The Training Conundrum

Well, we anticipated some varied responses to last week’s column on training, and we got them.

The first few messages were from sales reps who wished they were receiving better training from management in handling selling challenges. (Thanks for the “yes” votes!)

Then came the offers for additional training resources; we’re always glad to have new leads there, too.

Still later, the criticisms rolled in, as paraphrased below.

The field is called “New Media” for a reason; it’s all being created anew, so why should we learn to do things the old way?

…let’s not bring the bad precedents of traditional advertising to the web.

Isn’t experience the best teacher?

Good points, all of them, and worth taking seriously. But let’s not forget that traditional advertisers and established “old media” ad agencies will need to jump on board, to spend money online, if this Internet advertising phenomenon is to be more than a passing fad. Dot-coms have funded much of the online ad growth to date. How substantial can the market become if it stops there?

And do you really expect traditional ad buyers to transform their whole way of doing business just because one new medium has been added to the marketing mix?

Let’s remember that interactive or new media, as exciting and dynamic and world-changing as it might be to those of us who live in the midst of it, is just one of many choices to a mainstream marketer.

These professionals don’t chase after media fads, they select a particular type of media based upon its ability to address real market needs. If a salesperson can’t understand the range of marketing goals an advertiser may be losing sleep over, then she can’t begin to offer the solutions that will culminate in the big sale.

Great Internet ad salespeople need to understand not only their own offerings, but all the other choices a buyer has available, if they are to make recommendations that actually solve problems.

At the same time, there are a number of core skills associated with any selling job, and those skills demand reinforcement and refinement over the course of a career. Lead screening, prospect qualification, proposal design, negotiation and closing skills are all deserving of regular practice and improvement so they don’t get rusty. Training programs provide the ability to try on new approaches, without risking the business in front of your buyer.

Multifaceted salespeople should be regularly growing their knowledge of and experience in several areas:

  • Marketing insights
  • Advertising expertise
  • Selling skills
  • Market dynamics
  • Product information

Internal sources are best at providing information about the product each salesperson is selling. Formal training (complemented by field experience with experienced sales professionals) is best at developing and reinforcing the rest.

So, to those training proponents who wrote in, we thank you. To the dissenters, we ask you to reconsider: Do you really believe individuals should be left to sink or swim in the sales arena, when the future of the ad-funded sites – and, in some ways, the future of the Internet advertising business itself – so depends upon their expertise?

We’d love to hear more opinions; disagreements are part of how we learn, and they sure keep life interesting.

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