Intention aside, one needs the right tools and processes.
Any sales leader worth their salt has had to deal with mercenary sales reps at some point in their career. You know them. They rely on their charm, have superior schmoozing skills, and have no qualms about improvising and inventing fictional functionalities. These are the guys for whom the ends justify the means. They're also completely immune to feedback.
This special breed of sales reps aside, in my experience, most sales reps work really hard to bust out of the image of the smarmy salesperson. They want to be a part of the solution and work hard at building customer trust. But mistakes happen, and when they do, the effect on the sale is often not commensurate to the scale of the mistake. Because mercenary sales reps exist, honest mistakes often get lumped in with intentional omissions.
This is where sales reps lose confidence. When a sales rep falters like this, it shakes them. Even the more experienced sales reps (the ones who recover quickly, make a self-deprecating joke, and move the meeting along) will tell you they had the belly quivers the whole time. All salespeople understand that the sale is about trust. If they can't trust their own knowledge of the product, how can the client?
There are two ways a sales rep comes across as knowledgeable: One, by knowing the product inside out. Let's face it, this is an upstream swim when the product evolves all the time. Two, by having all the information they need at their fingertips. This is much more doable, especially with the right tools by your side.
Building knowledge through sales training
Before Covid, large organizations could hire sales reps en masse, and stick them in classrooms with highly qualified sales trainers who used top-of-the-line methods to build sales competency and product knowledge. They still do a variation of that today, albeit online.
For us startups and small organizations though, sales training and onboarding come with their own set of challenges: we build our sales team one person at a time (or in twos, as I do), our sales processes are still evolving, our product is evolving, and we usually have neither a super experienced sales leader nor a dedicated training team. Particularly if the entrepreneur doesn't come from a sales background, it can be daunting. However, it doesn't have to be.
Smart small players know not to reinvent the wheel. Today, we have a plethora of choices when it comes to sales training content. Sales trainers have also pivoted, and are often happy to work with you as consultants to develop content that is specific to your organization and business model and can be delivered online; and (this is the best part) asynchronously.
What you need for this content then, is the right delivery system. This is where LMS tools come in. In a recent post, I detailed what goes into the making of a good LMS tool, a microlearning platform and authoring tools. I also reviewed some of the tools I like best. In a nutshell, LMS tools are great for building the foundational competencies - let your newbies learn at their own pace while they shadow a more experienced colleague. Then, let them move on to spending time with the product - either through authoring tools or by playing around in your demo environment. Sprinkle in microlearning to keep everyone abreast of the latest developments, in minutes.
Not only does this automate sales training to a large extent, you also get very detailed feedback on what's working for your team and what isn't:
What are the modules people struggle to complete assessments for? It may be that the material needs to be covered in more depth.
Where are they getting bored? It may be that the content is no longer relevant.
Which courses and modules are delivering the most value? You'll know because learners will repeat these.
Which trainer sees greater attendance during office hours? This could be because the material they cover is so good that your people like to take her advice, or so inadequate that people queue up to ask questions.
Keeping everyone current through content management tools
No matter how good sales training is, at least part of it is obsolete by the time the sales rep does their first demo. Especially in the SaaS world where product features and use cases and solutions evolve week on week, it's nearly impossible for the sales rep to keep abreast of all the latest information. This is true not just for your newbies, but your experienced folks too.
However, a good content management system goes a long, long way. What are the hallmarks of a good content management system? It should be easy enough for non-technical users to navigate with ease; flexible enough to accommodate a wide range of content types, including text, images, videos, etc; should have the ability to scale with your organization; should be search and mobile-friendly.
Essentially, it should make it very easy to add content, search for it, and to consume it (equally in the office and on the road). If it also integrates with the rest of your tech stack, it gets bonus points.
There are some fantastic tools out there. My team really likes Guru, and I'm really interested to see how Mindtickle will develop… but I'll just go with whatever my team is more likely to use. That's the other thing - a little process design goes a long way in managing information flows in your business. The product teams, for instance, must have it in their process to update the latest product changes to the demo environment and communicate changes to the sales engineers and training. Training processes must spell out the SLA for micro-learning modules for new product changes. Sales KPIs need to include keeping abreast of all training. SEs must have an SLA for updating all demos.
The right information at the right time
Sales is hard. A sales rep in a product demo is keeping an eye on everyone's reactions to everything she's saying, forging connections through humor and conversation, managing the agenda while minding the clock, and doing her best to answer questions adequately without getting too deep into the woods… while also keeping track of her script, and working out how the latest update she caught up on her microlearning platform affects her demo environment.
It's a LOT.
As an SE, I used to joke that the only reason we got pulled into so many product demos was that the sales rep needed a second brain. A Jarvis to their Iron Man. So much so, that the idea began to take concrete shape in my mind: what would a Product Demo Jarvis look like?
For starters, it would do away with scripts. There's no easier way to kill spontaneity in a demo than a rigid script. However, in SaaS, where change is so rapid, scripts remain the backbone of a demo even for more experienced sales reps. Product Demo Jarvis would, instead, chime in with in-context cues, just the way a good SE does.
Moreover, Product Demo Jarvis would also make life easier for SEs by automating custom demo creation and/or making it really easy to reuse demos with tiny edits. It would allow changes on the fly, and it would manage demo libraries.
It took me 10 years to make Product Demo Jarvis real, and it's called SmartCue.
Changes to your product? No problem. All the SE needs do is update the cues in SmartCue, so that the sales rep is always looking at the very latest information. (And yes, they can do so on the fly!). The client has questions about functionality that isn't covered in this demo? No stress, add on parts from another demo in your library (again, on the fly), and your sales rep doesn't even need to break their stride.
How? SmartCue presents cues to the presenter (and only to the presenter!) based on where they are in the product. It provides a step-by-step demo playbook or demo flow, so the sales rep can simply follow the flow. It also helps keep track of the agenda - the client wants to explore functionality out of turn? No problem! Just go into your demo as always, and SmartCue will cue you on the basis of wherever you are in your product. When done, it will cue you into what you can cover next, based on your agenda.
The result: no belly quivers. Instead, sales reps are confident that what they're presenting is current, and has all the cues and information they need to knowledgeably answer all of the prospects' questions. They get their headspace back, and their sales mojo. They focus on the prospect, listen for objections not voiced, answer questions with quiet confidence, and do all the little things that make a client feel heard and seen, and understood.
And we all know what that means. :)