Channel calls for better sales training

Channel calls for better sales training

AS resellers promote themselves as more than just order takers, many channel players question whether they need sales skills training from vendors to help them competently present the business value around new technology.

In an industry dictated to and often distracted by constant change sales techniques are often sidelined as resellers focus on learning about the technology — forgetting how to actually sell that technology’s business case to their customers.

Despite this, however, most vendors and training institutions agree the fundamentals are in place and the local channel boasts good sales skills. But, says the channel, these skills need to be constantly updated and improved upon.

Microsoft New Zealand is doing just that as it gets set to host sessions to boost channel partners’ knowledge around the country on how to effectively sell the business value of its software.

But, says Microsoft partner group manager Steve Haddock, this does not mean the vendor thinks sales skills are absent in the market. “There are really good sales skills out there, but they do not know how to sell our [range] and the pain points it can solve — we can no longer just be order takers.”

Haddock believes medium-sized partners need to improve their sales skills to ensure their growth.

The sessions will focus on how to sell Office, SharePoint Server and Small Business Server, and opportunities presented by the release of Windows XP Service Pack Two this month, according to Haddock.

The sessions are aimed at helping partners take advantage of the demand Microsoft wants to generate with marketing initiatives around these suites in the coming year.

Leigh Richardson, Auckland sales manager of Auldhouse Computer Training, says there is a definite need for more sales training, especially when it addresses issues such as the return on investment a particular product could present.

“If sales training helps resellers get that message across then it will have value in the long term. Customers are looking at more than just the whizz-bang technology on offer, they want to know what the benefit for their organisation will be.”

While concerned with how investing in new technology will impact their bottom line, companies are also interested in how the products will contribute to their long-term strategies.

Richardson says although vendors offering sales training is not such a new concept, it does represent a slightly different tack for Microsoft, which has previously focused on technical training.

Paul Plester of Microsoft distributor Express Data says training that helps resellers pinpoint the particular needs of customers is worthwhile, but adds that many vendors only offer sales training online, while focusing more on product knowledge than actual sales techniques.

Local resellers also face particular challenges in terms of sales approaches due to the size of the market.

“They need to develop a level of trust with smaller customers, but do not always have the time,” explains Plester, adding that basic rules of selling always apply, such as listening to a customer and understanding their business and needs, and identifying which product will address their problems.

Meanwhile, Mark Dasent of Renaissance believes technical training is still an important factor, especially with technical products such as networking brands.

“We generally rely on the resellers to have the necessary sales skills, but we train them on the technical aspects of the products.”

A reseller with a sound technical background will succeed even if they do not have well-developed sales skills, says Dasent.

“If they know what they are talking about, they will win the confidence of the customer.”

Although Renaissance does not offer general sales technique training, Dasent says specific business issues and ROI arguments are addressed in the product training it provides.

General sales skills training is not always enough, adds Plester, as markedly different skills are needed to effectively sell different IT products, such as licences, hardware or software.

“There is only a small crossover in the skills needed,” he states.

On the other hand Haddock believes Microsoft has offered too much technical training to too wide an audience in the past. “I am not convinced that all of it went to the right people,” he says.

Haddock aims to host fewer, but more targeted briefings, to better-selected audiences under the new Microsoft Partner Programme banner this year.

The morning sessions of partner briefings are scheduled for June 29 in Christchurch, June 30 in Wellington and July 1 in Auckland.

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