troubleshooting simple problems in product usage and so on would be relevant.
- For customers, the curriculum can consist of modules that deal with the features of products, ‘how to’ guide, troubleshooting tips and maintenance guidelines
This is certainly not a readymade curriculum for each of the target segment and is just to give an idea. But having these independent modules will give the flexibility to training managers to create customized curriculum based on target learners. If there is a customized learning management system (LMS), it is not difficult for organizations to have exclusive training platform for sales personnel, distributors, retailers and customers. These modules can be uploaded on to the LMS and made available as per the need.
Custom e-learning or online training can be effectively used to ensure that your organization does not stop training people who matter to just the primary sales but nurtures key stakeholders who help your secondary as well as tertiary sales.