In the beginning in contract training, you can sit by your phone and take the occasional incoming call from people who express an interest in your services. The resulting work can usually fit into other programming work and make some extra money for your life-long learning program. But eventually, if you want to develop a division devoted to contracted services, you.ll have to move in the direction of having at least one employee who dedicates a significant amount of their work day to sales. The amount to time your department devotes to sales is directly related to the amount of income it produces.
For some people, the notion of selling education is inherently uncomfortable. If you work in education because of a love of learning, the last thing you may want to do is to pressure someone into buying a class they don.t need or want. Well, the good news is, that never has to happen.
Ideally, your role as a sales person is simple: it is to help your client succeed. This may sound over-simplified or idealistic, but it's based on our observation of what is working in contract training, among our most successful clients.
You want it. They want it.
You want to sell your clients training that works. You'd be most satisfied if you delivered training and consulting that met their needs and delighted the participants. An ideal training would be stress-free, effective and followed through with professionalism.
Not coincidentally, this is exactly what your client wants, with one small exception. Your client may not care who provides the training. You do. In fact, if the training has the qualities listed above, you would probably like very much to be the vendor. On the other hand, if this training is one for which you could not easily deliver to the client's expectations, the last thing you want is to be the vendor.
If a training has profit potential, but you are not the right match for the job, the profit will disappear as you struggle to make the bad match work. Little by little you will spend precious time, energy and money to patch the quality in a job you never should have taken. Despite your best efforts, the client will be disappointed. Not only will they still have the challenge that inspired the request for training, they might now have disgruntled participants and wasted money. The next time they recommend training as a solution to an organizational challenge, the request will be met with cynicism. Even when the match is good, things can go wrong. Still, success will come more often when you align yourself in client relationships that are a strong match.
How do you know if it's a good match?
When you meet a new social acquaintance, you talk. The aim of the talk is usually to see if you have anything in common. Most often, friendships are formed when there is a good match. We value the same things; or we value different things, but enjoy the diversity.
Exploring a client relationship is much like this. In the case of client relationships, you're not really looking to see if the person is a good social match, of course, but whether their needs and your ability to deliver to those needs are in sync.
At best, you do this exploration with a sense of wanting to learn something, not a sense of wanting to sell. If you learn that you're a good match for the job, then you sell your suggestion for a solution.
If you learn you're not a good match, you have saved both you and the client a the headache of a contract gone amok and you've protected your relationship for future business together.
What prevents us from learning what a client needs?
Fundamentally, there are two things that stand in the way of learning what a client needs:
You already know.
You listen briefly to their explanation of the problem and you decide what they need. This can work, especially if you know the problem and the client well or have a history of similar work. But there are also a number of things that can go wrong with this approach.
The first is that you might be wrong. If you.re missing any information, or have interpreted any of your information incorrectly, you may choose the wrong training or consulting solution.
When you tell the client what.s best for them, even if you.re right, you reduce their ownership of the solution. If the solution turns out to not be 100 percent on target, the client need not take any responsibility since it was your solution, not theirs There are two other problems with telling as a way to arrive at a solution.
One is that you potentially look a little arrogant coming in and telling someone who almost certainly knows more about their work and their problems than you do, what’s the right thing to do. The second — and this one is probably the more problematic of the two — is that you miss an opportunity to discuss other, potentially more valuable and more profitable solutions.
You take for granted that they know.
The second thing that can stand in the way of arriving at a good solution with a client is that you assume they know what they need and you deliver it, without question.
Again, this can work. But the client could also be wrong. Organizations often have a proclivity to try the same solutions over and over, regardless of outcome. Most organizations don’t measure training outcomes and so don’t have a good sense of what works and what doesn’t. But it still holds true that if your services don’t solve their problems, you’ll probably be the target of blame for the failure.
There is another way.
As an outsider whose sole focus is training and consulting, you bring a wealth of experience about the use of training as a solution to the discussion. A client will generally know more than you can ever hope to know about their work and the problems they face. The crossover between two things points to the best way to find out what the client really needs.
You explore a solution together.
Bringing to bear your experience as a training professional and the client’s understanding of their day-to-day operations, learn as much as you can about the problem or opportunity that caused them to call you. From that understanding, cocreate a solution that makes sense, or, if you think you are not a good match for this work, recommend the client to someone who is.
If you’re new to contract training.
If you’re new to contract training and you don’t yet have a strong training-related experience base, it’s okay. You can still use the following method to create a solution together. In fact, if you’re honest about your lack of experience, you may be a better listener and open to more questions that a pro would be. In either case — experienced or not — the next steps are the same.
Fist, ask the client why they called you.
Usually, clients will have called for one of two reasons: they are experiencing a “pain” or a “gain.” A pain is a problem. The client wants a certain level of performance, but they are unable to achieve it. If the performance problem is caused by a lack of skill or knowledge, training is probably the solution, or part of it.
The other reason a client may call you is that they see an opportunity coming. They sense that if they had more skill or knowledge, they could increase employee performance. This could include things like learning to use new equipment to increase production, or working to create an atmosphere that contributes to longer employee retention. Mastery of either would create an opportunity to increase performance and so, profit. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if the client has called because of a pain or a gain, but asking the question of why they called will give you a way to begin a discussion about their needs and how they think about them.
Never, never guess.
If LERN could just give you one piece of advice about exploring client needs, it would be to never, never guess. If your client says they called you because they are trying to reduce employee complaints about problems caused by email, you might be tempted to recommend your best selling course on use of email in business. If they bought your proposal without discussion, the transaction would be almost effortless and if the course is good, you might succeed in helping them succeed.
On the other hand, if the class was good, but was not a solution to the problem, the client has just wasted the cost of the training and employee time that was invested in attendance. You will have the check that pays your expenses, but you will not have created an experience that will contribute to a long-term client relationship.You can do better.
To do better in this case, begin by inquiring more about what the client meant when they said, “employee complaints about problems caused by email.” The biggest risk at this initial stage of the sale is that you will assume you understand what they mean by that phrase, because you have complaints about email, too. Since you feel clear about the kinds of problems email can cause you might proceed, based on that assumption. But what if your assumption was wrong?
Like the proverbial house built on a poor foundation, a solution based on a misunderstanding of the problem (or opportunity) will be a mismatch and everything built on top of the mis-match will be ill fitting or at least not as functional as it could be.
So, look for a match and test the match with open-ended, non-assumptive inquiry. The result over time will be a better-selected group of star clients who bring you income, opportunity and profit.
Julia King Tamang is one of the presenters at this year's LERN Contract Training Conference, April 16-17 in Chicago.