Proper Training for Reps is Critical for Hi-Tech Product Campaigns

As direct marketers bring more and more hi-tech products to the consumer, the requirements being placed on call centers to provide support to their efforts have changed dramatically.

In the low-tech world, the inbound order call was a fairly straightforward capture of order information — name, address, phone number and credit card information. If the caller had any questions, they were usually relatively simple and an information box on the order screen provided the telesales representative with the data they needed to answer the questions.

In today's hi-tech world things have changed. Potential buyers call with a need to make certain the product meets their needs exactly. They have questions on technical specifications and features, and they want to know with certainty that their current set up meets recommended system requirements. They want to be sure that what they are buying is the best possible product for them, and they have varying degrees of technical knowledge.

For a telesales consultant to be able to successfully turn these callers into buyers they must have thorough and detailed knowledge of these technically sophisticated products. They need to know not only the technical specifications, but how these translate into features and, ultimately, benefits to the user. If at any point during the call the potential buyer discovers or even senses that the telesales consultant's technical product knowledge is faulty, the sale is lost.

But, thorough product knowledge is only part of what it is needed. Telesales consultants also must possess outstanding sales skills that let them use this information in a manner that will result in their ability to close sales. There is therefore an increased importance on the role that training is playing in the call center. Today's environment requires that every telesales consultant receive thorough training at the outset of any program supplemented with training throughout the life of the program.

When telesales consultants have been selected for a program, they should be assigned to a training conducted jointly by product experts, the product manager or technical support manager and call center management. They should be provided with enough information to have a detailed working knowledge of the product and its features. They will need to know the product's capabilities and its limitations. Selling a product that doesn't meet up to the consumer's needs will only result in returns.

Whenever possible, this training should be hands on with the product. Let the telesales consultants work with the product as would the end user. Nothing adds credence to a sales presentation better than being able to relate first-hand experience. When a telesales consultant tells a caller that they've done exactly what the caller wants to do, all product questions are answered and the sale is on its way to being closed.

At the close of the training, require written tests of product knowledge and put anyone not measuring up through a remedial program until they can demonstrate the desired degree of knowledge. Also, be sure to videotape all training sessions so that new telesales consultants added to the program can receive top quality training. The video also can be used for remedial training of existing representatives should that become necessary.

It's also very important to have a second training session after the call center has handled some call traffic. At this session, telesales consultants can provide feedback as to what types of questions they are getting and what objections are being raised. Regardless of how thorough the research has been and no matter how many focus groups have reviewed the offer, there are always going to be surprises when the offer hits the consumer. This second training provides the opportunity to address these frequently encountered questions and objections and equip the telesales consultants with additional information that will allow them to increase their conversions of callers to buyers. As a company moves forward, product enhancements or improvements require retraining of the consultants.

Assuming the telesales consultants are experienced and have been through a thorough sales skills training, there are still several areas that should be reviewed and reemphasized when they are being assigned a hi-tech product. Perhaps most important of these is to train the consultants to determine the technical expertise of the caller and to adjust language to meet that level. You don't want the technically sophisticated caller to lose confidence in the offer because the consultant isn't technically competent nor do you want to intimidate the neophyte.

Also, make certain that the consultant is listening to the caller while maintaining control of the conversation. If the consumer does not seem ready to order, the consultant should cover all of the key features and benefits in a brief presentation.

On an ongoing basis, individual consultants sales performance should be statistically reviewed. Those who are not performing to established standards should be monitored to identify weaknesses, and they should be provided with residual training to strengthen those weaknesses and improve their performance. Even the very best consultants will endure times when they are not performing up to standards.

Training is a key element contributing to the effectiveness of any call center, but when you are dealing with a hi-tech product it becomes an absolutely vital aspect for success.

Paul Kerstetter is vice president of sales and marketing at the After Market Co., Phoenix, which specializes in inbound and outbound campaigns. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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