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How to Have Sales Reps Train Themselves — Twice as Fast, Twice as Well

Brad ShorrOne of the most important qualities to look for in a sales rep is the ability to learn. For one reason or another, many sales reps are resistant to trying new techniques and accepting criticism. Sometimes the problem is experience; the rep has enjoyed success with a particular approach elsewhere and sees no reason to alter it. In other cases the problem is overconfidence in himself or lack of confidence in you, the sales manager. Whatever the reason, sales managers are only as successful as their ability to train reps to be successful.

Many years ago I managed a B2B telemarketing staff and ran into serious training issues. The reps just weren’t coming along, weren’t following my guidance, kept making the same errors over and over. I realized if something didn’t change quickly, the whole telemarketing program would be shut down. So I did what any smart sales manager would do. I gave up.

Tales of the Tape

I told the reps if they wouldn’t listen to me, they could listen to themselves. I set up tape recorders at their workstations and had them record their phone conversations, which covered everything from introductory calls to closing conversations. At the end of the day, I listened to the recordings, made notes, and then met with each rep individually and let them listen to key passages while I made various instructive comments.

This worked pretty well. As a matter of fact, when the reps heard themselves stuttering, saying something that didn’t quite make sense or making statements that were inaccurate, they frequently pointed it out to me before I had a chance to bring it up. Taking criticism from someone else is one thing; when you see your errors yourself, it’s another thing altogether.

I refined this technique by simply having the reps listen to their tapes and give me their critique. This not only saved me the time of listening to entire tapes, but also improved the training effectiveness — reps were pointing out things they heard I would not have thought of. In that respect, taping the reps trained me to understand I was not the all-seeing, all-knowing trainer as I had imagined myself to be.

As time progressed (a few months), the reps improved dramatically. Stuttering and stumbling disappeared, presentations were polished and clumsy closing questions were replaced by elegantly crafted ones. New account production soared and departmental revenue soared along with it.

In the years ahead we took self-training a step further by video recording reps in the field. This was quite a bit harder to set up, but you can imagine how having a rolling camera on you would be major motivation to step up your sales game — and that is exactly what happened.

Why It Works

The technique of recording and reviewing works because a picture (or sound bite) is worth 1,000 words of training. Hearing or seeing yourself in action is up close and personal; there’s no way you can hide from it, explain it away, or refute it. Plus, recording actual sales calls matters. Role-playing exercises can be explained away as being artificial; reps can say, “I was nervous in this staged situation, but get me in front of a real customer, and I will close the deal.”

Professional sports teams use this technique universally — What team does not get together to watch game footage after the game? Studying game film is a tried-and-true training technique. Whether your sales team is stuck in the cellar or vying for the title, record-and-review training may be the component to get you to the top and keep you there.
Brad Shorr is Director of Content Strategy at Straight North, an Internet marketing firm specializing in professional SEO service. With more than 25 years of sales and marketing experience, Shorr has been featured in leading online publications, including Entrepreneur, Forbes, and Moz.