By Jeff Fortney
It was 1979 when I attended my first formal sales training course. My bank employer thought it wise that its employees receive training. Some thought it was a waste of time, but I was excited. I remember the format of the class and the meeting room. However, I don't remember anything that was taught, except for this one statement, "Selling is an art, not a science."
Since that time, I have attended eight different training classes, read numerous training books and watched a number of videos. From some I gained knowledge and practices that I still use today; from others I retain only vague memories.
I thought that first class would teach me how to sell, but I quickly discovered that no one class or method would make me successful. My employer at the time must have known that because every two years the bank had us attend a new class that used a different approach.
This is not a condemnation of sales training. In fact, the way I sell and train today is based on one of those eight classes. I found the information and the approach that worked best for me and I stuck to it. I also believe that the salesperson I am today is fully a result of my experiences. I may not be able to remember every class or operate exactly as they defined in the training, but I was able to gain something from each class.
With that said, the question remains, Should a salesperson in the payments world commit the time and money required for sales training? Before this can be answered, we must first define sales training.
If you google "sales training," you will get 160 million hits. The Zig Ziglar and Dale Carnegie approaches can be found in various forms, with an emphasis on invigorating salespeople by taking a positive approach to selling. Some believe these types of classes are the core of all subsequent training. BILLPIRTLE endorses it. "I attended a Dale Carnegie Sales Training course and found it invaluable," he said on the GS Online MLS Forum. "It was a great opportunity to learn a process and practice with peers."
Other training approaches are more specific. Their goal is to provide actionable steps and personal practices to help improve one's technique. Some may provide different approaches to specific types of sales prospects rather than general sales concepts; others are very detailed in describing how to reach different prospects.
There are a few industry specific classes as well, designed for the merchant level salesperson (MLS) and ISO. Most provide product training with a sales component. In some cases, ISO partners offer a form of product training. Some even offer more formal training structured for our industry.
Many programs offer supplemental CDs to reinforce the training. "I purchased a course on CD which I would play in my car instead of listening to music or talk radio," GMARTIN said. "It was a great investment, and I learned a lot. Plus I was able to refer back to the material so I could reinforce what I had learned."
There are also countless books and videos available, ranging from The Greatest Salesman in the World to You Can't Teach a Kid to Ride a Bike at a Seminar. For some, books alone offer greater retention, although there are few opportunities to practice what you learn, like in classroom-style courses.
The last, and perhaps most common, form of training in payments is on-the-job-training (OJT). This is how AMSPROCESSING described becoming acquainted with the industry: "I received my training on the job from my dad 20 years ago. Where did the time go?"
In every case, the goal of training is to improve morale and increase productivity. You just need to do your homework and try to find the method that's right for you.
It states on cityinfo.com that 67 percent of all salespeople have some college education, and 53 percent have a minimum of an associate's degree. Some college-level courses can help cultivate great salespeople, but the majority of sales representatives who do obtain college educations tend to take business-related courses.
After all, sales is one of the few professions in which experience and a proven track record are more important than a formal education.
Even so, there is no arguing against the need for training. Larger companies understand this need and offer robust training programs. In the past, IBM, Xerox and others were well known for their training, although their courses were structured to get salespeople to sell their way and fit their model. In our profession, though, training is often driven by ISOs and MLSs, and not by the company or partners they use.
TSTREET stated, "Many organizations provide product training in lieu of sales training. They teach you about the products and then provide a loose formula for getting the deal."
It is critical that you have a basic understanding of the products you offer and how they fit with your merchants. These types of classes are usually webinar-based and can give that basic understanding. They may provide a few sales points, but often they don't cover how to sell the product.
The best way to define your need for instruction is to examine your level of OJT, which is truly the school of hard knocks. It gives you a chance to "learn by doing," and also helps you "learn by failing early and often." The difficulty of OJT is you make mistakes as you learn, and they cost you business.
If all you are using is OJT, leverage the expertise of those around you to avoid mistakes and shorten the learning curve.
BER has had both formal training and OJT. "I've had several corporate sales training experiences ranging from my time at Sears selling lawn mowers in college to selling data and telecom solutions to large businesses for AT&T," he said.
"It was great to have product knowledge and a 'process,' but more than anything, the training gave me confidence.
"When I sold cell phone and mobile Internet services to businesses and consumers in an outside sales setting, I received little 'corporate' sales training but received tons of OJT and real-world training. I listened closely when my coworkers interacted with customers and started modeling their behavior. That stepping stone helped me gain a better understanding of the sales process and boosted my confidence."
No matter how great you think a particular training method is, if you do not learn how to increase your productivity then the training will be of little value. You will not be able to invest your time and money and be confident in the results.
Sometimes that gain comes in the form of understanding yourself. In one training course I attended, we were taught that the key to managing motivated, successful salespeople was to "keep them in the house."
A salesperson "in the house" was someone who was motivated, with a high morale. The person didn't watch the clock, but instead watched the results of his or her efforts. The key was in recognizing when someone was outside the house (since we all have those days).
By the end of the class we were asked to write a critique. A co-worker of mine who had been unhappy for some time wrote the following, "What I learned. I am not in the house. I am not in the yard or down the street or even in the same town. I quit." After leaving this note on his boss's desk, he packed his stuff and left.
Morale is the key to any training. If you're not motivated by attending the course and don't want to change your habits based on what you learn, it's probably best to skip the class.
The difficulty lies in identifying the classes that will best fit your needs before you invest your time and financial resources. Before signing up for any training course or purchasing any type of training materials, contact the trainers and ask questions.
Ask your peers and mentors for their personal recommendations as well. They know you and can likely suggest the type of training that will serve you best. Remember, your goal is to gain insights that will help improve your productivity as well as your morale.
If you're an MLS, remember to check with your ISO, which may offer training opportunities as well. After all, your ISO is a partner in your success and is committed to helping you grow. ISO owners and staff can serve as both trainers and mentors.
Ultimately, gaining value from sales training does not happen by osmosis. You must be committed to more than just "trying" the techniques and approaches. You must commit to change.
You must change your habits, or you will find yourself backsliding into what you have always done before. Simply put, training cannot increase your productivity unless you commit to taking advantage of what you learned and are willing to change.
Altering your habits can be difficult, which is why you need someone to help monitor your efforts. This person can be inside the industry or outside, and can even be a family member, who will help you monitor your efforts, encourage you when you're down and remind you why you are making changes.
No dollar value can be placed on this type of support; it may mean the difference between success and failure.
Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. This applies to sales as well. We must evolve and grow, or we may find that others have passed us by.
AGENT said it best. "I want to know what's on the horizon. Those who don't are the ones who should really continue their training." In essence, sales training is an investment in your skills that can increase your production and the size of your wallet. Choosing the right training program will grow both.
Jeff Fortney is Vice President, ISO Channel Management with Clearent LLC. He has more than 17 years' experience in the payments industry. Contact him at email@example.com or 972-618-7340. To learn about how Clearent can help you grow faster and go further, visit www.clearent.com.
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