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Training Day

Coaching your reps on pushing a new product can help them play the selling game better.

Evolution proved to be good for the fish, but not so marvelous for the dinosaurs. When it's time for an entrepreneurial company to launch a new product, sales reps may fret that change will leave them fossilized if they aren't able to adapt. Because many sales forces employ a brachiosaurus or two, a well-planned and effective launch is essential for product-and rep-survival. To help your sales team prepare for an upcoming rollout, consider the following training tips:

  • Beat back fear. The understandable anxiety that accompanies novelty can be assuaged by thoughtful training and product introduction. Andrew Tournas, president and co-founder of ThermoSpas Inc., believes anxiety occurs only when reps haven't been properly educated. "As long as a salesperson has had full and extensive training, there's no anxiety," he contends.

Tournas' Wallingford, Connecticut, business employs 80 salespeople nationwide and estimates 2003 sales will hit $70 million. The hot-tub retailer introduces new products each year. In 2002, ThermoSpas developed the Healing Spa, designed with the help of the National Arthritis Foundation to be easy to use and to soothe the aches and pains of people with arthritis.

  • Get the gang together. To prepare his sales force for the Healing Spa's launch, Tournas, 53, assembled all his salespeople in the summer of 2002. "We believe we can best build excitement and share ideas by having the group together," he explains.

In addition to a sales meeting where reps can look at, touch and sample the product, ThermoSpas also provides a scripted sales presentation that encompasses key features, shows how the new product is different from the competitors' and teaches reps how to respond to anticipated customer questions or objections.

While Tournas doesn't expect reps to become automatons who simply repeat copy points to make a sale, he has found that a rehearsed script ensures the reps have fully learned about the product. "Once this script is memorized, it becomes part of the salespeople, and they can make it their own," says Tournas.

  • Smile for the camera. After the rep has memorized the script and has been trained to sell the new product, ThermoSpas then videotapes the rep making a sample sales presentation. "Once the salesperson has watched the tape," Tournas explains, "he realizes how body language affects the transaction and how he's viewed by his customer."
  • Offer commissions. One method for helping your sales reps overcome their trepidation about a new product is to offer them a higher commission for a limited time. Jill Konrath is a sales consultant who specializes in helping small companies land big clients. As president of SellingtoBigCompanies.com in St. Paul, Minnesota, she believes that higher commissions are a must for new products.

"Salespeople pursue the path of least resistance," Konrath explains. "Since selling a new product can be tough, without an added incentive most sellers will revert to selling what they are comfortable with."

Tournas, however, disagrees on the commission front, warning, "A higher commission will bastardize the rest of the product line. The new product should be unique enough to naturally create excitement in the sales staff."

  • Talk to buyers. Think of your sales force as a very well-connected market research firm. Put its members to work gathering customer intelligence before, during and after the rollout.

Kimberly L. Mccall is president of McCall Media & Marketing Inc. (www.marketingangel.com) in Freeport, Maine.

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This article was originally published in the January 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Training Day.

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