The Get Dangerous Quickly Approach to Product/Service Training

In 2000 a computer distributor hired me to help them build a software specialist sales team. The distributor had more than 100 "generalist" salespeople, but these salespeople were doing a poor job of selling software. The distributor's management felt a team of specialists could help jump-start growth in software sales.

This was a very interesting project for several reasons. First, the distributor had sixteen software products in its portfolio. Second, they couldn't afford to hire experienced software salespeople. Instead, we needed to hire good consultative salespeople and train them to sell all sixteen software products. We also needed to write a business plan, get a budget approved, hire six salespeople, train them to sell sixteen software products, and have them working in the field?within 90 days.

Sound impossible? It sure seemed that way at first glance; but, when I talked to the various software manufacturers, I came to an important realization. All of the software manufacturers were almost desperately eager for incremental opportunities. If the new software salespeople could identify qualified opportunities, the software manufacturers would be delighted to provide product experts to help turn the opportunities into sales. So, all the new software salespeople really needed to learn was how to find and qualify opportunities.

I knew there was no way we could make our new salespeople experts in sixteen software products in any reasonable time frame. But, we could make them experts in the business problems that the software products addressed. And, we could provide them with tools they could use as "cheat sheets" in the field to determine whether prospects had those specific business problems, and if they did, to quantify the impact of the business problems.

There was just one challenge. The software manufacturers' marketing departments were all accustomed to delivering very detailed, technical training. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get them to understand the kind of abbreviated, targeted training that I wanted my salespeople to receive. I even roughed out a sample training tool (the very first "get dangerous quickly" document) and sent it to each software manufacturer. Despite repeated conversations and lots of good-faith efforts, they just never "got it". So, I developed my team's training tools and conducted most of the training myself.

What were the results? The six software salespeople helped the distributor's existing 100 salespeople double software sales during their first six months on the job! Unfortunately, the "dot com bust" hit shortly thereafter, and the software specialist team fell victim to deep headcount cuts.

This project taught me a very important lesson: salespeople don't need to be experts in specific products or services to sell them successfully. They do need to be experts in the business problems that the products or services can solve, as well as how to find and qualify opportunities, and how to leverage expert resources.

If you want to produce rapid sales results, redesign your product/service training curriculums to help your salespeople "get dangerous quickly". You'll be glad you did!

Copyright 2005 -- Alan Rigg

Sales performance expert Alan Rigg is the author of How to Beat the 80/20 Rule in Selling: Why Most Salespeople Don't Perform and What to Do About It. To learn more about his book and sign up for more FREE sales and sales management tips, visit

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