If you ask sales reps to describe their place in a corporate structure, chances are they'll say something about being the last link in the supply chain. Fact is, they’re being modest. Products may be great. Services may be superb. But great sales reps can make or break a company. Given their importance, regular training isn’t just a good idea; it’s critical. The company that keeps its sales force informed and supplied with every resource it needs to do the job well will flourish. One very important resource is the sales manual.
What should it look like?
Ask your design team, desktop publishing guru or clerical workers who have a flair for creative projects to come up with a format for the manual. Ask them to choose signature colors, fonts and formatting styles that will give your presentation a uniform, professional look with content ranging from data to graphs, charts and other visual aids.
Consider using a system of color-coded sections. For example, new product line introductions for the coming year might be confined to a red section with page numbers starting at 1R. Start a yellow section on pricing with 1Y. This type of format will allow you to add more material to the appropriate section, and if pages fall out, you’ll know exactly where they belong.
Give one person the responsibility for editing the content of the sales material. Collect the content submitted by staff contributors and turn it over to the writer. This will ensure that the entire presentation is written in the same voice and style. Uniformity makes printed material easier to read and understand.
What should be in it?
Contact pag e– Includes the names and locations of those within the company who can answer questions about new products, promotions, incentives, commissions and other sales-related matters. You may also wish to include an updated roster of sales force members so individuals can network with their colleagues throughout the year.
New strategies – Offer reps easy-to-digest ways of introducing and selling new items. Use bullet points to present marketing suggestions, press clippings, surveys, testimonials and other background data. Include volume pricing guides and other incentives for the customer.
Product photos and selling points – Use large, sharp images of new products. List each item’s features and benefits on the page adjacent to each photo. Show the products as they might be used in homes or businesses.
Updated pricing guide – Devote at least a page to pricing updates. Reps don’t like increases, but if they understand why prices have increased, they might get on board with less reluctance. Whether it’s labor costs in China, tariffs associated with transportation or an increase in raw materials, spell it out.
Competitive audit – Take time to investigate what competitors are doing so reps aren’t left out in the cold when they take the product on the road. Photos, new-line introductions, pricing stats and other information can help reps counter arguments from customers who are ready to say no to a sales pitch.
Policies, practices and protocols – Many of these corporate documents may already be in effect, but reps need to know where they stand, and it’s particularly important for the newest members of the sales team to have this background information.
If in-person sales meetings have become too costly, consider putting your manual on a CD or in an MP3 format that can be played in the car while sales reps travel. Repeated play reinforces information and might save time and money. You also could use a DVD. Both could save a fortune on travel and lodging costs.
Use the Web to conduct your sales training. PowerPoint presentations that include graphics and data can be sent to all reps before you hold a videoconference. After the conference, the reps can refer to the material on their computer or print it out for future reference.
Put together an archive of all of your sales training manuals. They make great reference material and can help new staff members understand past sales efforts.
Based in Chicago, Gail Cohen has been a professional writer for more than 30 years. She has authored and co-authored 14 books and penned hundreds of articles in consumer and trade publications, including the Illinois-based "Daily Herald" newspaper. Her newest book, "The Christmas Quilt," was published in December 2011.