Marketing vs. Sales Training: Where's Best to Invest?

Well, both (because—hint!—they're the same thing)

Words by Leslie Cunningham

Disclaimer: when you ask a training organization like The Mann Group, “Where should retailers spend their money—marketing or sales training?” you know the answer you’re going to get: sales training.

Well, not in this article. Not exactly, anyways.

You see, marketing and sales training go hand-in-hand. We’ve all heard the stats on how much money it takes to create new customers. We all know how devastating it is when you lose a sale or a customer because your staff is under-developed. Even the most stubborn retailer has to admit that both marketing and a well-trained staff have an impact on profits.

Your business always has to be top-of-mind with your clients, and you need to create a compelling story that generates interest for folks—existing and potential customers, alike—to come into your store. But if the experience and culture don’t match up with your brand and marketing, then you've lost a customer. In fact, you likely lose other customers, too, thanks to a little thing called “word-of-mouth.” 

Word-of-mouth is still the most powerful marketing tool, and it’s inherently tied to your customers’ experience, which itself is intrinsically connected to your training. If your employees don’t know how to interact with customers in ways that deliver an outstanding experience—and especially if they deliver a subpar experience—the money you spent on real marketing is nullified by negative word-of-mouth marketing. 

So which is more important, marketing or sales training? It’s a debate that’s raged around many conference tables and boardrooms, but the real answer is simple:  Both—because they’re the same. 

With that in mind, where do you start? 

A causal environment. 

Yes, you read it right: causal environment. What do we mean? Setting expectations. Measuring results. Creating accountability. Not a casual environment, a causal one, where actions have immediate, justified reactions. We have to create a culture of accountability, which leads to confidence, empowerment, and clarity among our staff. 

In order to implement a causal environment, you have to enact training, but not that “training” you’re used to, which usually involves sitting staff in front of a computer to watch a video in the hopes that they’ll retain the dull information presented. That is a casual environment. Stop doing it. It doesn’t work.

True training isn’t momentary, it’s constant. It’s multifaceted and reactionary. It takes practice from employees and mindfulness from leaders. It takes, in other words, a causal environment.

First thing's first, define and create the culture and experience you want your customers to have, and instill that in your employees. Start here:

1. Set expectations. We all have expectations of how to interact with our customers, and for most of us it comes naturally—but don’t assume that applies to your staff. In fact, let’s just assume it doesn’t come naturally to your staff; outline specifically and consistently the expectations you have for them when they interact with customers. Take an active role in not just telling but showing your staff what it looks and feels like to create connections with every customer that comes into your store. If you define and exemplify great service, they’ll follow your lead—that’s training.

2. Measure results. To build a causal environment, you have to measure results. Don’t just give your staff the tools; assess how they implement them and offer feedback. Guess what? It’s what your staff wants! All humans want to know they are doing a good job. What behaviors are you seeing on your floor? Is this the culture you expect to see? Are the sales goals being met? Why or why not? You’ve already defined a standard; now follow through to make sure it’s being met.

3. Create accountability. Rather than a causal environment, we tend to cultivate a hope environment—as in, cross your fingers that change occurs without interference—because we don’t like to give feedback. We don’t want to hurt our staff‘s feelings, and so we avoid accountability. But in order to create a causal environment, you must create structure around accountability. “Show me what you learned” becomes your most critical tool, because anyone can absorb training, but only the invested can implement it and prove it. By asking your employees to demonstrate their learned aspects of service, you’re training them to utilize them in real life. Even if you’re an advocate of video training, after your staff has watched the videos, have them show you what they learned. Create a scenario so that you can ensure the right culture is getting practiced every day.

Once you’ve confidently created and maintained a causal environment, your employees will adapt and provide an increasingly memorable experience for every guest, every time. And that’s the best marketing of all. 

Leslie Cunningham is Chief Strategic Officer at The Mann Group, a specialty retail trainer and consultancy in the outdoor and bike industries that's helped to grow more than 2,000 businesses.