Nonsales employees play a major role in the technology sales process, yet their training in customer communication skills is woefully neglected.
The mood, pace, and attitude of the business world have changed. After carefree carousing, the technology sector is living with a hangover.
People who have lived through these business cycles know that things will get better. Good managers understand that this is the perfect time to reposition for greater opportunity. And for a technology company, training is one of the best ways to invest.
But how and where to invest? Money is tight, and risk seems high. Should you choose by organization, such as sales or engineering? Will certification make the difference? Is any one skill recession-, restructure-, and redeployment-proof? I think so.
Regardless of the state of the stock market, your customers and employees rank highest among your assets and investments. Think about when and how often those assets interact. In other industries, company employees rarely meet customers. Not so in the technology field, where salespeople sometimes bring in dozens of resources to meet with each account. For every system designed, channel developed, and program launched, untold meetings must take place.
Imagine what would happen if you could leverage every customer interaction. Sales cycles would tighten up, product development times would shorten, customer satisfaction would increase, and resources could be used more efficiently.
Now think about the training you offer to nonsales employees who interact with customers. Is predominantly for technical skills? Yup, I thought so.
Survey Says …
In a recent project, we amassed data on this very topic. Two findings we expected; a third was a surprise.
Training on nontechnical skills is usually reserved for sales and marketing.
Technical people secretly desire but rarely request such training, in any form.
The majority of managers (sales and technical) said that they would get a big payback if their technical people developed better “customer skills.”
Here's how a VP from a highly respected “solutions” company put it: “Technical people outnumber the sales and marketing people in our company 20:1. In the quarters since our technical people have been trained on really communicating with customers — how to get things across and enthuse them [about our ideas, concepts, and innovations], we have doubled our sales without adding resources, replacing processes, or making organizational changes.”
Soft Skills School
I have talked to CFOs, developers, instructors, channel partners, directors, sales and marketing vice presidents, and dozens of engineers. Our research in North America shows that training in customer communication skills is greatly desired but woefully neglected. Think of the last time you offered any so-called “soft skill” training to your employees outside sales and marketing.
What should you do? First, as you make plans for the “rebound,” think communication, not coding. Look at the people who interact with your customers and ask yourself: How can I help them to be more successful in customer situations? I bet you find the answer is not hard but soft.
Second, find or create a training course that focuses on the heart of communications, i.e., the content. Look for a course that teaches techies how to position their message in the customer's mind, how to see their topic (and acronyms) from the customer's point of view. And how to create meetings that end with the customer's eyes alert and excited instead of glazed over.
Janette Racicot is president of Racicot & Associates, which creates and manages in-person and online training programs. Share your thoughts with her at (617) 484-3201, or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.