Imagine waking up in a strange world one morning, totally unlike
the world you knew yesterday. Your previous skills are useless and
none of your cause-effect predictors work. Gravity is stronger in
this new world, and it is all you can do to drag your suddenly
overweight body across the room.
That may seem like the world you've fallen into this past year.
Everything seems harder to do - particularly selling.
One of the most dependable patterns in life is that markets will
rise and fall. Although the changes are often unpredictable in
terms of when they will happen, it is a dead certainty that market
fluctuations will happen from time to time. The U.S. economy has
been riding a tremendous high for several years and now is
experiencing a correction in the form of a recession, or possibly
even a depression. So how do you sell training in such an
The fundamental element of the training and development sales
process is trust. Training is an intangible product. Clients cannot
be given the course knowledge before they buy - they only know the
sales representative. Because of this intangible nature, selling
training requires more trust to complete a transaction than selling
Before that trust is given, a salesperson must demonstrate
credibility, concern for the client, personal expertise, and
competency of the company being represented. Trust must be built
brick by brick until the prospect feels safe making a decision.
As clients struggle in this economy, training and development
programs are cancelled or suspended, and the sales cycle becomes
much longer. This creates missed deadlines for filling classes and
means postponing start dates or canceling classes altogether, which
creates frustration for clients, trainers, and salespeople. The
client is inconvenienced and disappointed, which lowers the trust
level once held for the company and the salesperson. Trainers are
deprived of expected revenue and become dissatisfied with the
relationship with the company. Salespeople are forced to spend time
explaining and re-enrolling clients. This is time spent
not-selling, and future resale potential is reduced.
Every sale must go through a process that takes time and effort.
The first question that must be answered is, "How much time and
effort should be applied to each phase of the process?" Typically,
a lot of time and energy must be expended to create awareness. The
prospect is preoccupied and simply will not notice phone calls,
emails, and advertising without repetition. Time spent creating
awareness is usually one-on-one time - time that is better spent on
In fact, with direct selling (in the absence of advertising of any
kind), the effort of a salesperson resembles a sales funnel, with
50 percent of the available time spent creating awareness of the
company and the general offering, 20 percent spent presenting the
competitive advantage of the products or services, and another 15
percent on making specific recommendations in the form of written
proposals and direct conversations. This leaves only 15 percent of
a salesperson's time, effort, and energy for the last two items in
the funnel - closing and follow-up.
It is important to determine how much time and energy should be
invested on each level of the funnel. This is not just an
individual salesperson's decision. Management must decide what
monies will be paid for each level. Sales goals cannot be reached
without the right amount of time, energy, and money invested in the
right place at the right time.
When a salesperson spends too much time networking and doesn't move
prospects beyond the awareness stage, sales cannot be closed.
Although the prospect is fully aware of the existence of the
training company and the general tone of the offer, he is unaware
of the competitive value and the specific program recommended for
their organization. Consequently, no sale is made despite the
networking efforts. The reverse problem occurs when a salesperson
spends all of her time closing and servicing existing clients and
no time cultivating future business through prospecting. Eventually
the well dries up and the salesperson is forced to start over in
Energy is cyclical. It can only be renewed with downtime or a
change in intensity of use. An athlete will use interval or
cyclical training to peak right at the moment of competition. A
tired salesperson does not close well because the closing process
requires mental sharpness to respond to any objections and reassure
Energy is also a scarce resource, and it should be conserved for
high payoff activities such as closing. Low payoff activities
should be accomplished using minimum energy. Unlike other phases of
the sale, closing cannot be transferred to someone else. Closing is
an activity that must be achieved 100 percent by salespeople.
Sales teams are like sports teams. They perform better when there
are periods of intensity and rest. This creates a problem for the
organization that is depending on sales results with no peaks and
valleys. Perhaps the best approach is controlled sales intensity
followed by scheduled downtime.
Many clients today are overwhelmed by phone calls and drop-in
visitors who offer training that will save them money. A
salesperson may have a great story to tell and it may be absolutely
true. If, however, the prospect doesn't believe in the competence,
concern, or character of the salesperson, all the effort to sell is
lost. An economic correction provides an opportunity to build
stronger relationships with clients by doing things that will help
the client be successful in the short term. The key is to build
trust with clients and manage your own efforts and energy while
riding out this economic flux.