According to ASTD's 2008 State of Industry Report, the average working person in the US participates in just 1 day of career skills training each year. I bet you that there are quite a few people reading this right now thinking . . . "That's 1 more day than I received!"
Unfortunately, trainng is the first thing to go during challenging times and while I could literally go on for days about how foolish I think that philosophy is, I would rather offer some ways for you to keep at least some element of continual development alive.
The first thing I suggest (even for companies with hefty training budgets) is that each sales rep commit to investing in themselves by buying 1 sales book per month. We could have a lengthy discussion over who should be paying for that book, but we lose valuable training time by entering that debate. Here's another way of looking at it. Do you own stocks? Do you have a 401K? Well if you do, then you are investing in others. Perhaps its time to invest in yourself? We can always go to the library, but I prefer to own my books, mostly because I like to mark them up and librarians get pissy about that.
Here's where the fun starts. If you get a few employees on board with the "Book a month" club, you maximize your efforts because you can swap books out. Something else you can do that won't cost you a dime. Every now and again have a teammate do a verbal book report in one of the sales meetings. Here's how everyone wins. You will never "own" information better than when you have to teach it. Presenting it will also sharpen your public speaking skills and your team obviously benefits from the knowledge share.
Speaking of sales meetings, most suck! Let's be honest. Personally, I don't care what Jane's numbers are nor do I want to listen to administrative BS that would have made a better email for me to delete. On the other hand, there are educational components you can add to a sales meeting that will have everyone locked, loaded and ready for action. If you want the skinny on that, you will need to read my post on The UnSuckification Of The Weekly Sales Meeting http://salesplaybook.blogspot.com/2009/04/play-37-un-suckification-of-weekly.html
Mastermind Groups: This has been a key component of any training program I have implemented for the last 10 years. Its simply a gathering of sales reps (in person or by conference call), once to twice a month to discuss different sales topics. A few ideas for discussion: How do we get a prospect off the fence of indecision without compromising the sale, creative door openers, objection busters, compare intro letters, voice mails that get attention. You get the idea. It's a great venue for you to share best practices, strategies etc. I have one rule for my mastermind groups, it aint a bitch session! I encourage my reps to join two kinds of mastermind groups. An internal one and an external one meaning people outside your organization. By the way this is a great way for you to move some of those virtual (online) relationships from Linkedin, Twitter etc to real time.
Articles, blogs, e-zines: There is so much free information out there that you would probably need 3 lifetimes to read it all. Why not tap into some of that?
You can take these podcasts, articles etc send them to your teammates as pre work for an upcoming meeting and discuss. Perhaps you'll find yourself in a spirited debate. Fantastic! Perhaps that will lead to a new strategy that your team can own!
How about getting together with your teammates every now and again and each person does a 3 min presentation on something. Perhaps one of those articles, a topic such as social networking etc. When each person finishes the team offers constructive feedback.
In summary (God that sounds stuffy) I want to say that there is no substitute for having a professional development program at your company. There is much to be leveraged from having a team of people who are skilled at coaching sales professionals. If you don't have that or if you have recently lost that, I will get right behind you in agreeing that it sucks!
My follow up question whenever someone tells me something like that is "Now what?"
If you think for one moment that these challenging times represent something that we just need to ride out then all I can say, is that you are missing an opportunity to build amazing new muscles.
Don't ever let lack of funds, company policy, the economy or anything ever stand in the way of your professional growth!
Paul Castain is the Vice President of Sales Development for Consolidated Graphics (CGX) one of North America’s leading general commercial printing companies. Paul has over 25 years of sales and sales leadership experience. He has trained, mentored and coached over 3,000 sales and sales leadership professionals. An accomplished public speaker, Paul has delivered numerous key note addresses. He has authored numerous training manuals, articles, blog posts and is currently working on his first book for release in 2011. Feel free to email Paul firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Paul Castain's Sales Play Book is blog dedicated to strengthening our sales game, supporting rock star development and developing jedi like skills. All that is required is a willingness to learn and a sick sense of humor!
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