Top 10 Employee Training Tools: Sales Training


Top 10 Employee Training Tools: Sales Training

Best practices for training & mentoring your sales team

While no one position in a company is more important than any other when it comes to training, a company’s sales staff presents one of the most significant challenges in making sure they understand broad aspects of the overall component manufacturing operation. The sales team not only needs to understand the truss design and production process, they also need to be adept at understanding contracts, appreciating the company’s liability position, and, above all, communicating the company’s value proposition effectively in the marketplace to differentiate it from the competition and grow market share. Hence, this article will not focus on the sales process or specific techniques, but rather on best practices and training that will be most useful to the structural building component (SBC) industry.

SBC industry sales representatives come from a variety of backgrounds, and like designers, it’s important to test the SBC knowledge of a sales candidate before they are hired. Just like with designer candidates, using SBCA’s Technical Assessment Test Online (TATO) and Truss Basics (if you are hiring from within) will give companies a great head start in knowing the knowledge base of each sales candidate (see sidebar for more details). If a sales candidate comes out of the company’s design team, they may already have certification in SBCA’s Truss Technician Training (TTT) Level 1, 2 and even 3 (see sidebar below), and have a strong component background. However, basic component knowledge does not guarantee a competent sales representative, so additional training will always be needed on the finer points of selling and marketing. 

For a new sales representative who has no previous experience in the SBC industry, a good best practice would be to use the SBCA Truss Manufacturing Orientation (TMO) training program as an introduction to augment an internal company orientation program (see sidebar). Providing good fundamental information on the industry and then basic knowledge of component design is another good step, which can easily be accomplished with the SBCA Truss Basics program. Many component manufacturers (CMs) use these programs in combination with their own orientation programs to make sure that a newly hired sales representative gets a good start in the industry. 

As suggested with truss designers (see April 2015 issue), teaming a new sales representative with a seasoned salesperson as a mentor will provide them with guidance not only on company policy, but also on reading blueprints, understanding contracts and working with customers. This practice of mentoring is sometimes neglected, which can lead to sales representatives making easily avoided errors. Those errors can take extra time, effort and resources to fix. There are certainly positive aspects of learning on the job, and gaining knowledge through mistakes is always an important part of that process. However, mentoring will help ensure mistakes are only made once, and big mistakes that could cause real harm for the company are avoided.

Mentoring should be viewed as an opportunity to learn from those in the company who have “mastered” company policies, and are careful in reading blueprints, contracts, etc. It’s very important to point out that mentors don’t necessarily have to be the top sales producer. Companies can sometimes make the mistake of “saddling” a new sales representative with their top producer, who may not be their best trainer/mentor. This can result in developing habits in the new representative that may not be desired. Instead, it’s preferable to identify members of a company’s sales staff (or management) who are well suited to mentoring, and enjoy doing it, to ensure new sales candidates get the most out of the experience.

One critical role the sales representative has is reading blueprints, contract documents and other project-related information. Knowing how to read all of these documents, and making sure the company has the most current information for a job, is not only critical for the design team, but can also be critical to the financial success of the project. The “Reading Construction Documents” article (see November 2014 issue) in this series provides several best practices that can be beneficial in training sales staff. 

In brief, it’s important that sales representatives, first and foremost, take their time; rushing is only going to cause a cascade of errors. Second, ensure the company has the most current information from architects, engineers and builders/contractors. Even if a company has a set of drawings, a company always wants their sales staff asking the question, “Is this the most current set?” before moving forward with decisions. Train sales representatives to identify the drawings they view: architectural drawings, structural drawings, and the details associated with them. Identifying the dates on the drawings is vital because it alerts them if there are new drawings out there or incremental changes to details pertinent to sections of the building where components appear. 

The primary point is that changes occur frequently, and many times, the parties involved in a project do not communicate those changes effectively. It falls on the sales representative to ask and find out if they have the current set of documents. In addition, SBCA has developed a comprehensive course for managers and sales representatives called ORisk that is one of the most effective ways to train employees in reading contract documents and identifying language to minimize risk and liability to the company. This is a course that may be good to have sales representative take over time. It will give sales staff the depth of knowledge they need to help guard a company against some of the one-sided language that appears in contracts, purchase orders and proposals they are asked to sign.

The best practice is to not blindly sign contractual documents, but rather to have the sales representative bring them back to the office for a full review. After going through the ORisk course, sales staff are better prepared to work with their customer to let them know they want to review contracts instead of just signing them. The important next step is ensuring the sales team is effectively going over documents in meetings and talking through language before they are signed. Some companies will have a single staff member experienced in contracts, or they will have their attorney review all the contracts (we will cover this issue in a future article). Often, those who review contracts go over new terms with the sales team on a periodic basis to keep them abreast of new contract language and other risk management approaches everyone needs to know.

The best part of a mentoring program is coaching a new sales representative on what the company’s value proposition is for its customers. Every company prides itself on something it can do that competitors may not do; it’s important to make sure this is communicated in the right manner. A company’s value proposition is key, and coaching/teaching this to new representatives is going to be key to their success. 

Training the CM’s sales staff never truly ends. Fortunately, using the tools and best practices developed through SBCA and its membership to enhance an existing training program, along with a successful mentorship program, can be a very effective way to train new sales representative to be successful in the component marketplace.

Ben Hershey is a Past President of SBCA and Owner of 4Ward Consulting Group - Experts in Lean Management & Manufacturing. Networking Basics will be covered in the June/July issue.
TATO can be used to determine if job candidates or current employees have the technical aptitude and skills required to succeed in the structural building components industry. TATO 1 is intended as a hiring tool to be used with truss technicians, sales staff and production personnel. It evaluates candidates’ basic math and 3D visual skills, which are crucial for success in the sales, design and manufacturing divisions of the truss industry.

Truss Basics provides the same important information as TTT Level I but with less technical and time-intensive Math and Load Development sections. It is aimed at those who want to understand truss design procedures but will not be performing truss design. Salespeople, estimators, administrative staff, suppliers and construction industry professionals will benefit from this well-received course on the structural building components industry.

TTT Level I is an introduction for wood truss design technicians, estimators, and salespeople to acquire the design and engineering fundamentals of metal plate connected trusses. Students will perform calculations, solve problems, review presentations, and respond to interactive quiz questions interspersed throughout the sections. The purpose of the course is to examine industry design standards and factors affecting truss fabrication from design to installation. Upon completion of this course, attendees will have a better understanding of the truss design and manufacturing process, the application of trusses, basic math, trigonometry, and load development as it relates to truss design.

TMO is an introductory training course for anyone with little or no truss industry experience. A wide variety of topics on design, manufacturing and installation are presented, along with streaming videos, articles and access to numerous industry documents. Novice truss technicians, salespeople, estimators, administrative staff, suppliers and construction industry professionals will benefit from this introduction to the structural building components industry.