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We’ve all read the statistics about how much research customers do before speaking to a sales person. By the time they do talk to sales, their questions will often be context-specific and require detailed answers. And increasingly, they expect those answers immediately.

A Google/Millward Brown Research study on B2B purchasing behavior revealed that nearly 46 percent of B2B end user buyers are in the 18 to 34 age bracket, and nearly 72 percent of influencers are under the age of 45. These buyers have come of age in an era of always-available information, and that now extends to the information they want to make buying decisions.

So where does that leave sales staff? Aside from understanding customer’s wants and goals specific to their industry, position and other parameters, sales staff should be qualified subject matter experts. The sales representatives who best provide the information a customer seeks will be the most successful.

But what happens when the product or service is complex, with frequent updates and new features coming online, and new pricing or bundling schemes? Tasking sales staff with retaining all of this information is an unreasonable request. Thankfully, there is an evolution in the tools sales staff use that aligns nicely with customers’ desire for subject matter expertise from sales.

Here are five best practices to build a more informed and effective sales team:

1. Sales Enablement Must Have Structure

Marketing departments create massive amounts of data, but much of it is never used in the actual sales process. A study from Sirius Decisions estimated 70 percent of content offered by B2B marketing teams goes unused. What’s causing the disconnect? The most common reason is inaccessibility of the information. When content is provided through an enablement solution with a well-designed structure, sales people can access the right data quickly and at the right time, and you can start to adjust your content strategy based on actual data, not assumptions.

2. Training is a Career-Long Activity

Sales people typically receive a considerable amount of on-boarding training, but as they reach some level of proficiency, the focus on training lessens. This pattern does not build subject matter experts. For that, you need long-term training that reinforces and refines the lessons learned in the first two months of employment. According to an Association for Talent Development study of 540 companies, the introduction of continued training and reinforcement resulted in 50 percent higher net sales per employee. Make the training easy to consume on mobile devices and make it easy for front line managers to track completion and you will quickly see it being adopted as part of the sales professional’s routine.

3. Leverage Content from Third Parties

It’s crucial to understand the limitations of your company and the sales staff to be experts on a seemingly limitless number of topics. Sales should also not solely rely on marketing as the only source of expert knowledge. Encourage collaboration among sales people and others in the organization to create a shared library of material from the leading third-party sources. The technology used to share and store this information is crucial and ideally can be tied back to the sales enablement solution.

4. Introduce Gamification for Long-Term Results

Offering long-term learning to sales people is important, but it’s only worthwhile if the information is properly retained and they apply the lessons learned to the sales process. How does this work in practice? 

Use a gamification platform to award sales staff who take courses and engage with relevant content. Looking for another way to build the knowledge library? Award points for sales people that bring in new content and share it with the larger group. Sales people are competitive by nature, so establish prizes (both virtual and real-world) for participation levels. The point of the gamification is to create a knowledge sharing culture, one that translates into higher commissions and revenue for everyone.

5. Build a Team That Understands the Business from the Customer’s Context

To create a sales team of subject matter experts, you need staff members who can retain information and then use it to make the most salient points to customers. Managers adept at coaching – and who are enabled by strong sales coaching and enablement tools — will play a major role in driving this evolution. The buyer also has a role to play here. Feedback direct from the buyer is the best indicator of how well the seller is establishing trust, understanding the buyer’s needs and delivering a winning experience for the buyer.

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