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4imprint.com
Subject Matter
Experts
© 2015 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved
Training your salespeople to become subject
matter experts
Buyers can now discover nearly everything about companies, products and
services from websites and other Web sources, including what customers are
saying on social media. However, what they may not have easy access to are
trends, best practices or creative applications that offer solutions to their needs.
This is causing an information-gathering and expectation shift: Customers
are finding greater value from subject matter experts versus “traditional”
salespeople, and sales are reflecting this change.
Addressing this shift is a potential bottom-line opportunity for many
companies, one that likely means an internal reorganization and training
program to develop subject matter experts. Salespeople will be required to refine
their consultative skills, discover how customers are making buying decisions and
add greater value. And, while not every company may need
to radically restructure, many may benefit from ensuring their sales teams
are armed with greater knowledge and expertise about industry-related
challenges and the competitor marketplace.
This Blue Paper®
will overview the changes in customer behavior that are
shifting the need for subject matter experts. It will feature the benefits of
this approach, as well as any downsides. And, it will provide a guide for how
companies can help their salespeople become the kind of subject matter experts
that are valued by clients.
Technology and buying behavior
Whether you market to B2B or B2C industries, technology has changed buyer
behavior. Buyers are far better informed than ever before, thanks to the
Internet. In most cases, buyers have a good idea of what they want before they
engage with a particular supplier. Today’s technology allows buyers to:1
•	Research anything on the Web, from customer ratings and reviews to
product costs
•	“Showroom” by visiting a brick and mortar store to see products first hand
and then finding the best price online
•	Share and research products on social media channels
1 Priolo, Dario. Richardson Sales Training  Strategy Execution. N.p., 7 Jan. 2013. Web. http://blogs.richardson.
com/2013/01/07/strategies-for-changing-customer-behaviors/.
© 2015 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved
In fact, according to a 2013 B2B Global Buyer Survey, clients are often 57 percent
into the purchasing process before they contact a salesperson (Figure 1).2
Furthermore, because buyers are so far along in the process, much of the decision-
making is based solely on the quality of the content they are able to find on the
products or services.
Figure 1: Milestones in the customer purchase process (n=590)3
Figure 2: Cross-channel shopping behavior: those who do not research before
purchasing.4
A PricewaterhouseCoopers survey of U.S. consumers confirms that
research-first shopping behavior has increased.
2 Spenner, Patrick. “Demand Generation: How to Do It Right.” Web log post.CEB Blogs. N.p., 23 July 2014. Web.
27 Mar. 2015. https://www.executiveboard.com/blogs/demand-generation-how-to-do-it-right/?business_
line=marketing-communications.
3 Spenner, Patrick. “Demand Generation: How to Do It Right.” Web log post.CEB Blogs. N.p., 23 July 2014. Web.
27 Mar. 2015. https://www.executiveboard.com/blogs/demand-generation-how-to-do-it-right/?business_
line=marketing-communications.
4 Total Retail V Survey. Rep. Delaware: PricewaterhouseCoopers LLC, 2014. Print. United States (US). http://www.
pwc.com/en_US/us/retail-consumer/publications/assets/total-retail-2014-us.pdf.
© 2015 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved
Added to the trend of online research is the fact that people simply do not have
time to listen to a sales pitch or be contacted repeatedly by a salesperson who
doesn’t take no for an answer.
Therefore, consumers expect a salesperson to be consultative and to:
1.	Provide valuable insight and perspective
2.	Help identify alternatives that may better suit the consumers’ needs
3.	Help them navigate through the decision-making process and avoid
making bad decisions
4.	Provide on-going advice on new issues or solutions
So how do we provide that in today’s market? How can we arm the sales team
(and the marketing team) with the knowledge to meet the expectations of
knowledgeable consumers? How do we create opportunities to provide insight
and engage with customers during the early stages of the buying cycle?
Before salespeople even dive into a consultative selling approach, they can
use the same technology their customers use to find relevant sales leads.
Salespeople who are equipped with Web and social media data will find the
right prospects, understand where those prospects are in the sales funnel and
nurture them like a partner in the process, rather than an opportunity waiting
to happen.5
Armed with this knowledge, salespeople can take the next step in
the consultative approach.
In walks the subject matter expert
A subject matter expert (SME) is a person who is an authority in a
particular area or topic.6
An SME can often provide valuable insight and
fresh perspective to situations or scenarios within an area of expertise.
This sounds basic enough, but there is a give and take with everything. The
financial and internal resource investment required to train SMEs is an important
consideration for any business. When a business depends heavily on the success
of its salespeople, pulling them from the field to participate in training exercises
can be a costly and scary risk. Are the benefits enough to out-weigh the potential
loss due to less time in the field? This is a decision that each company will have to
decide for itself.
5 Glynn, Fergal. “Is Traditional Sales Obsolete? The Shift to Consultative Selling.” Salesforce Blog. N.p., 17
Dec. 2014. Web. 21 Apr. 2015. https://www.salesforce.com/blog/2014/12/traditional-sales-obsolete-shift-
consultative-selling-gp.html.
6 Torres, Jesse. “5 Steps to Becoming a Subject Matter Expert.” LinkedIn Pulse. Web. 21 April 2014. https://www.
linkedin.com/pulse/20140421082247-6260457-sell-more-become-a-subject-matter-expert-in-five-steps.
© 2015 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved
Is a team of SMEs right for your business?
Even if you feel that training your salespeople to be SMEs is the logical choice at
this point, let’s still take a quick look at some of the benefits and risks that need
to be evaluated. Assuming that the subject matter experts are well trained, here
are some of the pros and cons of a SME approach:
Figure 3: The pros and cons of an SME approach
Is the potential value-add of a subject matter expert sales team worth the cost,
risk and resources in your business?
Each business is unique and may need to consider additional factors not
listed above:7
•	Is your team of salespeople in the office or do they work remotely?
What are the logistical considerations for providing the type of
training that will be required?
•	Has your sales process remained unchanged for several years? Are
there process changes that need to happen to accommodate a new
sales approach?
•	Does the company leadership understand and embrace a new approach?
7 Priolo, Dario. “5 Strategies for Keeping Pace with Changing Customer Buying Behaviors.” Richardson Sales
Training  Strategy Execution. N.p., 7 Jan. 2013. Web. http://blogs.richardson.com/2013/01/07/strategies-for-
changing-customer-behaviors/.
© 2015 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved
Combatting the growing
“know-it-all-consumer” trend
Neil Patel, Co-Founder of CrazyEgg, StrideApp, HelloBar and KISSMetrics,
says salespeople must create a mental connection, providing a psychological
understanding and building a relationship with the consumer.8
This builds trust.
You build trust through engagement and interactions with customers.
Therefore, salespeople must change processes and adapt to current trends and
expectations to survive. They have to find ways to engage with the consumer
during the research phase. They must build a relationship with the consumer—
making themselves a valuable, go-to resource. But, how? By taking a pro-active
approach to shaping opportunities and helping the customer define the issues
they’re facing. Opportunities can also be created by outlining possible issues that
may not be on customers’ radar yet, but may impact them in the near future.
Here is a story of a financial company that chose to take the leap and re-focus its
sales team to be subject matter experts.
Transforming sales professionals to add value and
increase revenue
An unnamed diversified financial services company was determined to create a
new sales culture to become one of the top five wealth management firms while
doubling its revenues in that same period.9
In order to accomplish this, it created
a new culture of “future state wealth managers” that focused on sales and
training systems to enable the sales team to expand customer relationships. It also
created a consistent message and framework that emphasized the use of subject
matter experts as well as training materials that focused on ways to add value to
customers through a more consultative and solution-driven approach.
As a result of the refocused and restructured selling process, the company
experienced immediate and significant improvements, including an average
increase in sales generated per salesperson by $100,000, a total company
revenue increase upwards of $50 million, and a nearly 200:1 return on the
training investment.
8 Patel, Neil. “5 Old-School Sales Techniques to Bring Back.” Web log post. Marketing Land. Third Door Media,
Inc., 07 Nov. 2014. Web. 27 Mar. 2015. http://marketingland.com/5-old-school-sales-techniques-we-need-to-
bring-back-to-online-marketing-104389.
9 Richardson Group, Inc. Deepen Relationships and Better Capitalize on All Opportunities. Case Study.
PHILADELPHIA: Richardson Group, 2011. Print.
© 2015 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved
Refocusing on what a company does best and highlighting the subject matter
experts within the organization can have a noticeable impact on a company’s
bottom-line. While you may not be able to undertake a complete transformation,
you can still make significant changes within your organization to put your team
and your selling practices on the right track.
So are you ready to get started?
Start with the right training process
Products are constantly changing. Solutions are getting increasingly
more robust, and features are becoming more advanced. It’s no wonder
that salespeople find it hard to remember all of their training and to
apply it during those critical moments.
Help them keep up by providing the proper training process.
There are three main stages to developing an effective sales training process:
pre-training, training and post-training.10
Pre-training involves making changes
to internal processes to allow for an improved overall training program. Training
turns ordinary salespeople into superior subject matter experts. The post-training
stage will help you to nurture your investment and maintain your new team of SMEs.
Stage 1: Pre-training
Know your audience.
Consumers can research products and solutions but they can’t get the whole
picture without extensive research. Keep your salespeople one step ahead by
training on the trends, best practices or creative applications that determine if a
solution is a good fit.11
Consumers still value the subject matter experts that can
provide this added insight.
“Your biggest competition is NOT other companies—it’s your customers,”
according to a CEB blog. “Specifically, it’s the customers’ ability to learn on their
own, meaning they determine needs, and establish buying criteria and budgets
before reaching out to suppliers.”12
10 Priolo, Dario. “7 Essential Ingredients in Creating Effective Sales Training Programs for Sales Teams.” The
Richardson Sales Excellence Review™
. Richardson, 06 Sept. 2013. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. http://blogs.richardson.
com/2013/09/06/7-essential-ingredients-creating-effective-sales-training-programs-sales-teams/.
11 Altman, Iam. “Top 10 Trends in Sales and Business Development for 2014.” Web log post. Grow My Revenue.
N.p., 4 Sept. 2014. Web. 27 Mar. 2015. http://www.growmyrevenue.com/3724/2014-trends-sales-and-
business/.
12 Cash, Jessica. Infographic: The Blueprint for Successful Sales Transformation. Digital image. CEB Blogs. CEB,
16 Feb. 2015. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. https://www.executiveboard.com/blogs/infographic-the-blueprint-for-a-
successful-sales-transformation/?business_line=sales-service.
© 2015 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved
Understand your customers.
1. Understand how they make buying decisions. What factors are most
important? We spoke about this earlier, but it’s important to understand
how customers in your industry make buying decisions and move
through the sales cycle. PricewaterhouseCoopers conducts a yearly
consumer-research survey. The report is free and available to the public,
and you may find some valuable insight in it. Visit www.pwc.com for
more information, or view the 2014 Total Retail V Survey report.
2. Know the current trends in buyer behavior. Economical and sociological
trends influence buyer behavior. Understanding how customers make
buying decisions is one thing, but you also need to keep up to date with
the trends. Pay attention to how these trends change from year to year.
Doing so can help you notice when trends start to shift so that you can
adjust your tactics accordingly and offer more valuable insights.
There are a number of reliable sources that produce yearly reports on
consumer buying behavior and trends. Here are a few you might try:
•	 PricewaterhouseCoopers – www.pwc.com
•	 Mintel – www.mintel.com
•	 Trend Watching – www.trendwatching.com
•	 VendHQ – www.vendhq.com
3. Watch for actionable opportunities so that you can provide the most
value. By understanding how your customers make buying decisions
and by watching current trends, you can find opportunities to provide
added insight and value.13
You can use this information to prepare real-world scenarios showcasing
opportunities for your products or services that will arm your salespeople with the
extra edge they need to stand out above the noise.
It is important to keep in mind that value is defined by the customers’ perceptions
of what they get versus what they pay for it. This means that value is always
determined by the customer and not the salesperson.14
“If there is a choice
between value and price, value always wins.”15
13 “FEB 2015 TREND BRIEFING - 10 TRENDS FOR 2015.” TrendWatching.com. N.p.,
Feb. 2015. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. http://www.site.co.uk/drag_it/search/site_drag/
aHR0cDovL3RyZW5kd2F0Y2hpbmcuY29tL3RyZW5kcy8xMC10cmVuZHMtZm9yLTIwMTUv/trendwatching.
com+%7C+ .
14 Rickard, Joe. “Sales Techniques to Create Value | MyPRINTResource.com.”MyPRINTResource.com. N.p., 1
Dec. 2012. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. http://www.myprintresource.com/article/10819538/sales-clinic-five-steps-for-
salespeople-to-create-more-value.
15 Rickard, Joe. “Sales Techniques to Create Value | MyPRINTResource.com.”MyPRINTResource.com. N.p., 1
Dec. 2012. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. http://www.myprintresource.com/article/10819538/sales-clinic-five-steps-for-
salespeople-to-create-more-value.
© 2015 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved
Salespeople create value by understanding the needs of their customers and then
creating solutions to meet those needs.16
This involves managing relationships
and gathering information about their customers, the competition and, of course,
about their products and solutions. The more information a salesperson gathers,
the more valuable he or she becomes.
Align with the strategy, goals and needs of your business.
Any training program you create needs to align with your company’s strategic
objectives, goals and needs.17
If the training program can’t answer the following
questions, you’ll need to modify it or start over.
•	How does your sales training program help support your
strategic objectives?
•	What behavior are you hoping to drive with your sales process?
•	What types of things will your sales team have to do differently?
•	What new techniques will your sales team need to learn to achieve
the desired outcome?
It’s important to be able to connect the dots between your senior
management team, the sales team and the marketing team. The outcome
will be much more effective and efficient if everyone is driving toward the
same goals.
Implement a training process that is more than a one-off event.
To retain information and to be successful, your salespeople need training that
is consistent, relevant and ongoing. Think of this as a continuous improvement
process. It may include better aligning sales training priorities with business
objectives, planning for future needs, keeping current in sales training methods,
deciding how to allocate training budgets and leveraging external training
providers when appropriate.18
Based on a 2014 study by Richardson Group Inc. and Training Industry Inc., only 22
percent of organizations said their sales training helped turn prospects into leads.
Furthermore, slightly more than half of the organizations surveyed said that
16 Tanner, John F., Jr., and Mary A. Raymond. “Principles of Marketing, v. 2.0.”Flat World Knowledge. Flat
World Education, Inc., 2012. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. http://catalog.flatworldknowledge.com/bookhub/
reader/5229?e=fwk-133234-ch13_s01.
17 Priolo, Dario. “7 Essential Ingredients in Creating Effective Sales Training Programs for Sales Teams.” The
Richardson Sales Excellence Review™. Richardson, 06 Sept. 2013. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. http://blogs.richardson.
com/2013/09/06/7-essential-ingredients-creating-effective-sales-training-programs-sales-teams/.
18 Richardson Group, Inc., and Training Industry, Inc. Best Practices in Design and Delivery of Sales Training
Programs. Rep. Richardson Group, Inc., Jan. 2015. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. https://www.richardson.com/PageFiles/
Articles/Richardson_Jan2014_Report_vF1815.pdf.
© 2015 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved
continuing to increase the skills and knowledge of sales people on a regular basis
was the top trend affecting development of their sales training.19
Figure 4: Trends affecting sales training development.
Some of the key takeaways from the Best Practices in Design and Delivery of
Sales Training Programs report are as follows:20
Training delivery methods were shown to conform to the following trends:
•	Instructor-led classroom training, on-the-job training and on-the-job
coaching are currently used most frequently
•	Instructor-led online training, video-based learning, mobile learning and
social learning are most frequently identified for planned use
•	On-the-job coaching, classroom training and on-the-job training were rated
the most effective methods
•	Gamification, mobile/social learning, simulations, videos and e-learning are
seen as the least relevant to effectiveness
Read the full report for more detailed information.
19 “Best Practices In the Delivery of Sales Training Solutions.” Richardson.com. n.d. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. http://
info.richardson.com/best-practices-in-the-delivery-of-sales-training-solutions-hp.
20 Richardson Group, Inc., and Training Industry, Inc. Best Practices in Design and Delivery of Sales Training
Programs. Rep. Richardson Group, Inc., pg. 4, Jan. 2015. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. https://www.richardson.com/
PageFiles/Articles/Richardson_Jan2014_Report_vF1815.pdf.
© 2015 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved
Stage 2: Training
Build on what works.
Study your best performers. Re-analyze your best practices. Look closely at how
you can better leverage those methods or the experience of your best performers.
Are there processes you want to replicate from other areas of your business across
the training process?
Enable your salespeople by encouraging or coordinating cross-departmental
collaboration. Marketing departments can work with your best performers
to develop materials that help salespeople better understand, engage and sell
to customers.21
According to a recent study, about half of customer loyalty is due to the value
and understanding salespeople provide. This value and understanding is more
powerful in influencing customer loyalty than all other factors combined.
Develop relevant training examples and materials.
Leverage a variety of resources (marketing managers, top-performing salespeople,
third-party sales trainers, industry experts and the like) to create learning
principles that are highly relevant to real-world scenarios. The real challenge,
however, is finding ways to unlock the knowledge and experience of your best
salespeople and marketing team so that you can package it and train your entire
sales team to share those insights with customers.22
If you use an instructor-led training program, make sure it focuses on how sales
reps actually do their jobs in order to make the training most applicable.23
It’s difficult to know when certain questions or scenarios may arise during
customer engagements. Do the best you can. Focus on developing a series of real-
world scenarios and ideal responses. The responses need to be pre-programmed
into the minds of your salespeople. The more natural and fluent the sharing of
insight is, the bigger the advantage.
21 Cash, Jessica. “Why You Shouldn’t Neglect Sales Enablement.” CEB Blogs. CEB, 23 Mar. 2015. Web. 29 Mar.
2015. https://www.executiveboard.com/blogs/why-you-shouldnt-neglect-sales-enablement/?business_
line=sales-service.
22 Priolo, Dario. “7 Essential Ingredients in Creating Effective Sales Training Programs for Sales Teams.” The
Richardson Sales Excellence Review™. Richardson, 06 Sept. 2013. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. http://blogs.richardson.
com/2013/09/06/7-essential-ingredients-creating-effective-sales-training-programs-sales-teams/.
23 Priolo, Dario. “What Is the Role of Technology in Sales Training Solutions?” Web log post. The Richardson
Sales Excellence Review™. Richardson Group, Inc., 09 Sept. 2013. Web. 30 Mar. 2015. http://blogs.richardson.
com/2013/09/09/role-technology-sales-training-solutions/.
© 2015 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved
When building your training materials, make sure they cover all aspects of the
sales cycle.24
Cover every step, from qualifying leads to getting through the
gatekeeper to closing the deal and everything in-between. Provide clear examples
and scenarios of how your salespeople should share their valuable insight with
customers. This might include sample case studies or whitepapers. Role-playing
is an example of a hands-on experience you can provide in training. Hands-on
activities ensure that your sales team is more likely to retain the lessons learned.
Tips to developing role-playing activities:25
1.	 Use real-world scenarios. Be as specific to your company, your salespeople
and your challenges as possible.
2.	 Use front-line managers and/or top sales people to play the role of
the customer. These are the people who have the most knowledge
of best practices.
3.	 By using front-line managers, sales people will receive immediate,
constructive and in-depth feedback.
To read more on integrating role play into your training efforts, read our
Blue Paper on this topic.
Incorporate training about competitors.
Your salespeople can provide even greater value to a customer if they understand
their own—and their competition’s—solutions inside and out. Educate your
salespeople on competing product lines. They should know the strengths and
weaknesses, and how they compare to their own products or solutions.26
You
may even want to have each salesperson do an assignment or two (gathering
information through research is all part of the process after all) to compare
competitor’s products to their own. Help your salespeople identify differentiators
so they can share them during conversations with prospects and customers.
Provide meaning, and not just direction.
It’s important to provide examples and meaning behind the changes you’re
making as an organization and within the sales team. Take time to explain
why you’re making the changes you’ve chosen to make and the impact you
24 Brooks, Mike. “Make Sales Training More Effective.” EyesOnSales. 3 Oct. 2013. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. http://
www.eyesonsales.com/content/article/three_techniques_to_make_your_sales_training_more_effective/.
25 Ruff, Richard. “Sales Training—Role-Plays Done Right Can Play a Key Part.” LinkedIn Pulse. Web. 5 May 2014.
https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140505144436-29554219-sales-training-role-plays-done-right-can-play-a-
key-part.
26 Beesley, Caron. “Train Your Sales Reps to Be Superior SMEs.” Web log post.Blogs - Managing a Business. SBA,
17 Jan. 2013. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. https://www.sba.gov/blogs/how-train-your-sales-reps-be-superior-subject-
matter-experts.
© 2015 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved
feel it could have (or that you expect). When possible, provide statistics from
related case studies where other companies made similar changes and had a
positive result.
Anytime you can apply meaning to change, you make it easier for everyone
to believe in the changes and to accept them. It’s important that everyone have
a cohesive vision so that the overarching strategic initiatives and goals remain
the focus.
Stage 3: Post-training
According to Richardson Training  Effectiveness Solutions,
“80 percent of what employees learn is forgotten within 90 days.”27
Develop methods for continued learning to maximize retention.
It’s difficult to retain new skills when we’re unable to practice them on a daily
basis. No one can practice or predict every sales scenario that your sales team
may encounter. You also can’t hold regular, lengthy training sessions when your
salespeople are needed in the field. So how do you ensure that the training you
provide is retained and not simply forgotten?
Here’s how:
•	Each day, or at a schedule you feel works best for your sales team, send a
scenario-based situation to each sales team member.
•	Allow the sales team to share its ideas or thoughts on the best response
or approach to the scenario. This can be done through multiple choice or
another simple method. The key is to keep these mini lessons to short,
five-minute exercises.
Make the daily lessons fun! Incorporate real-time tracking of results and
participation with a leader board, or encourage online discussions of the
situations and best ways to respond. Finding ways to encourage interaction
among your team will also aid in engagement and understanding.
27 “Richardson QuickCheck Improves Knowledge Retention.” Improve Knowledge Retention and Training ROI.
Richardson Group, Inc., n.d. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. https://www.richardson.com/Featured-Richardson/richardson-
quickcheck/.
© 2015 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved
Leverage technology.
It’s a challenge to reinforce best practices following training, but there are things
you can do to make your training last. Don’t be afraid to put technology to work
for you!
1.	Try recording your lessons in advance to share them with your salespeople
prior to the scheduled training session(s). Require that each salesperson
pre-view the recorded lesson. That way the time spent in the classroom
can be used for more practical skill building and role-playing as opposed
to just lectures.28
2.	Videotape training role-play sessions. Recording role-playing sessions can
also aid in demonstrating areas for improvement.
3.	Use CRM and sales automation triggers to help salespeople to use the
training they’ve received. Embed skill development into a technology
workflow tool like a CRM system or other sales and marketing
automation systems.
4.	Leverage social media to help your trained SMEs stay focused and gain
further mastery of the topics covered. You can build a forum or create
discussion groups on LinkedIn®
to encourage continuous learning. Perhaps
restrict membership in these discussion groups to salespeople who have
completed the training or portions of the training. This is also a way for
sales managers to influence and monitor the chatter and to glean ideas
for additional training opportunities.
Communicate, communicate and communicate.
Just as steady communication was needed at the onset of the
transformation or change, communication is extremely important to
help strengthen and maintain the vision. Communication also helps provide
ongoing focus across your company. Make sure that this new process involves
marketing, senior management and sales so everyone remains focused and
working toward the same goals.
You can never communicate too much. Whenever you’re trying to initiate change
within your organization and you’re asking people to think differently or to
operate differently, you MUST communicate this throughout your organization.
28 Priolo, Dario. “7 Essential Ingredients in Creating Effective Sales Training Programs for Sales Teams.” The
Richardson Sales Excellence Review™. Richardson, 06 Sept. 2013. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. http://blogs.richardson.
com/2013/09/06/7-essential-ingredients-creating-effective-sales-training-programs-sales-teams/.
© 2015 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved
Reinforce the message and behaviors you want to instill in your trainees. Use
multiple channels to “drip” the message over time.29
Examples of ways to share the message:
•	Posters
•	Email
•	Break room message boards
•	Webinars
•	Internal social networking groups
•	Lunch and Learns
•	Intranet
Measure the results.
As with any campaign, tool or sales process, it is extremely important to
measure the results of your training efforts. This can’t be stressed enough.
Track completed sales. Track customer retention. Track the confidence of your
salespeople. Track changes in revenue. Track every aspect of your sales cycle
that might provide feedback as to whether your new training methods are
paying off. Continue to make adjustments as needed to meet your company’s
strategic objectives and goals.
Let’s review the steps we’ve discussed
•	A well-trained and well-prepared Subject Matter Expert (SME) can
better meet the expectations of today’s consumer by providing fresh
insight and perspective, and that adds value.
•	Marketing teams and sales teams need to work together to develop training
materials as well as appropriate customer-facing messages and materials.
•	Incorporate ways to encourage and sustain the retention of your
training program(s).
•	Leverage technology where you can to alleviate the time involved in
maintaining the sales training lessons learned.
•	Never underestimate the importance of communicating your expectations
and the desired behavior.
•	Always measure the results so that you can continue to improve the process.
29 Priolo, Dario. “7 Essential Ingredients in Creating Effective Sales Training Programs for Sales Teams.” The
Richardson Sales Excellence Review™. Richardson, 06 Sept. 2013. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. http://blogs.richardson.
com/2013/09/06/7-essential-ingredients-creating-effective-sales-training-programs-sales-teams/.
© 2015 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved
4imprint serves more than 100,000 businesses with innovative promotional items throughout the United States,
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Every company is different and will require a unique approach to training
salespeople to be subject matter experts. We hope this Blue Paper has provided
the groundwork for assessing whether investing in the development of SMEs is
right for your business, what steps are necessary to get started and how to keep
the momentum going.
Additional resources
•	Insight Selling – Essential Skills for Shaping and Creating Sales
Opportunities
http://blogs.richardson.com/2014/10/07/insight-selling-essential-skills-shaping-
and-creating-sales-opportunities/
•	Insight Selling – How to Move Beyond an Inward Focus and a
Product-based Message
http://blogs.richardson.com/2014/09/09/insight-selling-move-beyond-inward-
focus-product-based-message/
•	Are Your Salespeople Poised to Sell to Today’s Buyers?
http://blogs.richardson.com/2014/08/20/salespeople-poised-sell-todays-buyers/

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Subject Matter Experts Blue Paper

  • 2. © 2015 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved Training your salespeople to become subject matter experts Buyers can now discover nearly everything about companies, products and services from websites and other Web sources, including what customers are saying on social media. However, what they may not have easy access to are trends, best practices or creative applications that offer solutions to their needs. This is causing an information-gathering and expectation shift: Customers are finding greater value from subject matter experts versus “traditional” salespeople, and sales are reflecting this change. Addressing this shift is a potential bottom-line opportunity for many companies, one that likely means an internal reorganization and training program to develop subject matter experts. Salespeople will be required to refine their consultative skills, discover how customers are making buying decisions and add greater value. And, while not every company may need to radically restructure, many may benefit from ensuring their sales teams are armed with greater knowledge and expertise about industry-related challenges and the competitor marketplace. This Blue Paper® will overview the changes in customer behavior that are shifting the need for subject matter experts. It will feature the benefits of this approach, as well as any downsides. And, it will provide a guide for how companies can help their salespeople become the kind of subject matter experts that are valued by clients. Technology and buying behavior Whether you market to B2B or B2C industries, technology has changed buyer behavior. Buyers are far better informed than ever before, thanks to the Internet. In most cases, buyers have a good idea of what they want before they engage with a particular supplier. Today’s technology allows buyers to:1 • Research anything on the Web, from customer ratings and reviews to product costs • “Showroom” by visiting a brick and mortar store to see products first hand and then finding the best price online • Share and research products on social media channels 1 Priolo, Dario. Richardson Sales Training Strategy Execution. N.p., 7 Jan. 2013. Web. http://blogs.richardson. com/2013/01/07/strategies-for-changing-customer-behaviors/.
  • 3. © 2015 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved In fact, according to a 2013 B2B Global Buyer Survey, clients are often 57 percent into the purchasing process before they contact a salesperson (Figure 1).2 Furthermore, because buyers are so far along in the process, much of the decision- making is based solely on the quality of the content they are able to find on the products or services. Figure 1: Milestones in the customer purchase process (n=590)3 Figure 2: Cross-channel shopping behavior: those who do not research before purchasing.4 A PricewaterhouseCoopers survey of U.S. consumers confirms that research-first shopping behavior has increased. 2 Spenner, Patrick. “Demand Generation: How to Do It Right.” Web log post.CEB Blogs. N.p., 23 July 2014. Web. 27 Mar. 2015. https://www.executiveboard.com/blogs/demand-generation-how-to-do-it-right/?business_ line=marketing-communications. 3 Spenner, Patrick. “Demand Generation: How to Do It Right.” Web log post.CEB Blogs. N.p., 23 July 2014. Web. 27 Mar. 2015. https://www.executiveboard.com/blogs/demand-generation-how-to-do-it-right/?business_ line=marketing-communications. 4 Total Retail V Survey. Rep. Delaware: PricewaterhouseCoopers LLC, 2014. Print. United States (US). http://www. pwc.com/en_US/us/retail-consumer/publications/assets/total-retail-2014-us.pdf.
  • 4. © 2015 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved Added to the trend of online research is the fact that people simply do not have time to listen to a sales pitch or be contacted repeatedly by a salesperson who doesn’t take no for an answer. Therefore, consumers expect a salesperson to be consultative and to: 1. Provide valuable insight and perspective 2. Help identify alternatives that may better suit the consumers’ needs 3. Help them navigate through the decision-making process and avoid making bad decisions 4. Provide on-going advice on new issues or solutions So how do we provide that in today’s market? How can we arm the sales team (and the marketing team) with the knowledge to meet the expectations of knowledgeable consumers? How do we create opportunities to provide insight and engage with customers during the early stages of the buying cycle? Before salespeople even dive into a consultative selling approach, they can use the same technology their customers use to find relevant sales leads. Salespeople who are equipped with Web and social media data will find the right prospects, understand where those prospects are in the sales funnel and nurture them like a partner in the process, rather than an opportunity waiting to happen.5 Armed with this knowledge, salespeople can take the next step in the consultative approach. In walks the subject matter expert A subject matter expert (SME) is a person who is an authority in a particular area or topic.6 An SME can often provide valuable insight and fresh perspective to situations or scenarios within an area of expertise. This sounds basic enough, but there is a give and take with everything. The financial and internal resource investment required to train SMEs is an important consideration for any business. When a business depends heavily on the success of its salespeople, pulling them from the field to participate in training exercises can be a costly and scary risk. Are the benefits enough to out-weigh the potential loss due to less time in the field? This is a decision that each company will have to decide for itself. 5 Glynn, Fergal. “Is Traditional Sales Obsolete? The Shift to Consultative Selling.” Salesforce Blog. N.p., 17 Dec. 2014. Web. 21 Apr. 2015. https://www.salesforce.com/blog/2014/12/traditional-sales-obsolete-shift- consultative-selling-gp.html. 6 Torres, Jesse. “5 Steps to Becoming a Subject Matter Expert.” LinkedIn Pulse. Web. 21 April 2014. https://www. linkedin.com/pulse/20140421082247-6260457-sell-more-become-a-subject-matter-expert-in-five-steps.
  • 5. © 2015 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved Is a team of SMEs right for your business? Even if you feel that training your salespeople to be SMEs is the logical choice at this point, let’s still take a quick look at some of the benefits and risks that need to be evaluated. Assuming that the subject matter experts are well trained, here are some of the pros and cons of a SME approach: Figure 3: The pros and cons of an SME approach Is the potential value-add of a subject matter expert sales team worth the cost, risk and resources in your business? Each business is unique and may need to consider additional factors not listed above:7 • Is your team of salespeople in the office or do they work remotely? What are the logistical considerations for providing the type of training that will be required? • Has your sales process remained unchanged for several years? Are there process changes that need to happen to accommodate a new sales approach? • Does the company leadership understand and embrace a new approach? 7 Priolo, Dario. “5 Strategies for Keeping Pace with Changing Customer Buying Behaviors.” Richardson Sales Training Strategy Execution. N.p., 7 Jan. 2013. Web. http://blogs.richardson.com/2013/01/07/strategies-for- changing-customer-behaviors/.
  • 6. © 2015 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved Combatting the growing “know-it-all-consumer” trend Neil Patel, Co-Founder of CrazyEgg, StrideApp, HelloBar and KISSMetrics, says salespeople must create a mental connection, providing a psychological understanding and building a relationship with the consumer.8 This builds trust. You build trust through engagement and interactions with customers. Therefore, salespeople must change processes and adapt to current trends and expectations to survive. They have to find ways to engage with the consumer during the research phase. They must build a relationship with the consumer— making themselves a valuable, go-to resource. But, how? By taking a pro-active approach to shaping opportunities and helping the customer define the issues they’re facing. Opportunities can also be created by outlining possible issues that may not be on customers’ radar yet, but may impact them in the near future. Here is a story of a financial company that chose to take the leap and re-focus its sales team to be subject matter experts. Transforming sales professionals to add value and increase revenue An unnamed diversified financial services company was determined to create a new sales culture to become one of the top five wealth management firms while doubling its revenues in that same period.9 In order to accomplish this, it created a new culture of “future state wealth managers” that focused on sales and training systems to enable the sales team to expand customer relationships. It also created a consistent message and framework that emphasized the use of subject matter experts as well as training materials that focused on ways to add value to customers through a more consultative and solution-driven approach. As a result of the refocused and restructured selling process, the company experienced immediate and significant improvements, including an average increase in sales generated per salesperson by $100,000, a total company revenue increase upwards of $50 million, and a nearly 200:1 return on the training investment. 8 Patel, Neil. “5 Old-School Sales Techniques to Bring Back.” Web log post. Marketing Land. Third Door Media, Inc., 07 Nov. 2014. Web. 27 Mar. 2015. http://marketingland.com/5-old-school-sales-techniques-we-need-to- bring-back-to-online-marketing-104389. 9 Richardson Group, Inc. Deepen Relationships and Better Capitalize on All Opportunities. Case Study. PHILADELPHIA: Richardson Group, 2011. Print.
  • 7. © 2015 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved Refocusing on what a company does best and highlighting the subject matter experts within the organization can have a noticeable impact on a company’s bottom-line. While you may not be able to undertake a complete transformation, you can still make significant changes within your organization to put your team and your selling practices on the right track. So are you ready to get started? Start with the right training process Products are constantly changing. Solutions are getting increasingly more robust, and features are becoming more advanced. It’s no wonder that salespeople find it hard to remember all of their training and to apply it during those critical moments. Help them keep up by providing the proper training process. There are three main stages to developing an effective sales training process: pre-training, training and post-training.10 Pre-training involves making changes to internal processes to allow for an improved overall training program. Training turns ordinary salespeople into superior subject matter experts. The post-training stage will help you to nurture your investment and maintain your new team of SMEs. Stage 1: Pre-training Know your audience. Consumers can research products and solutions but they can’t get the whole picture without extensive research. Keep your salespeople one step ahead by training on the trends, best practices or creative applications that determine if a solution is a good fit.11 Consumers still value the subject matter experts that can provide this added insight. “Your biggest competition is NOT other companies—it’s your customers,” according to a CEB blog. “Specifically, it’s the customers’ ability to learn on their own, meaning they determine needs, and establish buying criteria and budgets before reaching out to suppliers.”12 10 Priolo, Dario. “7 Essential Ingredients in Creating Effective Sales Training Programs for Sales Teams.” The Richardson Sales Excellence Review™ . Richardson, 06 Sept. 2013. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. http://blogs.richardson. com/2013/09/06/7-essential-ingredients-creating-effective-sales-training-programs-sales-teams/. 11 Altman, Iam. “Top 10 Trends in Sales and Business Development for 2014.” Web log post. Grow My Revenue. N.p., 4 Sept. 2014. Web. 27 Mar. 2015. http://www.growmyrevenue.com/3724/2014-trends-sales-and- business/. 12 Cash, Jessica. Infographic: The Blueprint for Successful Sales Transformation. Digital image. CEB Blogs. CEB, 16 Feb. 2015. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. https://www.executiveboard.com/blogs/infographic-the-blueprint-for-a- successful-sales-transformation/?business_line=sales-service.
  • 8. © 2015 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved Understand your customers. 1. Understand how they make buying decisions. What factors are most important? We spoke about this earlier, but it’s important to understand how customers in your industry make buying decisions and move through the sales cycle. PricewaterhouseCoopers conducts a yearly consumer-research survey. The report is free and available to the public, and you may find some valuable insight in it. Visit www.pwc.com for more information, or view the 2014 Total Retail V Survey report. 2. Know the current trends in buyer behavior. Economical and sociological trends influence buyer behavior. Understanding how customers make buying decisions is one thing, but you also need to keep up to date with the trends. Pay attention to how these trends change from year to year. Doing so can help you notice when trends start to shift so that you can adjust your tactics accordingly and offer more valuable insights. There are a number of reliable sources that produce yearly reports on consumer buying behavior and trends. Here are a few you might try: • PricewaterhouseCoopers – www.pwc.com • Mintel – www.mintel.com • Trend Watching – www.trendwatching.com • VendHQ – www.vendhq.com 3. Watch for actionable opportunities so that you can provide the most value. By understanding how your customers make buying decisions and by watching current trends, you can find opportunities to provide added insight and value.13 You can use this information to prepare real-world scenarios showcasing opportunities for your products or services that will arm your salespeople with the extra edge they need to stand out above the noise. It is important to keep in mind that value is defined by the customers’ perceptions of what they get versus what they pay for it. This means that value is always determined by the customer and not the salesperson.14 “If there is a choice between value and price, value always wins.”15 13 “FEB 2015 TREND BRIEFING - 10 TRENDS FOR 2015.” TrendWatching.com. N.p., Feb. 2015. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. http://www.site.co.uk/drag_it/search/site_drag/ aHR0cDovL3RyZW5kd2F0Y2hpbmcuY29tL3RyZW5kcy8xMC10cmVuZHMtZm9yLTIwMTUv/trendwatching. com+%7C+ . 14 Rickard, Joe. “Sales Techniques to Create Value | MyPRINTResource.com.”MyPRINTResource.com. N.p., 1 Dec. 2012. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. http://www.myprintresource.com/article/10819538/sales-clinic-five-steps-for- salespeople-to-create-more-value. 15 Rickard, Joe. “Sales Techniques to Create Value | MyPRINTResource.com.”MyPRINTResource.com. N.p., 1 Dec. 2012. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. http://www.myprintresource.com/article/10819538/sales-clinic-five-steps-for- salespeople-to-create-more-value.
  • 9. © 2015 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved Salespeople create value by understanding the needs of their customers and then creating solutions to meet those needs.16 This involves managing relationships and gathering information about their customers, the competition and, of course, about their products and solutions. The more information a salesperson gathers, the more valuable he or she becomes. Align with the strategy, goals and needs of your business. Any training program you create needs to align with your company’s strategic objectives, goals and needs.17 If the training program can’t answer the following questions, you’ll need to modify it or start over. • How does your sales training program help support your strategic objectives? • What behavior are you hoping to drive with your sales process? • What types of things will your sales team have to do differently? • What new techniques will your sales team need to learn to achieve the desired outcome? It’s important to be able to connect the dots between your senior management team, the sales team and the marketing team. The outcome will be much more effective and efficient if everyone is driving toward the same goals. Implement a training process that is more than a one-off event. To retain information and to be successful, your salespeople need training that is consistent, relevant and ongoing. Think of this as a continuous improvement process. It may include better aligning sales training priorities with business objectives, planning for future needs, keeping current in sales training methods, deciding how to allocate training budgets and leveraging external training providers when appropriate.18 Based on a 2014 study by Richardson Group Inc. and Training Industry Inc., only 22 percent of organizations said their sales training helped turn prospects into leads. Furthermore, slightly more than half of the organizations surveyed said that 16 Tanner, John F., Jr., and Mary A. Raymond. “Principles of Marketing, v. 2.0.”Flat World Knowledge. Flat World Education, Inc., 2012. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. http://catalog.flatworldknowledge.com/bookhub/ reader/5229?e=fwk-133234-ch13_s01. 17 Priolo, Dario. “7 Essential Ingredients in Creating Effective Sales Training Programs for Sales Teams.” The Richardson Sales Excellence Review™. Richardson, 06 Sept. 2013. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. http://blogs.richardson. com/2013/09/06/7-essential-ingredients-creating-effective-sales-training-programs-sales-teams/. 18 Richardson Group, Inc., and Training Industry, Inc. Best Practices in Design and Delivery of Sales Training Programs. Rep. Richardson Group, Inc., Jan. 2015. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. https://www.richardson.com/PageFiles/ Articles/Richardson_Jan2014_Report_vF1815.pdf.
  • 10. © 2015 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved continuing to increase the skills and knowledge of sales people on a regular basis was the top trend affecting development of their sales training.19 Figure 4: Trends affecting sales training development. Some of the key takeaways from the Best Practices in Design and Delivery of Sales Training Programs report are as follows:20 Training delivery methods were shown to conform to the following trends: • Instructor-led classroom training, on-the-job training and on-the-job coaching are currently used most frequently • Instructor-led online training, video-based learning, mobile learning and social learning are most frequently identified for planned use • On-the-job coaching, classroom training and on-the-job training were rated the most effective methods • Gamification, mobile/social learning, simulations, videos and e-learning are seen as the least relevant to effectiveness Read the full report for more detailed information. 19 “Best Practices In the Delivery of Sales Training Solutions.” Richardson.com. n.d. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. http:// info.richardson.com/best-practices-in-the-delivery-of-sales-training-solutions-hp. 20 Richardson Group, Inc., and Training Industry, Inc. Best Practices in Design and Delivery of Sales Training Programs. Rep. Richardson Group, Inc., pg. 4, Jan. 2015. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. https://www.richardson.com/ PageFiles/Articles/Richardson_Jan2014_Report_vF1815.pdf.
  • 11. © 2015 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved Stage 2: Training Build on what works. Study your best performers. Re-analyze your best practices. Look closely at how you can better leverage those methods or the experience of your best performers. Are there processes you want to replicate from other areas of your business across the training process? Enable your salespeople by encouraging or coordinating cross-departmental collaboration. Marketing departments can work with your best performers to develop materials that help salespeople better understand, engage and sell to customers.21 According to a recent study, about half of customer loyalty is due to the value and understanding salespeople provide. This value and understanding is more powerful in influencing customer loyalty than all other factors combined. Develop relevant training examples and materials. Leverage a variety of resources (marketing managers, top-performing salespeople, third-party sales trainers, industry experts and the like) to create learning principles that are highly relevant to real-world scenarios. The real challenge, however, is finding ways to unlock the knowledge and experience of your best salespeople and marketing team so that you can package it and train your entire sales team to share those insights with customers.22 If you use an instructor-led training program, make sure it focuses on how sales reps actually do their jobs in order to make the training most applicable.23 It’s difficult to know when certain questions or scenarios may arise during customer engagements. Do the best you can. Focus on developing a series of real- world scenarios and ideal responses. The responses need to be pre-programmed into the minds of your salespeople. The more natural and fluent the sharing of insight is, the bigger the advantage. 21 Cash, Jessica. “Why You Shouldn’t Neglect Sales Enablement.” CEB Blogs. CEB, 23 Mar. 2015. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. https://www.executiveboard.com/blogs/why-you-shouldnt-neglect-sales-enablement/?business_ line=sales-service. 22 Priolo, Dario. “7 Essential Ingredients in Creating Effective Sales Training Programs for Sales Teams.” The Richardson Sales Excellence Review™. Richardson, 06 Sept. 2013. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. http://blogs.richardson. com/2013/09/06/7-essential-ingredients-creating-effective-sales-training-programs-sales-teams/. 23 Priolo, Dario. “What Is the Role of Technology in Sales Training Solutions?” Web log post. The Richardson Sales Excellence Review™. Richardson Group, Inc., 09 Sept. 2013. Web. 30 Mar. 2015. http://blogs.richardson. com/2013/09/09/role-technology-sales-training-solutions/.
  • 12. © 2015 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved When building your training materials, make sure they cover all aspects of the sales cycle.24 Cover every step, from qualifying leads to getting through the gatekeeper to closing the deal and everything in-between. Provide clear examples and scenarios of how your salespeople should share their valuable insight with customers. This might include sample case studies or whitepapers. Role-playing is an example of a hands-on experience you can provide in training. Hands-on activities ensure that your sales team is more likely to retain the lessons learned. Tips to developing role-playing activities:25 1. Use real-world scenarios. Be as specific to your company, your salespeople and your challenges as possible. 2. Use front-line managers and/or top sales people to play the role of the customer. These are the people who have the most knowledge of best practices. 3. By using front-line managers, sales people will receive immediate, constructive and in-depth feedback. To read more on integrating role play into your training efforts, read our Blue Paper on this topic. Incorporate training about competitors. Your salespeople can provide even greater value to a customer if they understand their own—and their competition’s—solutions inside and out. Educate your salespeople on competing product lines. They should know the strengths and weaknesses, and how they compare to their own products or solutions.26 You may even want to have each salesperson do an assignment or two (gathering information through research is all part of the process after all) to compare competitor’s products to their own. Help your salespeople identify differentiators so they can share them during conversations with prospects and customers. Provide meaning, and not just direction. It’s important to provide examples and meaning behind the changes you’re making as an organization and within the sales team. Take time to explain why you’re making the changes you’ve chosen to make and the impact you 24 Brooks, Mike. “Make Sales Training More Effective.” EyesOnSales. 3 Oct. 2013. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. http:// www.eyesonsales.com/content/article/three_techniques_to_make_your_sales_training_more_effective/. 25 Ruff, Richard. “Sales Training—Role-Plays Done Right Can Play a Key Part.” LinkedIn Pulse. Web. 5 May 2014. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140505144436-29554219-sales-training-role-plays-done-right-can-play-a- key-part. 26 Beesley, Caron. “Train Your Sales Reps to Be Superior SMEs.” Web log post.Blogs - Managing a Business. SBA, 17 Jan. 2013. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. https://www.sba.gov/blogs/how-train-your-sales-reps-be-superior-subject- matter-experts.
  • 13. © 2015 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved feel it could have (or that you expect). When possible, provide statistics from related case studies where other companies made similar changes and had a positive result. Anytime you can apply meaning to change, you make it easier for everyone to believe in the changes and to accept them. It’s important that everyone have a cohesive vision so that the overarching strategic initiatives and goals remain the focus. Stage 3: Post-training According to Richardson Training Effectiveness Solutions, “80 percent of what employees learn is forgotten within 90 days.”27 Develop methods for continued learning to maximize retention. It’s difficult to retain new skills when we’re unable to practice them on a daily basis. No one can practice or predict every sales scenario that your sales team may encounter. You also can’t hold regular, lengthy training sessions when your salespeople are needed in the field. So how do you ensure that the training you provide is retained and not simply forgotten? Here’s how: • Each day, or at a schedule you feel works best for your sales team, send a scenario-based situation to each sales team member. • Allow the sales team to share its ideas or thoughts on the best response or approach to the scenario. This can be done through multiple choice or another simple method. The key is to keep these mini lessons to short, five-minute exercises. Make the daily lessons fun! Incorporate real-time tracking of results and participation with a leader board, or encourage online discussions of the situations and best ways to respond. Finding ways to encourage interaction among your team will also aid in engagement and understanding. 27 “Richardson QuickCheck Improves Knowledge Retention.” Improve Knowledge Retention and Training ROI. Richardson Group, Inc., n.d. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. https://www.richardson.com/Featured-Richardson/richardson- quickcheck/.
  • 14. © 2015 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved Leverage technology. It’s a challenge to reinforce best practices following training, but there are things you can do to make your training last. Don’t be afraid to put technology to work for you! 1. Try recording your lessons in advance to share them with your salespeople prior to the scheduled training session(s). Require that each salesperson pre-view the recorded lesson. That way the time spent in the classroom can be used for more practical skill building and role-playing as opposed to just lectures.28 2. Videotape training role-play sessions. Recording role-playing sessions can also aid in demonstrating areas for improvement. 3. Use CRM and sales automation triggers to help salespeople to use the training they’ve received. Embed skill development into a technology workflow tool like a CRM system or other sales and marketing automation systems. 4. Leverage social media to help your trained SMEs stay focused and gain further mastery of the topics covered. You can build a forum or create discussion groups on LinkedIn® to encourage continuous learning. Perhaps restrict membership in these discussion groups to salespeople who have completed the training or portions of the training. This is also a way for sales managers to influence and monitor the chatter and to glean ideas for additional training opportunities. Communicate, communicate and communicate. Just as steady communication was needed at the onset of the transformation or change, communication is extremely important to help strengthen and maintain the vision. Communication also helps provide ongoing focus across your company. Make sure that this new process involves marketing, senior management and sales so everyone remains focused and working toward the same goals. You can never communicate too much. Whenever you’re trying to initiate change within your organization and you’re asking people to think differently or to operate differently, you MUST communicate this throughout your organization. 28 Priolo, Dario. “7 Essential Ingredients in Creating Effective Sales Training Programs for Sales Teams.” The Richardson Sales Excellence Review™. Richardson, 06 Sept. 2013. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. http://blogs.richardson. com/2013/09/06/7-essential-ingredients-creating-effective-sales-training-programs-sales-teams/.
  • 15. © 2015 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved Reinforce the message and behaviors you want to instill in your trainees. Use multiple channels to “drip” the message over time.29 Examples of ways to share the message: • Posters • Email • Break room message boards • Webinars • Internal social networking groups • Lunch and Learns • Intranet Measure the results. As with any campaign, tool or sales process, it is extremely important to measure the results of your training efforts. This can’t be stressed enough. Track completed sales. Track customer retention. Track the confidence of your salespeople. Track changes in revenue. Track every aspect of your sales cycle that might provide feedback as to whether your new training methods are paying off. Continue to make adjustments as needed to meet your company’s strategic objectives and goals. Let’s review the steps we’ve discussed • A well-trained and well-prepared Subject Matter Expert (SME) can better meet the expectations of today’s consumer by providing fresh insight and perspective, and that adds value. • Marketing teams and sales teams need to work together to develop training materials as well as appropriate customer-facing messages and materials. • Incorporate ways to encourage and sustain the retention of your training program(s). • Leverage technology where you can to alleviate the time involved in maintaining the sales training lessons learned. • Never underestimate the importance of communicating your expectations and the desired behavior. • Always measure the results so that you can continue to improve the process. 29 Priolo, Dario. “7 Essential Ingredients in Creating Effective Sales Training Programs for Sales Teams.” The Richardson Sales Excellence Review™. Richardson, 06 Sept. 2013. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. http://blogs.richardson. com/2013/09/06/7-essential-ingredients-creating-effective-sales-training-programs-sales-teams/.
  • 16. © 2015 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved 4imprint serves more than 100,000 businesses with innovative promotional items throughout the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and Ireland. Its product offerings include giveaways, business gifts, personalized gifts, embroidered apparel, promotional pens, travel mugs, tote bags, water bottles, Post-it Notes, custom calendars, and many other promotional items. For additional information, log on to www.4imprint.com. Every company is different and will require a unique approach to training salespeople to be subject matter experts. We hope this Blue Paper has provided the groundwork for assessing whether investing in the development of SMEs is right for your business, what steps are necessary to get started and how to keep the momentum going. Additional resources • Insight Selling – Essential Skills for Shaping and Creating Sales Opportunities http://blogs.richardson.com/2014/10/07/insight-selling-essential-skills-shaping- and-creating-sales-opportunities/ • Insight Selling – How to Move Beyond an Inward Focus and a Product-based Message http://blogs.richardson.com/2014/09/09/insight-selling-move-beyond-inward- focus-product-based-message/ • Are Your Salespeople Poised to Sell to Today’s Buyers? http://blogs.richardson.com/2014/08/20/salespeople-poised-sell-todays-buyers/