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An Old Dog Learns Some New Tricks

March 7, 2013
I hope you are a member of ICFA. If not, I urge you to become a member if for no other reason than to purchase the ICFA Sales Training Certificate Program at a significant discount. Let me tell you a little about this and my personal experience with it.

I have been looking for a sales training program for newly hired sales consultants for years. I don’t know if you’ve tried to find one, but they are few and far between. When ICFA first introduced this program, I was concerned it might not be deep enough. So, I procrastinated and didn’t purchase it. Finally, last month, I had a chance to attend a webinar where the guest speaker was Greg Welsh. As it turns out, he is the trainer in the Sales Training Certificate Program. I was impressed with the seminar and decided to buy the program.

There are three training DVD’s. The discounted price for ICFA members is $99 a course or $297 for all three. The cost for non-members is $795 each or $2,385 for the set of three - - - a savings of $2,088. The savings pays for more than five years of membership in ICFA. What I really like about this is once I bought the DVD’s, they were mine to show to however many employees I wanted. They can watch them where ever and when ever they want, at home or at the store.

Of course, no matter how good the price, if the content is not worthwhile, it would be a waste of money. I want to tell you, this is NOT a waste of money. Each course discusses progressively more advanced selling theories. The Basic Sales Course, first in the series, is aimed at new hires. It covers what I, as a employer, expect from a new hire and what a new hire should expect of themselves. The course briefly discusses Close Ratios and why knowing this number is so important to each sales consultant. It is here that we are taught no matter what our position, we all have the responsibility of customer service. Interestingly, in the context of the course, customer service means more than giving excellent service to customers. Instead, all employees at the store deserve superb customer service from fellow employees. For example, warehouse people are providing customer service to drivers by being sure everything that is supposed to be delivered is properly on the truck. Sales Consultants owe customer service to their warehouse team by being sure they have written the correct stock numbers on invoices and provided meticulous notes regarding the delivery. Consultants even owe customer service to other consultants by “resetting the stage” after each sales presentation. In other words, putting displays back together and returning swatch books and catalogs to their normal storage places.

The meat of the Basic Course is the four steps to a sale: opening, discovering the customer’s needs, the presentation, and the final decision step. Many experienced sales consultants probably know this forwards and backwards. Yet, even when my experienced sales staff and I took the course, we all learned something new and were glad we didn’t skip this seminar and go immediately to the second in the series.

The second is called The Advanced Sales Course. It is aimed at sales consultants who have been selling for a while or to new hires who have taken the first course. Again, as experienced as my staff and I are, we were all floored at how much we learned. This course has a more detailed discussion of how important knowing your metrics (close ratio, dollar sales, and add on sales) is to increasing your own productivity. The section about handling difficult opening scenarios offered some novel solutions to age old problems. We all appreciated the response to “That’s so expensive!” You’ll have to take the course to find out how to respond, though. As my mother never tired of telling my female relatives, “Why would you buy the cow if the milk is free?!”

The meat of this course is learning how to figure out how a particular customer likes to shop, how to adjust your presentation to the customer's shopping profile, and finally how to make the presentation and close. The course updates the old Feature/Advantage/Benefit presentation model with a model which resonates much better with customers. At first it seems too simple to be true. However, it really does move a customer towards a buying decision better than the old system. Of course, no seminar on selling would be worth its salt without giving some ideas on how to handle complex objections and this one does that in spades. I think the most important take away from this part of the series is “preparation is everything.” A good sales pro not only knows what objections a consumer might raise but is also so confident in the answer that he/she can provide it in a natural, conversational manner. This course provides those answers. It is up to the sales consultant to practice them until they become second nature.

Which leads to the Master Sales Course, the final in the series. Whether you consider yourself a master or novice, this seminar will have something for you. Novices will begin to understand that while selling is a science, it is not a dirty word. Learning how to sell is really nothing more than becoming a trusted advisor to the consumer. When that happens, additional sales will follow on naturally. Be sure to pay particular attention to how to get add-on sales and how to handle price resistance and price negotiation. I was interested to see that price resistance and price negotiation are not the same. In fact, in most cases they are not even related.  The approach the course takes to this part of the sale is enlightening. Again, a good sales pro anticipates "I wasn't prepared to spend that much" or "Can't I get a better price?" and has an answer prepared. He who hesitates at this stage of the presentation is the loser. My sales staff won't be losers with the solutions offered in this course. Finally, the seminar ends with a discussion of how to follow up with “sold customers” and “be backs.”

Each DVD is between ninety minutes and slightly less than two hours. Each come with their own workbook which you print out from the Internet. I suggest you give each person who takes the course their own copy of the workbook so they can takes notes directly in them. Once a seminar is completed, you can take a short exam on-line for that particular course. There are three exams and they cost $15 per exam. You do have to buy an exam for each person who wants to be certified. Once someone has successfully passed all three tests, ICFA will award them a certificate of completion and a lapel pin.

So far, I have one employee who has completed the entire process; one who only has to take the last test, and two employees in the process of watching the Master’s Course. I think all of them will be certified by the beginning of next week and we have been only had the DVDs for about 10 days. To a person, they have shown more excitement of this training than any other in our history.

In my next blog, I will talk about what steps I have taken to help my sales consultants make best use of this program. I will also let you know how this has affected their sales.

Yours in confused retailing, Bruce