Product Training versus Sales Training – Which Matters Most?

graphic of two men in the same boat pulling in different directions to show the dilemma between Product Training versus Sales Training

Product Training Versus Sales Training – Which Matters Most?
Many of our clients who are moving from selling products to selling more complex solutions struggle with the concept of product training versus sales training.  If you really want your sales team to up their game, what kind of training is most effective?  Product training versus Sales Training?  While it depends, the short answer is highly targeted sales training.

Two Main Types of Sales Product Training
We have found two main types of sales product training.  One that focuses on product features and one that focuses on customer benefits.  As my old boss used to say, “Features Tell and Benefits Sell.”

1.  Product Features Tell
Sales product training that focuses on features outlines what your products can do.  Salespeople should know the basics of what they are selling.  But customers, especially for complex and solution-based sales, frequently report being unable to determine why a particular feature or function is meaningful to them or different from the competition.

2.  Product Benefits Sell
Product benefits create meaning and relevancy.  While buyers tell us that they initially have little interest in learning about product features, they are highly motivated to understand what the product can specifically do for them.  In a nutshell, product benefits training ties your product features directly to something important (better, faster or cheaper) to the customer.

While the two training approaches sound similar, they are completely different.  For example, over 35 million beds are purchased each year.  The sales reps that outperform their peers do not only share the commoditized features of the bed (e.g. firmness, size or price); they sell the customer benefits (a good night’s sleep).

Two Main Types of Sales Training
We have also found two main types of business sales training.  One that focuses on fundamental awareness and insight of key sales skills (Check-the-Box) and one that focuses on changing sales behavior and performance (Move-the-Needle).

1.  Check-the-Box Sales Training
Check-the-Box business sales training seeks to improve the awareness and insight of specific sales skills and knowledge in areas such as qualifying opportunities, recommending and guiding solutions, presenting options, negotiating and closing, coaching sales reps, planning for major accounts, etc.  Success for Check-the-Box sales training is typically measured by levels of participant satisfaction and attendance.

Check-the-Box sales training solutions are most often deployed as open-enrollment offerings for individuals and are used to satisfy the basic compliance, health and hygiene learning needs required to attract, develop, engage and retain sales talent.  From an expectations standpoint,
Check-the-Box sales training improves awareness and insight.  It does not change on-the-job performance.

Based upon over 800 sales training projects, well-designed Check-the-Box sales training, without other supporting interventions, will change the on-the-job behavior of 1-in-5 sales reps on average.

2.  Move-the-Needle Sales Training
Move-the-Needle sales training aims to improve the 1-in-5 average by improving explicitly identified sales behaviors and increasing targeted sales performance.  Success is typically measured by the adoption rate of new sales skills and behaviors combined with the corresponding lift in revenue, margin, win rate, portfolio mix, deal size or sales cycle.

Move-the-Needle sales training is treated as a sales change initiative, not a stand-alone sales training event.  Because of this, move-the-needle sales training is tied directly to the sales strategy and focuses on the critical few unique sales skills and scenarios that matter most for your unique situation.  It then creates high levels of accountability and support through frequent practice, feedback, sales coaching and sales training measurement.

The Bottom Line on Product Training versus Sales Training
Product-based training and selling focuses on the product…

  • what it can do
  • how it works
  • what it looks like
  • how much it costs in its different configurations

Solution selling, however, combined with product benefits training focuses on the customer…

  • who they are
  • what problems they face
  • what issues concern them
  • how what you have to sell will directly help them be successful

To navigate toward a more consultative sale, your sales team needs understand Product Training versus Sales Training to better acquire a different set of tools and skills than simply knowing the features of their offering or the soft skill sales basics.

To learn more about improving the performance of your sales team, download The 30 Sales Questions More Important Than Budget

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