When a group of individuals designed to be members of a sales force for a brick and mortar multinational business go ‘back to school,’ the curriculum philosophy, implementation and design of the firm will be by definition much, much different in its objectives than the aims of the curriculum of a local school district. The difference will not simply be in the age of the individuals, as many older people are becoming part of the nation’s high school and community college graduates. Rather, the primary difference will be that the curriculum for the corporation must be praxis-driven, rather than simply designed to foster learning in the students. Customer service and retention and employee satisfaction and retention must be the prime objectives of such corporate training. Companies “use training to meet an ever-growing mix of strategic objectives. Significantly, nearly 60% use training to instill brand identity.” (Vargas, 2005) The object of the training is to serve the brand and the company, not the individual, and to make a better and more confident and productive salesperson for the company, not necessarily a better student.
The sales curriculum must thus be designed with practicality and profits in mind. Academic learning is open ended, and designed to encourage students to ask ‘what works.’ But in corporate settings, management and outside consultants, as well as the past experiences of the company have already reached a consensus about what works. Now, the task of the curriculum is to enable the sales staff to implement the company’s designed program to make effective sales. For example, in a school, one might ask, what is the best way to treat anxiety? A corporate training program for a sales staff would ask, how best to approach doctors in a hospital setting to sell our anti-anxiety medication? The skills and ability to learn in the sales staff are assumed, if human resource staff has done the HR job well by selecting qualified and competent employees. This assumption is not made in more conventional learning settings.
The pre-selection of qualified students, a luxury not present in academic schooling, means that corporate training results are designed to be immediate. The best kind of sales employee training has targeted goals for every session and strives to meet those goals, makes the first day of ‘school’ a celebration, makes new hires feel as if they have learned something or been productive on the first day, is not boring, rushed or ineffective, and uses feedback to continuously improve training in a practical fashion. (O’Toole, 2005) In contrast, a brick and mortar curriculum has the luxury of proceeding at a more leisurely pace, assuming that students have other classes and other commitments, and also may be designed to unsettle the student about his or her level of competency to provoke motivation to learn — the in-house sales curriculum ultimately has the main responsibility to the company to boost productivity on a financial level, rather than to simply enhance employee learning.
On a practical level, sales training sessions also often take place in a much more concentrated setting than local school’s setting for learning. Corporate settings are more specific in focus, and force adult learners to retain large amounts of data over long periods of time over the course of a day. The learners are also asked to retain this valuable information after the training has ended. Using the reinforcement of reenacting acts as an icebreaker, as well as breaks the tedium of listening with kinesthetic experience. Students can act as salespeople to virtual clients in created scenarios, as other students and teachers act as role-players in scenarios they are likely to encounter. Then, they can be critiqued and evaluated, not simply on their ability to recall detail, but in terms of the actual process of making the sale itself. Ideally, after the training period has ended, there should be a de-briefing after the sales staff has put the curriculum’s material into its first stage of practice. “Spending the time one-on-one and in the field with your sales team will not only provide support but convey a sense of the importance of sales people in your organization.” (Zarhorsky, 2005) Evaluation comes with putting the learning into action, and reinforcement comes with sales success, not with grades as in a local school.
Of course, different companies may demand different levels of knowledge, and thus different pedagogical methods. A pharmaceutical company that merely needs to educate its existing sales staff about a new drug could make use of distance learning, and simply test the already competent and engaging sales staff about the drug via tests given and graded on the computer. An educational testing company such as the Princeton Review training new staff members about the company’s unique style of teaching students how to cope with standardized tests might need a much more hands on approach, to indoctrinate the new staff (and screen out members of the potential staff) in the company’s approach and personal and personable style.
In the case of teaching sales staff, unlike teaching students, quite often the best teachers are the practitioners themselves, rather than professional teachers. Or, as Richard Fenton and Andrea Waltz of APT Retail have observed, it “takes one to know one,” that is, a person who is a good salesperson is better at teaching salespeople than someone who has learned teaching management from a textbook. Still, it is important that even an excellent salesperson still has a solid curriculum to teach. What the new staff needs “is a manager who will teach them the process- the steps — not someone who makes it look easy.” Because for someone who is not a “natural,” selling may not seem easy. However, with proper training, it should feel easy, and fun, and the learning process, rather than showing how little one knows (as is the objective in traditional schooling) should foster a sense of confidence in how much knowledge one has gained.
Fenton, Richard and Andrea Waltz. (2003) “Retail Industry: Sales Training and Selling Skills for Managers.” About.com. Retrieved 21 Apr 2005 at http://retailindustry.about.com/library/uc/03/uc_apt3.htm
O’Toole, Barbara. (2005) “Orientation vs. Integration.” Retail Sales.
About.com. Retrieved 21 Apr 2005 at http://humanresources.about.com/library/weekly/uc022601a.htm
Vargas, Andrea. (2005) “Management Skills Key Focus of Retail Training.” About.com. Retrieved 21 Apr 2005 at http://retailindustry.about.com/od/education_training/l/aa010116a.htm
Zarhorsky, Darrel. (2005) The 5 Biggest Sales Management Blunders
About.com. Retrieved 21 Apr 2005 at http://sbinformation.about.com/od/sales/a/salesmanagement_2.htm
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