From the October 1997 issue of Entrepreneur

So you're an entrepreneur growing a business. You spend as much time as you can training your sales team. But you could use some help. You don't have the budget yet to hire a full-time sales trainer, but you have some funds to invest in videos. A question I am frequently asked is "Can I depend on video training to not only influence my sales force but motivate them to higher levels of productivity?"

The answer is a definite yes. Videos may not seem like the most exciting way to train your salespeople, but they can be very effective--if they're done right. I've written, produced and performed in sales training videos for the past 25 years. Based on these experiences, I prepared the following guidelines to assist you in making the best use of video training. These guidelines can help you evaluate programs you're thinking about buying or even assist you in producing your own videos.

1. Humor can be a highly effective teaching tool. A former Monty Python regular and a noted film actor in his own right, John Cleese is no stranger to comedy. Today, Cleese puts his humor to work as founder of Video Arts Inc., a producer of business training videos. "There is a right and wrong way to use comedy [in sales training]," says Cleese. "The old way was to have a straight script written and then hire someone to put in some jokes. If the jokes didn't work, it was embarrassing. And if they did work, the audience remembered the jokes and forgot the lessons."

Cleese maintains that humor in training must arise out of the teaching points themselves. In other words, every time the audience laughs, they're also learning something. And if they remember the joke, they've remembered the training point.

"We hope that if they laugh at some piece of unintelligent behavior in a video, then when they start embarking on that bit of behavior themselves a few days later, a little bell will ring at the back of their minds, and they'll think: `Wait a moment. Wasn't I laughing at something like this recently?' And that will give them cause for pause and a chance to [modify their] behavior," says Cleese.

Brilliant examples of how Cleese uses humor to accomplish "the cause for pause" can be seen in his "Difficult Customers" video.

2. Don't forget location. Videos filmed in front of a studio audience or in a classroom-style format get boring fast. Don't expect your sales team to pay attention to a video that features a talking head. Instead, look for videos that are shot on location, such as at the widget factory during the busiest hours of the day. Or how about an interview format that shows a sales trainer interviewing the telemarketing person at the widget company?

When choosing a video, remember that the viewer should be able to identify with the interviewer and with what he or she is saying. Is the interviewer asking the type of questions the viewer might have about his or her own technique?

3. Special effects work. Wouldn't it be interesting if the salesperson being trained saw a telemarketer making a call to a prospect on a split screen?

And wouldn't it be even more effective if, as Cleese says, we see this cold-call scenario being taught humorously to make the teaching point even stronger?

One of my videos includes more than 25 types of prospect calls. I make the calls on a split screen using actors and lots of humor. We demonstrate the wrong and right way to make calls.

4. Research creates credibility. When I create videos for a specific industry, I make sure that I become schooled in the culture of that industry. We can't expect salespeople to sit down and watch a sales video that uses examples they can't relate to.

Search out videos that apply to your sales team. For example, if they are on straight commission, provide them with training directed toward developing specific internal strengths. These exercises will help them overcome daily rejection.

5. Video training should include a syllabus. It's important to be able to follow along in a workbook when viewing a video. Salespeople want to know exactly what was said to a client who resisted closing the deal. New people, especially, want to memorize the powerful words they hear. All of us begin by emulating those role models who are more seasoned and experienced than we are. A workbook helps reinforce the effective information the student is learning on screen.

6. Appoint a facilitator. One of the problems with video training is lack of use. Just because you invested in a creative, funny, well-scripted, thoroughly researched system, it's no guarantee that video training, by itself, will turn your group into a brilliant sales force. Someone has to schedule and monitor the sessions.

If you're a small-business owner, you are the one who must do it. You may say you can't afford the time to sit in a room with one or two of your salespeople and watch videos. But can you really afford not to monitor them?

Tom Hopkins, an excellent sales trainer, frequently reminds companies that great salespeople are not born: They are trained to become great. Don't you want to send out well-trained-turned-great salespeople into the field to market your products?

What good is your advertising and office space without effective salespeople? Make training a priority--it takes time for salespeople to become great. You have to expect a certain learning curve. Do you really have any other choice?

As you monitor your salespeople's training, you can stop the tape and build on the points being made. For example, you may choose to role-play certain case studies discussed in the film. Or perhaps a question-and-answer period is appropriate for clarification purposes before you move forward in the program.

7. Repetition moves you to mastery. No salesperson watches a video once and grasps the lesson. Provide a checkout system for your salespeople. This allows them to take a video home and repeat the lesson frequently.

8. One topic per video is more practical and effective than three programs on one video. A video system that covers only one topic on each video allows your salespeople to check out one topic at a time. It also gives you the opportunity to use your entire sales training system as a sales-meeting library, too. For example, if you wish to cover "Handling Objections" at your next weekly sales meeting, play the video that deals with the subject in your training program that week.

9. Assign homework. Treat video training the same way you would classroom work. Give the "students" assignments that center around the day's lesson. If the subject was past customer calls, their homework could be to call 50 past customers using the techniques and strategies learned.

If networking was covered, ask your salespeople to apply the networking principles they learned at all functions they attend between then and the next training session. Ask them to hand in a written report of their results or the problems encountered. Then discuss the problems.

10. Customize your own videos. Another option is to create a video program specifically for your product and sales team. The benefit is that the scripting can be geared specifically to your salespeople's needs, the company culture and your product. There are many sales trainers who specialize in creating custom videos. It's important to choose one your people identify with because the learning process will be enhanced when they are enthused about the trainer.

Video training is just like any other opportunity for improvement that's made available to us: It's as good as we want to make it. You have two choices when you invest in it. You can place it on the shelf in your training area and hope your sales staff will take advantage of the new videos, or you can create a video training curriculum using the above guidelines and know that in due time, company sales will soar.

Contact Sources

Video Arts Inc., 8614 W. Catalpa Ave., Chicago, IL 60656-1160, (800) 553-0091, ext. 2213.

Danielle Kennedy presents sales and marketing seminars and keynote addresses worldwide and is the author of seven sales books as well as audio and video sales training programs. Check local bookstores for her book, Seven Figure Selling (Berkley Press). Write to her in care of Entrepreneur, 2392 Morse Ave., Irvine, CA 92614.