During economic uncertainty, small business owners typically respond by slashing funds dedicated to training, especially sales training. However, a reduction in training is the wrong choice for any business, particularly B2B companies. Reducing or eliminating sales training will adversely affect the lifeline between the company and the customer at a time when that connection is fragile.
I took the following from a Fortune magazine essay written during a previous recession. Although the magazine caters primarily to the public sector, the essay makes my point.
Cutting Training is “Dumb”
“[One fundamental]… that must be non-negotiable is to focus on the quality of your people. We hope it’s no longer necessary to argue that this is increasingly your company’s only source of competitive advantage. Yet when times get tough, many companies spend less on training as a way to raise profits quickly without doing immediate damage to the business. That’s just dumb.”
To put it in old-economy terms, can you imagine postponing maintenance on an aircraft for six months? You would not consider it. Successful companies avoid this mistake.
Get the Best People
One of the most valuable airlines in the world, Southwest, is also one of America’s most desirable employers. In 1999, Southwest received 170,000 applications for just 6,000 positions. Yet the company recruits vigorously and never lets up. It also has generous training programs. Getting the best people and making them better is in the DNA of the most successful companies.
Make Better Use of Your Resources
To make the most of limited resources, I repeat, do not cut training. Instead, opt for a reduction in non-essential areas or invest in solid programs to generate new business.
Unless you are launching a new product line or you have prepared a creditable program to close sales at the show, reduce trade shows. Many companies have reduced or eliminated attendance anyway. In addition, it is preferable to reduce advertising over reducing your sales force or sales training. During lean times, your advertised message is often not tactically sound.
However, maintain marketing efforts. Properly developed and executed, marketing plans can generate prospective new business and are an investment that will support existing business.
Poor Training is Deadly
Would you go into battle with troops whose commanding officer saved money by discontinuing weapons training? To save money, would you allow a poorly trained surgeon to operate on you? I hope your answer to these questions is no! Inadequate training is a disaster waiting to happen.
Properly equip and prepare your sales team by giving them the resources to achieve uniqueness and success. Teach them to do pre-call planning. Train your sales team to create value for your customers, products, and services by teaching them to offer consultative benefits instead of simply spouting features. If your sales team regularly depend on discounts or similar tactics, their customers will treat them as merely order takers.
Even if these efforts do not result in new sales today, your investment in training will keep you first in the customer’s mind when they decide to pull the purchase trigger.
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