Thoughts on sales training

The characteristics of the services

Training for a salesforce that is goaled on complex services or solution sales is markedly different to the training for a heavily product-oriented salesforce.

Further, there is a distinction to be made with these classifications of services:

  • high touch / high tech services
  • discretely / continuously rendered services1.

High touch services are dependent on people in the services business. High tech services are mostly relying on systems, IT and other resources, to create offerings like online shopping or telecoms.

Secondly, continuously rendered services like banking or security monitoring can be distinguished from discrete services such as one-off hotels or project-based consulting.

This blog is mostly talking about high-touch services, not high-tech, and about both continuous and discrete services.

The distinctions are important in training

The value proposition varies from one type of service to another, yet has some commonality with other services of the same classification. This obvious point has some ramifications that are often overlooked in sales training.

Sales people need to understand how their service offering interlocks or meshes with the processes of their client.

Your sales training should draw this out for them. It’ll save the sales force having to work it out themselves through trial and error, through conversation with clients or (worse) through failing to have successful dialogue in the first place.

Advice on sales training

If you were going to invest in a few days training for the salesforce, with perhaps internal subject matter experts, I have some thoughts on the issues. I wrote this to help a colleague in Europe.


Executive opening

  • opportunity to be more than just another VP pitch of the same old material
  • opportunity to talk at the field-level and show you can relate to them
  • can talk about what you are hearing from the C level or Director level from any meetings you’ve had
  • extend that to talk about consultant’s findings or insight from Gartner/Forrester which is also relevant to the field
  • ideal time to lay out a common terminology for sales endeavours (such as what it’s called when you create a whole new initiative, or what its called when you end up responding to an RFP which is based on someone else’s initiative) - > terminology can then be used by all later presenters to describe stages in the sales cycle
  • this can be done by an external presenter (like SPIN, or Rick Page’s Complex Sale, or a corporate standard if one exists).

Sessions, mandatory success critiera:

  • must answer the ‘so what?’ question for all subject matter included - > example: discuss how Service X can operate new hardware (feature statement), but then must also explain how that is relevant to the field and the benefits to the client (benefits)
  • must be relevant.


  • presentations must be pre-screened by peers, whose job is to:
  • ensure the content is relevant to the sales audience,

  • ensure ‘so what’ is answered,

  • that any information (like market data) is put in context to the field, and is useful to field

  • check stories are being used

  • check the content is all pragmatic

  • any irrelevant content should be removed.


  • forgetting that sales people only want to know pragmatic things like: - > what’s in it for me
  • how do I sell it

  • who do I turn to for help

  • who else has sold this, what problems did they overcome and how?

  • its evident someone has failed on the above points if their presentation does not answer those kinds of questions
  • presenting market growth, addressable market data and other macro-economic information is mostly irrelevant. The field generally does not care about this at all. Keep it to one or two slides at most, for context, and the presenter should frame it with “this is just two slides on market data for context”
  • not changing pace during the presentation often enough (people can concentrate for 20 minute, then you need to change something to keep them interested)
  • not using enough case studies and success stories - > sales people learn from stories and anecdotes
  • presenters must include stories in order to explain the offer, the significance, how to sell it and so on.


  • not appreciating that sales folk learn a lot from talking to one another and from mingling - > solution is to allow time in the schedule for them to talk
  • not providing a structure and set of educational policies to the presenters, therefore leaving the presenters with no framework
  • poor streaming of the audience - > fact is that the sales force can be stratified (which they can do themselves quite accurately) into layers of people who: (a) are completely new to the topic (b) have moderate experience (c) have a lot of experience
  • therefore, the best way to teach them something new is to stream the force into layers and have the presentation customised, with increasing levels of complexity in each version of the talk

  • poor streaming can happen if your audience is too small to practically divide up, or if the presenter has not been given enough time to prepare multiple versions of their talk
  • assuming external trainers are necessary - > often, very good people are within the organisation. If asked to present, they will need lots of time to prepare the content. It is days of full-time work, plus requires peer reviews and re-writing.

1. Classification from Christian Gronroos, 2007, Service Management and Marketing, p57. Wiley.