As sales forces change, is training keeping up?
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As sales forces change, is training keeping up?

In a post last week on, Rapid Learning Institute’s CEO Stephen J. Meyer discussed how the Sales Development function is profoundly transforming companies and the sales profession. It’s largely driven by the rise of online marketing, and is designed specifically around following up on Web-generated sales leads.

The idea is to respond more quickly to Web activity (especially important because contact rates drop precipitiously in a matter of minutes for online leads) and to handle the qualification process efficiently and cost-effectively. When the Sales Development function is working as it should, it not only makes lead follow-up more affordable, but also frees up traditional sales reps to do what they do best.

While companies have always had salespeople following up on inbound leads, (remember the bingo cards that magazine subscribers would mail in to get more information about advertised products?), the modern-day Sales Development role is far more specialized than that of a generalist salesperson. Sales Development usually focuses solely on immediate follow-up to some Web-based activity, such as people downloading a free e-book. And it’s only about one thing — properly qualifying leads and handing them off to sales reps — so it doesn’t involve such traditional sales skills as closing or service after the sale.

It’s its own thing
Which means that Sales Development needs its own approach to training. For example, sales discovery skills are paramount, but sales developers don’t have the luxury of one or more sit-down meetings with prospects to understand their needs. In a brief phone call — one the prospect probably wasn’t expecting and didn’t prepare for — the sales development rep has to be quick on his or her feet — asking just the right questions to quickly assess whether this is a qualified opportunity that should be passed on to the closer. At the same time, the sales development rep has to set the table, creating enough interest so that the qualified prospect will (1) agree to an appointment to talk to the closer, and (2) actually show up for the appointment.

These differences mean you can’t look at Sales Development as a low-level activity, or as sort of farm team for sales. As Steve’s post points out, Sales Development is often a company’s biggest cost center. So one of the things that needs to be added to the training list is leadership for the managers who run the operation. It’s a tough management challenge — the churn is likely to be high, the cost pressures are enormous, and the demands of the sales force for both quantity and quality of leads is intense. And because Sales Development is a new and evolving discipline, managers often have to figure all this out without a blueprint.

For sales trainers, the implications are significant. They can’t just dust off the training they’ve done for genearalist reps. They need to approach Sales Development as a new, unique and increasingly important sales training challenge.

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