Why International Sales Development
Why hold international sales training?
For a long time, sales training was largely a local affair. But during the course of globalization, more and more companies began to run international sales training programs. So is this a trend which will peter out after a time or rather a significant strategic initiative offering new opportunities to conduct sales at a higher level?
Implementing a global sales strategy
A uniform sales approach should and must be adopted towards internationally active customers and key accounts. Nowadays, products and services are largely internationally focused and will be sold in different countries to similar target groups using the same sales arguments. If a standardized sales terminology and process is adopted, it is easier to communicate and successfully implement central marketing and added value concepts for individual products and customer groups as well as proven models, tried-and-trusted approaches and relevant information.
An internationally standardized training program guarantees this. Everyone involved in the sales (and marketing) process speaks the same ‘language’, understands the marketing strategies better and can communicate important information in a faster and more targeted manner. Isolated locally-based training measures cannot meet these requirements and are therefore only suitable for basic skills at best (e.g. communication, time management).
The challenges of international sales training
Of course, there are still lots of customers which operate on a purely local level and in certain countries, different distribution channels and market positions often need to be taken into account such as cultural differences and particular language features. The design and implementation need to meet the highest of standards in order for international sales training to fully effective. The most important aspects are detailed below.
International as well as country-specific: ‘glocalization’.
Some countries are often mistrustful of international training programs. Local training has already taken place and there is a concern that insufficient attention will be paid to local characteristics. There is also a general skepticism towards anything issued by the central headquarters. The result: official agreement to undertake training is often a matter of simply paying lip service and participants only go about this half-heartedly, sometimes waiting for a ‘pre-determined break point’ so that they can quit the training altogether.
It is of critical importance to include the relevant countries or regions in the training concept at an early stage. This specifically means: the objectives and any significant content should be agreed in advance of the training program. During the course of a scoping meeting and/or the entry point research, the various local features must be made clear to the training provider in addition to the international strategy to ensure that all of this is taken into account in the program design. A typical standard training program (‘off the shelf’) is no longer able to meet this basic requirement. Every international training concept should therefore be tailored precisely to the company’s specific situation as well as having pre-defined scope for any additional adaptation to specific regional characteristics (localization).
This scope may relate to the sales process (e.g. gaining new customers or potential exploitation/ cross-selling with existing customers), distribution channels (e.g. sales via dealers or direct sales), the selection of target customers or product focus and local best practices. When it comes to designing training programs, this affects participant preparatory tasks as well as case studies, exercises and role play scenarios.
From experience, the amount of effort needed to adapt the training modules or learning pathways to suit local conditions stands at approx. 20-30%.
In the local language
Cultural characteristics should not be underestimated. While the basic concepts for discussion may be comparable, there may be substantial differences between countries and regions in the way in which they are implemented. Even if the internal company language is English, the training should still be carried out by native speakers who live in the relevant countries or regions and have knowledge of the local sales culture and local language.
An international training initiative also needs special project management within companies. When it comes to an international academy program offering different qualification modules, project management should be introduced for the design phase until the management of the academy is embedded within the existing organizational structure. Project management is also required for the entire project duration in cases of fundamental changes being made to the working method or strategic initiatives (e.g. from the sale of products to solutions or special programs for new customers) where there is substantial focus on implementation.
In addition to devising the timetable and coordinating the individual stages of work, the project management should also put together an international project group to represent each of the relevant regions from the outset and integrate their requirements into the project. The project group also acts as a sparring partner for the training provider in terms of the detailed design of the individual training modules and learning pathways. When it comes to implementing the training, the individual project group members organize the roll-out and coordinate collaboration in the countries/regions (e.g. with localization of the modules). The training provider should reflect this organization and put together a project team with a central project manager, central design team and regional (lead) trainers.
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