Is Sales Training Dead?

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Lawyers, accountants, advertising agencies, consultants and private banks have clients. Commercial banks, restaurants and retail outlets have customers. What’s in a label? Quite a lot it seems!

Let’s begin with some definitions. Here’s what the Concise Oxford says. “Customer; a person who buys goods or services from a shop or person.” “Client; a person using the services of a lawyer, architect, or other professional person.”

In a commercial setting, businesses and customers tend to have transactional relationships, where loyalty is low, and the purchasing decision is based on tangible features such interest rate or product specs, and price. Businesses with clients often offer less-tangible products and services (e.g. ideas, quality advice, personal services) and a purchasing decision where price is important, but not the prime factor.

Today everybody wants to build better relationships with buyers in search of market share regardless of the nature of their business. Indeed, from time to time I’m asked to conduct  training in relationship selling for a sales force whose business is almost entirely transactional by its very nature. Considering reputational risks I usually recommend that we first look at their marketing and sales strategy, and revisit the value proposition. We also consider whether their customers are transactional or consultative, and which of the four types of relationships (technical, ad hoc, social or partner) different customer segments may want, before addressing the matter of sales force development.

Buying behaviour has changed forever. So must sales training. The better approach is educating the sales force so that they can train themselves to become tactical marketers who seek to create value for their clients. Sadly this doesn’t sit well with every sales manager or training manager.

Where along the continuum are you, my friends in sales management and training and development? Transactional sales training for customers that’s over and done in a day or two? Or do you seek to transform your salespeople to offer new insights to the clients whom you want and need?

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