When Greg Fife was an account representative for Ameritech, the company sent him and his fellow sales reps to Chicago or Detroit on week-long training seminars.
The seminars were helpful, but they stole time Fife needed to be on the street making his sales quota and earning commissions.
"Believe me, they didn't adjust our quotas for the month because we were only there three out of four weeks," Fife says.
Two years later, he was a regional sales manager for a Canadian same-day freight company, which was not nearly the size of Ameritech and couldn't afford the $15,000 sales seminars. That prompted Fife to look around, but he found no quality training programs for smaller companies. So, he started one.
Westlake-based Executive Dynamics offers six sales training seminars a year, with each session taught by internationally-known speakers like Hal Becker, Jim Jacobus and Dr. Dale Henry. Although the names are big in the industry, Fife tries to keep his customer fees low at $59 per person or $299 for the year.
"We've been able to get the targets that we wanted, and people are telling us, 'Wow, I didn't know that something like this even existed,'" Fife says. "So, I think we're filling a void."
Although designed for the small- to mid-sized company, Fife's clients are businesses of all sizes, including Aetna U.S. Healthcare, Qwest Communications, Fifth Third Bank, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, Progressive Insurance and even his former employer, Ameritech.
Pete Deverall, vice president of sales and marketing for Sun Newspapers in Cleveland, says his sales force does a lot of internal and external training and has reaped benefits from Fife's seminars.
"It's the old cliché, but if you learn one thing you can use and it helps you become a better sales professional, then you've gained an awful lot," Deverall says.
Using his own experience as an account executive, Fife has learned a thing or two about training and used those skills to design his program. He says any sales training must include the following traits to be effective.
Flexibility and consistency
If the members of your sales force are stuck at a seminar in Chicago for a week and their sales territory is in Cleveland, they aren't going to close many sales from a hotel room or cell phone.
Although regular training is a must, it shouldn't interfere too much with the job at hand.
"The reason we keep it every other month, if you've ever been to training once a year you get really motivated, but then two months later, you forget about it and drop back into the old habits," Fife says. "Our seminars are every other month. It's a way to build better behavior through repetition."
Don't waste your sales reps' time with training by speakers who might be knowledgeable about what it takes to be a closer but have never done it themselves, Fife says.
Be sure that any training your employees attend offers real-world lessons, not just theoretical concepts.
Training is not just about learning the best selling practices. It also serves to motivate employees who have heard "no" on sales calls many more times than they've heard "yes."
Even sales veterans, who could probably teach a seminar or two themselves, need training so they stay hungry in the field, Fife says.
"It's like going to church," Fife says. "It forces you to focus and bring it all back in and think about your career." How to reach: Executive Dynamics, (216) 899-2423
Morgan Lewis Jr. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a reporter at SBN Magazine.