Most of our clients have a broad product family, a fast rate of new product launch, and limited training time for their sales force. While there are a variety of excellent ways to compress knowledge-transfer and accelerate actionable learning (see our previous post on Sales Playbooks), it is impossible to teach everything relating to a new/updated product to everyone – before some of the content is obsolete. So what is the best strategy for deploying knowledge for new products?
The first question to answer is “Who needs to be able to do what when?”. By focusing on sales activities it is possible to carefully scope the actual actions required by different roles in the product launch. The ideal way to answer this is by mapping out the key roles and their actions across the steps in sales process for the product. Given that everyone may not need to perform the key selling activities (prospecting, qualifying, gaining executive sponsorship, assessing need, demoing, proposing, etc.), and certainly not at the same time, it is possible to tightly scope the audience and training content. (By the way – if no one can create the map mentioned above, and provide clear guidance to the sales team regarding the product’s sales process, then lack of training won’t be the reason for underperforming results!)
The second question to answer is “What must the sales person (inside sales rep, sales engineer, etc.) know to perform their required activities?” We see a lot of product training focused on new features, competitive differentiators and the like – with little attention paid to discovery questions, executive value propositions, or even prospecting scripts. Despite their importance to the success of any product, they are overlooked either because their importance is under-estimated; or because of content ownership issues (is it the responsibility of product marketing, field marketing, sales enablement, training, or the reps themselves?). We can give many examples of significant new product successes due to the sale reps’ ability to do effective initial discovery and qualification (e.g. ask a few critical questions of the right buyers); and yet many new product training programs omit such content. It is deemed unrelated to the actual product feature set – despite the fact that customers rarely make buying decisions based on the presence of specific features, and certainly don’t start buying cycles because of feature sets.
In summary, effective new product training should be based more on how the product will be sold than on the product itself. Knowing the required outcomes for each step in the sales process, and the sales behaviors needed to achieve those outcomes will enable the sales enablement team to develop a narrowly focused and high impact training program.