Training in the Enterprise

A small or medium enterprises’ market share growth is determined by its ability to sell its products, be it tangible goods, services, ideas or anything in between.  Every member of staff acts as a sales person and thus the need to enhance their selling skills through training. The old method of apprenticeship works very well in sales training because of the incremental nature of knowledge acquisition intertwined with practical sessions.

Selling has several similarities with cycling. A learner cyclist is shy and unstable, with practice the cyclist becomes a champion capable of several manoeuvres, and the same is true of every person who has had to learn selling. We always start off shy but improve with time such that irrespective of the product the sales person has to sell he has learnt the skill. The selling skills enable the employee to wear different hats as circumstances demand. The several roles of a salesman include;

  • Ambassador who will always represent the interest of the company and carry the company’s brand. This is one reason why all branded employees should be trained on sales skills, be they drivers, front office staff or technicians. 
  • Consultant of the company’s products. As long as customers know an employee works in a given institution they will expect the person to offer sound advice on the product they bought or are interested in buying. Staffs need  to be well trained on all the products of the company including those of competitors to enable them be effective product consultants 
  • Territory Manager; Employees will always know what area the company has been able to serve as well as those areas the company is yet to offer its products. When a sales person visits a territory he will be expected to deal with all issues that the customers in that territory have. 
  • Account executive; every customer, whether retail or corporate desires personalized attention from staff of a small or medium enterprise. The function of an account executive requires that the member of staff understands all the products offered by the SME and is able to attend to all aspects of the clients’ needs. 
  • Technical specialist;- The sales person should clearly know how a product works, how trouble shooting should be done, the applicable warranties and guarantees. It does not help for any member of staff to show ignorance of a product offered by the SME or the internal processes of the firm. 
  • Representative: – The sales person is the one expected to sell the products of the company thus should always be on the look out for potential customers and potential markets. Because of the small number of employees in a small or medium enterprise each and every one of them should be a sales representative. 
  • Merchandiser:- The products of an SME, be they goods, services or ideas are borne by the sales person, who will help the customers to know how they work, what payment terms are available, the product range and the various options available. The several  hawkers in our urban centers are a clear example of merchandisers 

It is now clear why members of staff of a small or medium enterprise should have knowledge of the products, customers and the market. Expression of that knowledge requires building of skills as the other component of intellectual capital.

What skill do the staffs require to be effective in their sales activities?

Selling is natural to those who have been at it for long but all beginners find it difficult. The skills set required to sell are interpersonal relations, self management, communication and selling skills. Let us now enquire into the ingredients of each, which require to be factored in a staff training program.

Selling is normally a cycle of steps that is repeated all the time a sale has to be made and each selling activity has to be learnt as a skill. The sales cycle has eight steps namely; prospecting, pre-approach, approach, fact finding, presentation, handling objections, closing the sale and finally the after sales service. Though all the steps may not be evident in all sales situations it may help that your sales staff are well versed with them rest they attempt making a sale and then find their skills wanting because customers will rarely buy from people who are not sure.

Prospecting is the act of identifying potential buyers. Think of the roadside newspaper vendor, how does he know who wants which newspaper? Which magazine? The gutter Press? How many times are they wrong when selling to you in morning traffic? That which makes them right in their offering is what we are calling the prospecting skill. Whatever product an SME deals with, there is a set of prospecting skills which can be used to identify potential buyers. That skill can be learnt.

Pre-approach is the mental activity every sales person engages in before contacting the potential buyer. During the activity, a number of scenarios are considered in the mind and several questions arise: what is the customer likely to ask, how is the potential customer likely to respond or react? If she responds in a given way what will the sale s person do? That mental exercise helps the sales person to anticipate and prepare for the first contact with the prospect. The pre-approach could be as simple as the activities a waiter in a restaurant engages in from the time he notices a new customer walk in and before the customer places an order. The activities may include pointing to an empty seat, providing the menu and staying close by with an order book.

Approach entails making the first contact with the prospective buyer, either face to face, on phone, by letter or even electronically. The initial contact makes or destroys the sale. What is your take of the waiter who does not say hallo, does not listen to the order or does not bother to explain items in the menu? What of a tout who is rude and dirty? Those are just examples of repulsive approaches. Staffs in an SME can be winners if they are taught the appropriate approach skills in the field of the SME.

Sales staffs, especially in the financial services sector push their products by appealing to the emotions of the buyers- fear, immediate gratification, greed, impulse buying, imitation etc. In most of these cases the buyer encounters buyer remorse and regrets the buying decision a few moments or days after buying. The best way to make a sale is to establish the needs of the buyer through a fact finding or needs analysis process. Skill in this area distinguishes the professional sales person from the hit and run hawker.

Customers do not buy the product but what it will do for them. The young lady who buys a chocolate bar is not interested in the cocoa beans but the pleasure she will derive from smudging the bar. Similarly all customers do not buy features of the product or its functions but the benefits of its performance. A sales person will need presentation skills either for a group of people or for an individual buyer. Presentation will encompass the logical weaving of the features and advantages of a product for the purchaser to perceive the benefits of the product. The person who buys an expensive car does not necessarily buy a tool for moving from point A to B but also a status symbol coming along with comfort and security. A sales person must be able to make that distinction when making a presentation.

Every buyer will have questions, hesitation or doubts that will need to be cleared for the sale to happen. That is what is called an objection and may result from a number of causes including poor presentation by the sales person, misunderstanding especially where technical terms are used or even the need for assurance that the decision is right. A sales person will need the skills to answer the objections otherwise the sale will not happen.

Every sale involves making a number of small decisions which ultimately amount to one big decision, buying the product. While buying a sweet from the street vendor may be a simple decision, buying a Boeing dream liner must be a complex buying decision involving many parties. A sales person will require the skill to help the buyer along the way in making the many small decisions that amount to a major decision.

Due to lack of skills a number of salespeople behave like bandits, they hit and run thus are not involved in after sales service which is the genesis of repeat sales.

Sales gurus reckon that selling to an existing customer is five times cheaper than selling to a new customer. An SME capable of understanding this mathematics will invest in training all their staff in the sales skills as discussed above and that way the organisation will blossom to a big corporate.

Wahome Ngari, Chief Executive, Citadel Consulting Ltd.