The nearly continuous growth in sales of fiber-optic communications components over the past 20 years has created a shortage of competent sales personnel. This shortage, in turn, has created a need for sales-personnel training.
In the past, company marketing or sales managers have attempted to meet this training need themselves. While this approach has been successful to a degree, it creates distractions for managers. Development and presentation of precisely focused training programs is time-consuming and distracting. While engaged in these training activities, managers are not focused on their main objectives-meeting marketing and sales goals.
Because of this distraction factor, companies are increasingly turning to fiber consulting firms for training. These firms can provide generic and neutral training, which provides salespeople with a broader perspective than training limited by the company view. This broader perspective prepares salespeople for competitive issues.
Generic and neutral sales training includes at least four activities: basic fiber-optic communications; demonstration skills; strategic selling; and role playing.
The first activity is training in the basics. This training enables sales personnel to knowledgeably answer questions on the basics of the technology. Even though a salesperson may sell cable, he or she needs to know how the connectors and optoelectronics interact with the cable. The benefit of having a well-developed, basic knowledge is confidence, which enables the salesperson to make improved, credible presentations. In addition, such confidence results in increased reliance by the customer on the salesperson for answers to technical questions.
Finally, a well-developed knowledge of basics enables the salesperson to address the matter of feature significance. Salespeople need to know which characteristics of their products are more significant and which are less significant to a particular application. With knowledge of significance, salespeople can respond to questions related to differences between their products and competing products.
The second activity is training in demonstration skills. This training enables salespeople to present the advantages of their company's products. For example, a connector salesperson will demonstrate the reduced installation time or reduced installation difficulty of the company's product. The demonstration will work against the salesperson if he or she makes a mistake and has to apologize. Statements such as "I'm not really good at this" or "I haven't done this very often" do not build comfort in potential customers. If the advantage cannot be demonstrated clearly on the first try, the potential customer will remain just that, a potential. If the advantage can be demonstrated clearly, the potential customer is more likely to become a customer. In summary, the salesperson needs to develop good demonstration skills with his or her company's products.
The third activity is training in strategic selling. This training enables salespeople to present the benefits of their company's products in a manner that maximizes the probability of a sale. In strategic selling training, sales personnel learn four essential subjects: a realistic view of the relative advantages and disadvantages of the company's products; a realistic view of the situations in which the company's products can be successfully sold; how to present a favorable comparison of the company's products to specific competitive products; and how to ask questions, the answers to which favor the company's products.
Salespeople need to develop a realistic view of the advantages and disadvantages of their company's products to avoid appearing blind or arrogant. While a company's product may be the best, the term "best" needs to be defined. In the fiber-optic industry, there is no universal best. However, there are relative best products in specific applications. For example, singlemode fiber is best for telephone and cable-TV applications, but multimode fiber is best for local area networks and closed-circuit-TV applications.
Salespeople also need to develop a realistic view of the different types of selling situations to assess probability of success. With this assessment, they will be able to spend most of their time on high-probability opportunities.
Salespeople also need to develop a comprehensive knowledge of their company's products versus the competition's products to focus the customer on the advantages of their company's products that are relevant to the customer's situation.
Salespeople need to develop a list of strategic questions to maximize sales. Strategic questions are specific questions that the customer will answer. The answers to these strategic questions favor their company's products over the competition's products.
The fourth training, role playing, is the most important activity. This activity occurs throughout the first three. In role playing, salespeople use the information they receive to make presentations to other salespeople. The other salespeople rate and provide feedback to the presenter. Such role playing, when repeated, increases the confidence, accuracy, and credibility of the sales personnel. With such increases, salespeople cannot help but achieve increased sales!
Eric R. Pearson is a certified professional consultant and president of Pearson Technologies Inc. (Acworth, GA), a fiber-optic consultancy and training company. Pearson Technologies Inc. can be reached at tel: (800) 589-2549, (770) 591-8921, firstname.lastname@example.org.