“There will be a substantial reward for the one who finds the Millenium Falcon…”
— Darth Vader, to his bounty hunters
So you understand how Bounty Hunters are motivated. Your sales team wants to know how you’re going to help them make money. They are hunting customers for the commission bounty spelled out in their compensation plans for successful sales. They worry that any time not spent selling is time wasted.
Meanwhile, you’ve got a new product to launch. How can you possibly get these sharks to stop swimming long enough to hear what you have to tell them?
Here’s the classic way to do it. Engineering says the product is ready to go, so you decide it’s time. You put together a 1-hour sales training meeting/conference call/webinar, maybe even recorded for anyone who missed it. During the training you introduce the product and go through how it works. After the webinar you send a long launch email to the sales team with everything you think they need to know all squeezed in: links to datasheets and whitepapers, your 30-slide training presentation, what’s new in this release, and so forth. Voila! You’re done.
Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
What happened? First of all, you waited too late to tell sales; they’ve already heard about the product and have been out pitching it (incorrectly) to customers for a month. If they attended your session at all, they were multitasking through it if remote. Folks in person fared a little better but they’ve still forgotten 80% of what you told them. No one watched the recording. They archived your email for reference, if they looked at it at all, and never went back to check it out once they grabbed your PowerPoint, found the 3 or 4 slides they decided were worth using (including some internal-only slides), and added it to their standard pitch deck. Then they went back to selling the stuff they know how to sell, rather than risk money by pitching your new, unproven product.
None of this should be a surprise, frankly, and it’s not all endemic to sales. Learning anything new requires reinforcement. It requires breaking down lessons into takeaways that are easy to remember concepts. The old tell-’em-what-you’re-gonna-tell-’em, tell-’em, tell-’em-what-you-told-em still holds true. On top of that, you need to take into account the typical sales motivation: so what? How will this help me make money? Why should I care? If you don’t answer these questions, they will not absorb what you have to say.
Here are five ways to improve your overall communications with your bounty hunters:
- Know your message. Decide from the start how to answer this question: “What are the 1-3 things you want the sales team to remember? Then be consistent. Make that message loud and clear, then reinforce it through all your communications.
- Keep it short. Brevity is the soul of wit, but it’s the bane of marketers and engineers. Engineers are too worried about being complete and accurate. And us marketers have diarrhea of the mouth. Shorter is better. Find quoteworthy soundbites. If you tell them ten things, you tell them nothing.
- Make it relevant. Why should sales care? Why should customers care? Answer the question “So what?” This means you’re NOT talking about version numbers, “speeds and feeds” or numbers without context, or obscure features that won’t help them sell. You ARE talking about what the product is (at a high level), who would buy it, what pain points those buyers have, how it solves those buyer’s problems, who competitors are and how to counter their attempts to discredit it, who’s already using it, how much it costs, and how sales is compensated for it.
- Establish a place to go for help. No one will remember everything you tell them, and they definitely won’t read all your emails. You may find yourself bombarded with questions that you thought you answered in your long painful email that no one kept: “Where’s the price list? Do we have a standard contract? Do we support X? Can we do Y for my customer?” If you’re unlucky, they’re not asking you those questions, and they’re out there making up the answers. An internal reference site is key as a repository for launch training and your ongoing release of new helpful materials. You can be fancy and use knowledge base software that allows for tagging and searching, but you’re often fine with simply a Google site with some uploaded links. Driving home that this is the place to go for their just-in-time training lets sales concentrate on selling until they realize they need information. Expect to direct lots of sales questions back to the site — and when possible send links instead of actual docs so they learn where to find the information themselves.
- Protect yourself. Remember that anything you give sales is likely to end up in front of a customer. The temptation is too great to reuse slides to save time. Not to mention it’s nice to show off to customers or answer their tough questions, even if that means revealing the totally unapproved and speculative product roadmap. So keep things on a need-to-know basis. Anything you say can and will be promised to customers. There’s no such thing as an “internal only” slide unless you take steps to make it unusable. I prefer a WordArt banner over the title that says DELETE THIS SLIDE BEFORE PRESENTING TO CUSTOMER. The flip side is also true; you need to give them enough runway. Depending on what your typical sales cycle is, you may need to tell them about an offer a month or two before it’s ready, so they can get comfortable with it and start pitching it now.
Finally, for the love of all bounty hunters everywhere — please, please don’t try to train sales on anything in the last week of the quarter. Maybe even the last two weeks. I’ve even had a sales VP tell my marketing department not to plan any trainings in the last 6 weeks of the quarter! Would you try to interview a marathon runner on the last two miles of the race? Or, keeping with this blog’s theme, did Obi-wan spend time training Luke once the Rebels were battling it out at the Death Star? Often, sales people are trying to bring in a few last-minute customers, especially if they haven’t yet made their number for the quarter. They are too distracted to absorb anything. They are focused on that final push. So schedule that sales kickoff meeting for a few weeks into January, April, July, or October, when your bounty hunters have captured their quarry, cashed in their rewards, and are already planning their attacks for the next 3 months.
Next up: Some practical examples of sales training in action.