Sales Training – give them fish or teach them how to fish?

(photo courtesy As Seen in

If you look at the breakdown of PM / PMM responsibilities, “Sales Enablement” often encompasses a series of tasks, including “Sales Training”.

“Sales Training? Really? What the heck does a Sales guy want to learn from me about Sales?”

Well, first of all, we are not talking about training on “How To Sell”.  There are enough high-priced consultants and programs pitching there wares.  Nor are we talking about Product Training – i.e what are the bells and whistles.  Because I guarantee 99% of that type of training for Sales goes in one ear and out the other (choose disgusting orifice of your choice).

So what can YOU as Product Manager or Product Marketing Manager possibly teach a sales guy?  Well, in a nutshell you can tell them about the buffet of customer problems that are out there, and how they can have a consultative conversation with prospects to map those problems to the products or services that you have.  That way, when the leave, the prospect doesn’t feel “sold to”, rather they feel they’ve just spoken to someone who is trying to solve their problem.

Which comes to the point of this post.  Exactly how should you train your sales guys on this?  And what approach should you ABSOLUTELY AVOID at all cost?

Well, I recently orchestrated a “Basic Training” class for new Sales staff, and we came up with a list of dozens of questions that every Account Manager should know in order to converse and consult with prospects.  A document was even circulated with Internet and Intranet links to where to find the answers.  And on the final day of training, we had a “Jeopardy” game which was a lot of fun (after 3 grueling days of training).

Afterwards, someone asked  “are you going to send the questions out again with the answers?”

I thought about this for a second and decided …NO (with a few minor caveats).

If your sales people need certain FACTS, absolutely you can have a cheat sheet for FAQ (for example “what are the 3 new reports in the next release?”).  However, when you are talking about CONCEPTS and IDEAS, the only way to really grasp the subject is  to discover the answer for yourself (e.g. “what is the advantage of streaming video on a media web site”).

Sales Training (actually most training) should be like the ancient Chinese proverb

“If you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. Teach him to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.”

You want to arm your Sales team with FACTS, if that’s what they need.  But you also want to give them the basic tools and knowledge so they can continue educating themselves.   Because let’s face it, there are no “canned” sales situations.  Sales people have to dedicate themselves to continual learning in IT – just like you have to do to stay current in your job.  That way, if Sales doesn’t know the answer to something, they have some practice researching it on their own and asking for help if they hit a stumbling block.

There is one final benefit to this, and that is you don’t want to become “Mr. Wikipedia”.  That is you don’t want to get pinged every time someone in Sales has a  question that may or may not even be related to your product.  If that is the private hell you’ve already created, then we’re not even talking fishing.  We’re talking about reinforcement of bad behavior, for which you deserve the private hell you’ve created for yourself  :-).

I would love to hear from anyone else with their good / bad story related to Sales training….

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One Response to Sales Training – give them fish or teach them how to fish?

  1. yh, like you said it does go in one ear and out the other, its important to get sales training that works for you.

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