The Perfect Training Tool for Sales Associates?

Is it possible to create a perfect tool for training your Sales Associates? If so, could you create that perfect training tool for your organization? I thought long and hard about these questions at the beginning of 2006. At that time, I was a Training Manager for a Toyota dealership in Connecticut. We were doing well; in fact, we were the top-volume Toyota dealership in the state. Still, I wasn’t satisfied; I wanted every Sales Associate to reach his or her maximum potential. To that end, I had done my best to instill a sales culture that the entire organization was proud of, and I coached and counseled on a daily basis. Even so, I hadn’t come up with a way to bring out the best in each Sales Associate. To accomplish that, I felt I needed a training tool that would be a perfect fit for every single Sales Associate; but, I had never heard of such a tool! The more I racked my brain to find a solution, the more it seemed like a “pipe dream.” And then, I had a flash of inspiration!

Many years before, as a Training Supervisor for Wendy’s, I had used a company-provided training tool with great success. It was called a “Performance Observation Checklist,” and it worked like this: Wendy’s provided Supervisors with a checklist to use when doing manager evaluations. These evaluations were done at the restaurant during a store manager’s shift. The checklist clearly explained what needed to happen throughout an entire work shift, from beginning to end. In essence, it specified the activities that a “perfect” manager would perform while running his or her shift. So, with checklist in hand, and from a distance, I would watch. I’d observe a particular manager throughout his or her entire shift, checking off correct behavior, and noting the shortcomings. I would also make notes on any unusual situations or extenuating circumstances. When the shift was over, I sat with the manager and reviewed his or her performance. It was illuminating for most managers. They had been trained to perform precisely in the manner indicated on the checklist, so they weren’t surprised by any activity listed there. But when we reviewed the checklist together, there was really only one conclusion for each activity: they either did-or did not-perform up to expert standards. With the results of the shift still fresh in their mind, and my dispassionate notes and check-marks in front of them, disagreement was rare. When we finished, the manager always received a copy of the checklist and evaluation, as a model to follow for future improvement. The checklist proved to be an objective and excellent teacher. This “Wendy’s flashback” had brought a smile to my face: I knew the “Performance Observation Checklist” was a great starting point in my quest for the perfect training tool!

I decided that in order to create a perfect training tool for my automotive Sales Associates, I would have to provide, as did Wendy’s, the vision of what “perfect” behavior was (sales behavior for us). In other words, I needed a model; I had to specify the activities that a sales master would work on every day! Also, I couldn’t observe everyone individually, so I needed to provide the means for all Sales Associates to track their own activities; by doing so, they could compare their performance to the model. With these parameters in mind, I began the task of “creation.” I started by asking myself questions! The first question I asked was: “If I created the perfect training tool for my Sales Associates, what would it look like; what features or characteristics would it have?” Next, “How can the same tool be used in a unique manner by each Sales Associate; how can it be perfect for every individual?” After weeks of questioning, analyzing, and a lot of trial and error, I eventually came up with six essential features. And I knew-with proper implementation-that these six features would allow the tool to work perfectly for everyone! Before I list the features I came up with, remember: I created this tool for automotive sales; if you want to, though, you can adapt the process to whatever you sell, and create your own perfect training tool (or I could be enticed to create it for you!). Here’s what the perfect training tool should be, do, or have:

  1. It would be easy to use. From my experience, if a tool isn’t user-friendly, then it won’t be employed on a consistent basis.
  2. It would clearly define the paragon for Sales Associates to emulate. The model of a sales master would need to be continually “pictured” in each Sales Associate’s mind; else, how could they consistently focus on expert behavior?
  3. It would be interactive; Sales Associates would be required to input their plans and track certain success-oriented activities daily. As a result, the tool would point the way to improvement.
  4. It would clearly indicate each Sales Associate’s strengths and weaknesses from the activities tracked. This would make it easy to seek help on specific topics; therefore it would be customized for each Sales Associate!
  5. It would take less than 15 minutes per day to do all the required planning and tracking.
  6. It would be set up like a game: Sales Associates would score “points” for activities completed; this would make it fun to use!

So, I began to design the tool with these “specs” in mind. It soon took the form of a “notebook,'” in which Sales Associates could plan their day, track success-oriented activities, compare themselves to a sales master (the model), and record their daily scores. I rewrote and revised my work many times until I thought it was perfect (it wasn’t!). Finally, I put a prototype together, and reviewed it with someone in the industry that I had great respect for. He suggested that I make a CD with instructions for use, to be included with the tool. I did so, and in January of 2007, I presented “The Success Notebook for Automotive Sales” to the owners of the dealership. They were impressed, and gave the go-ahead to use this tool for all Sales Associate Training! The details and specific content of my Success Notebook are unimportant; suffice it to say that this tool definitely incorporated all six essential features described above. And, it received a warm welcome from Sales Associates and Sales Managers alike. The Success Notebook remained in its original form until October of 2010, when I moved to North Carolina. Then, I completely revamped and expanded it, and made it available for sale on my website.

Can you create the “perfect” training tool for your Sales Associates? Can you create a “Success Notebook” for whatever you sell? I think you can-and should. But, it will take study time, analysis time, hard work and a great deal of patience on your part. If you undertake the project, I guarantee that you’ll revise and revamp many times before you’re satisfied with the finished product! So what’s the reward for all this hard work? The payoff is huge! Once your perfect training tool is understood and implemented, you will have truly “created” Sales Associates capable of improving on their own, and anxious to do so-because they will be in control of the process! You will have Sales Managers capable of coaching, counseling and training in a much more efficient manner. Their training will always be precise and on point; this will happen because they will clearly see where each Sales Associate needs help: It will be in plain sight-in each Sales Associate’s handwriting! And, there’s a hidden bonus: Morale will improve, because everyone will have a clear track to run on, and everyone will know exactly how to improve. I sincerely hope you give it a try. With everyone on board, I believe that your results can be transformational! If you need help with the setup, contact me and I’ll gladly ( no charge) outline the procedures for you. Good luck!