From the October 2004 issue of Entrepreneur

If your sales force is foundering, it may be time to bring in a sales trainer. A sales trainer can fire up your team by teaching real-world ways to close more deals. Here are a few tips for finding a superlative sales coach for your team and your budget:

Put together a list of vendors. As you do with other major investments, ask colleagues in similar industries for referrals. Alex Ramsey, founder and president of LodeStar Universal in Dallas, which provides executive coaching and sales strategies, advises entrepreneurs to check out the National Speakers Association, the American Society for Training & Development, or to contact the author of an admired book on sales.

Look for relevant experience. Make sure the trainer is a whiz in your field and will take the time to customize a presentation to your needs. Paul DiModica, founder and president of DigitalHatch, an IT sales and marketing training company in Atlanta, warns that some trainers may be using canned content: "Many sales trainers are just re-marketers of other people's materials."

Be clear about your needs. In conducting due diligence with prospective trainers, make sure the trainer understands what you want to accomplish. Does your sales team need help with cold-calling? A confidence boost? Assistance turning technical mumbo jumbo into real language? "Once you understand your goals and expectations, then you're more likely to ask the right questions [and] set a realistic budget and amount of time to accomplish objectives," says Ramsey.

Don't focus on finding a genius. A highly successful salesperson isn't necessarily a great trainer. "It's not Tiger Woods, but [rather] his instructor [whom] you want to teach you golf," clarifies Ramsey. "Tiger is going to be entirely too focused on how he plays the game." Ramsey adds that a sales manager should seek a trainer who listens and is willing to adapt the sales training to fit the entrepreneur's world.

Know the costs. DiModica offers an on-site, one-day program with a 30-day follow-up starting at $5,000. Ramsey's programs range from $2,000 to $20,000, depending on length, objectives and the number of people and programs. Training through a public class with a sales training company runs $600 to $1,500 per participant, though the class will likely include attendees from several different companies and may not be customized. (Some sales training companies include Dale Carnegie Training, and the Sandler Sales Institute.) Mark Tewart, president of sales and management training and professional speaking company Tewart Enterprises in Lebanon, Ohio, says his fees will vary widely according to the scope of the training. According to Tewart, his range is $1,500 to $20,000 per day, plus expenses and materials, with an average around $3,000 per day. (Fees are per session, unless noted as "per participant.")

Set aside time. DiModica believes training should last one to two days, depending on your needs, with a refresher meeting including role-playing sessions one month after the initial session. Ramsey says that one hour will suffice for a motivational speech, while full training can involve three to 10 days over several months.

Tewart offers the following checklist for hiring a sales trainer:

Training should provide measurable hard and soft improvements. Hard improvements can be measured in sales, productivity and higher retention. Soft improvements include an increase in sales staff confidence and improved team attitude.

Seek fresh and original curriculum. Salespeople are immediately turned off by old-school, warmed-over sales techniques that everyone has heard a thousand times. Look for a unique trainer, material or method of delivery.

Avoid the "sunburn effect." Too many sales trainers promise the moon but don't leave a game plan on what to do when they're no longer there. Your sales force will experience the "sunburn effect" of training-the training fades, and the trainees hurt.


Kimberly L. Mccall ("Marketing Angel") is president of McCall Media & Marketing Inc. and author of Sell It, Baby! Marketing Angel's 37 Down-to-Earth & Practical How-To's on Marketing, Branding & Sales.