When Training Employees, Don't Forget Sales Staff

When Training Employees, Don't Forget Sales Staff

By Gail Repsher Emery, Staff Writer

While training programs are a must for keeping employees' technical skills up to date, information technology companies shouldn't overlook the sales department when allocating training dollars, said Stephen Waterhouse, who trains sales forces worldwide.

Some companies have not done any sales training in the last 20 years, but they now realize the marketplace has changed, and they need to change with it, said Waterhouse, founder and principal of sales consulting firm the Waterhouse Group in Scarborough, Maine.

"Now there are more companies selling more complex things, and they realize they have to sell in a more sophisticated way," he said.

That means involving many facets of the business in the selling process, not just a single salesperson, Waterhouse said. The consultant has developed a brisk business instructing sales forces in team selling, conducting up to 100 training programs a year, from Beirut to Cairo and Chicago to Washington.

"You need more specialists involved in the sales team," he said. "It's called engineering a sale by satisfying all needs of a variety of players."

Paul Hennessey, senior vice president of BayGroup International in Larkspur, Calif., concurred. The training and consulting firm's clients include AT&T Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Cisco Systems Inc.

"Ten or 15 years ago, a salesperson could establish the fact that his hardware was better," Hennessey said. "However, now it's not just the hardware. It's also software, installation, maintenance and financing. They can't win the business and keep the customer happy if they don't have a team involved."

Team selling, Waterhouse said, is "absolutely essential in technical sales, even more essential in government sales, because you have even more people who need to be satisfied."

A corporate department, for example, might make a buying decision on its own, but a government purchasing agent might have to satisfy an oversight group such as the General Accounting Office. The GAO, for instance, might not have the same goals as the purchaser. The salesperson needs to know how to satisfy both, or he or she needs to bring in another team member who can help, Waterhouse said.

"Sales, especially in the technical world, is really defined by matching real needs with real solutions. It's not trying to create need," Waterhouse said. "There are real needs out there, and there are real solutions. The goal we have is to identify those needs and work real hard to identify those solutions."

Great Plains Software Inc. depends on team selling, said Matt Magness, general manager of global education services. Clients of the Fargo, N.D., developer of business management software include local governments.

"It's not easy for someone to be a specialist across technologies and be a specialist in every industry," where the company's products are used, he said.

Therefore, the company works to meld the expertise of its salespeople who concentrate on business processes, such as accounting, and others who focus on technical solutions, such as networking and e-commerce.

The company also will provide the same training and coaching to its resellers.

"If salespeople work [differently], they oftentimes do not save everyone time and energy. This way, we can optimize the way we help customers," Magness said.

The team-selling approach also works for customer service representatives, Waterhouse found.

At AT&T, Waterhouse taught a technical support group how to better serve its customers by calling in team members with special expertise.

Asmar Madyun, supervisor of the Bridgewater, N.J., group, thought the team approach might help his 30 employees serve their customers better.

"We needed to reorder what we did because there were plans to give us more customers," Madyun said. "I thought teams and the advantage of different levels of expertise working together would help us maximize what we did with the limited number of people we had to do it."

Madyun's employees, however, greeted Waterhouse ? and the idea that they should be doing things differently ? with skepticism.

Rather than calling on fellow employees for assistance, workers would toil over customers' technical problems until they learned how to fix them, often spending more time than their service agreement called for. Essentially, the technical support employees were using their positions for on-the-job training, said Madyun, now a product manager in the company's Internet services division.

Eventually Waterhouse "turned them around," Madyun said, creating a system that allowed employees to blend their expertise while remaining in friendly competition.

"It took them time to understand there were still things they could learn if they weren't responsible for every part of the solution," Madyun said.

To help employees expand their skills further, Madyun brought in advanced technical courses.

"We needed to give them an opportunity to learn in a more controlled environment," he said. "My expectation would then be that a technician would not go out and learn in real time with a customer, they would learn it in class, and would get materials they could refer to. They wouldn't suddenly know everything, but they would have the tools to do a diagnosis."

The bottom line, Hennessey said, is that companies stand out from the crowd because of the quality of their employees.

"That's really important, because your products aren't very differentiated anymore," he said. "If my company comes up with a technology innovation, the life span of that is pretty short. It can be copied or replicated or replaced in weeks or a month. It doesn't give me the kind of value that salespeople do ? who are the kinds of people customers call up when they have problems."

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