Sales training: Making the most of a good example
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Sales training: Making the most of a good example

Every sales trainer knows the power of a good example. It brings learning to life and bridges the gap between concept and application.

And we all know how extraordinarily difficult it is to create an effective example. So once you’ve come up with one, shouldn’t you make the most of it?

A recent research study examined how to do just that.

The core finding of the study: Examples work best when they’re active, not passive. You don’t want learners sitting in their seats while you tell them a story. You want them to engage — tear it apart, put it back together, talk about it and struggle with it. It’s the struggle that makes them remember.

Here’s a step-by-step model you can use, based on the research findings:

  1. Before you present the example, get a discussion going. A pre-discussion primes the pump. It gets learners more deeply engaged in the skill or concept you’re introducing. So when you do present the example, their minds are are ready for it. Introduce the topic and ask questions that connect it to learners’ previous experiences. For example: “We’re going to look at a new way to create sales proposals that will increase your chances of getting a yes. Has anyone here presented a proposal that you were sure would be a winner, but ended up losing the business?” Or: “Let’s talk about which sales you’ve won at closing, which ones you’ve lost, and what you think the difference was.”
  2. Present the example. Present a story, scenario or demonstration. To help lock in the new concept, you may choose to show an example of the “wrong” approach first, followed by the recommended approach. For example, if you’re teaching about the power of choice in closing, you might tell a tale of two salespeople — one who presents her “best” recommendation and one who gives the customer several options to consider — and walk your trainees through the customer’s reaction in each case.
  3. Facilitate a discussion. Next, get people to really dig in and discuss the example. Why did the buyer prefer multiple options? Why did the buyer seem to get impatient with one rep and not the other? Play devil’s advocate: Isn’t too much choice going to confuse customers or make them hesitate? Finally, wrap up the discussion. Ask: What did we learn? What will you do differently?
  4. Condense the learning into rules of thumb. Rules of thumb are critically important. They give learners an easy way to remember and apply the lesson. Caution: Avoid the temptation to do the summing up yourself. Help learners create their own “ahas” — with some gentle guidance if need be. For example: “So who can explain this idea in a nutshell?”
  5. Help learners set goals. Encourage them to define clear, measurable goals. For example: “For all future sales proposals, I will include at least three options for buyers to consider.” Again, don’t do the work for your learners; let them engage while you act as coach and guide.
  6. Follow up. Don’t throw away a perfectly good example after you’ve used it. It’s now embedded in the learners’ minds, so you want to reinforce it. For example, you can create variations involving the same cast of characters in different situations, and use these different versions to reinforce the lesson after the fact. Or you can create follow-up role plays or quizzes that expand on the original example.

Source: Grossman, R., et al. (2013). Using instructional features to enhance demonstration-based training in management education. Academy of Management Learning and Education, 12(2), 219-243.

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