Customer Service

Prospecting—The Missing Link in Your Sales Training

Training sales staff has many aspects and challenges, from new technologies to closing strategies to managing numerous accounts. According to one sales training expert, many employers overlook an important part of the sales cycle in their training of sales professionals: prospecting.

“Most companies spend most of their time training on products, so salespeople know the products,” says Mike Scher, CEO of FRONTLINE Selling. The second most common topic for sales training is closing and presenting. Meanwhile, prospecting, also known as cold calling, often does not get the attention it deserves, he says, describing prospecting as “the Rodney Dangerfield of selling. It gets no respect.”

Scher says many organizations assume that a salesperson can pick up a phone and make a cold call effectively. In reality, however, “a very, very small percentage of salespeople are good at prospecting.”

Even with the proliferation of sales acceleration tools in the last 5 to 7 years, such as automated dialing technology, e-mail tracking technology, and content engagement solutions, “salespeople are no better today at cold calling or prospecting than they were 5 to 10 or even 15 years ago,” Scher says.

Technology meant to facilitate the process typically is not effective because salespeople often have not been trained on using it. “It’s not just the tools. It’s knowing when and how to use them.”

During the prospecting phase, salespeople need to be able to identify the appropriate decision maker, get his or her attention, and determine whether the individual has the budget, authority, and need to buy a particular product, as well as a compelling timetable in which to do so, Scher says. “You cannot sell to somebody in an organization who cannot buy.”

When salespeople do not have sufficient prospecting skills, their ability to close sales is affected. “If they are not engaged in enough opportunities and sales, they are not going to meet their goals,” he says. “Sales is a high turnover environment. The number one reason for turnover is they don’t find themselves in enough opportunities.”

So, what can you do to make sure your sales training program is effective? First, provide training on all aspects of the sales cycle, including prospecting, Scher says. Second, design training so that it engages audio, visual, and kinesthetic learners. Kinesthetic learning in sales can be accomplished through digitized call simulations in which salespeople practice cold calling and receive instant feedback on their performance, he explains.

In addition, Scher says management involvement and sponsorship are key to the success of sales training programs. “Too often, people give training to individual contributors, and the managers are nowhere to be found.”

Finally, he recommends training salespeople on sales methodology and then delivering separate training on the technology you want them to use—and being selective in what tools you provide them. “Don’t overload your team with tools and technology. It’s confusing.”