Sales training: What skills should you be teaching?
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Sales training: What skills should you be teaching?

If you want to get the best return on your sales training, you might want to take a look at some research that was published in the Harvard Business Review in 2010. The study looked at a sample of 800 salespeople to discover what the most successful ones had in common.

The researchers grouped the sales behaviors they observed into seven general categories:

  • Storytelling (that is, using narrative)
  • The sales pitch (selling the product or service)
  • Presentation and rapport (establishing a connection with buyers)
  • Company presentation (selling their own organization)
  • Customer interaction
  • Meeting preparation
  • Rising to the challenge (handling objections on the fly)

What matters most?

All of these skills are important, of course. In fact, the researchers found that the top performers had mastered them all. But there’s one skill in particular that stood out above the others: rising to the challenge — the ability to address a customer’s objections on the fly. Some of the least effective salespeople, it turned out, tended to focus too much on other things, such as rapport building and storytelling, which got in the way of getting the sale.

The researchers found that a disproportionate amount of sales training focuses on presentation and rapport skills. These skills are important, of course, but not sufficient. Sales organizations could be more effective, they suggest, by spending more time on training salespeople how to field buyers’ objections. That requires more than simply memorizing a set of canned rejoinders; it involves a deep understanding of the buyer’s unique situation and how the product or service fits in.

Source: Ryals, LJ, Davies IA (2010). Do you really know who your best salespeople are? Harvard Business Review 88(12).

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