Tom Slicko, sales manager for AAA Window, Siding & Roofing, in Lincoln, Ill., says that there are three ways salespeople learn new skills: they learn in the classroom, they role-play in sales meetings, and they learn from either the sales manager or sales veterans while riding, one-on-one.

Each has its purpose. For Slicko, calling on reps to demonstrate, say, the “glass performance” part of their window presentation puts them on the spot in front of peers. That keeps them alert. “Doing a presentation in front of their peer group is probably one of the scariest things a salesman will do,” Slicko says.

WHATEVER IT TAKES Before Steven Jones started Tulsa Renew, in Tulsa, Okla., he managed the salesforce at a large window and siding company in Texas. Jones says that, as a salesperson, he was never fond of role-playing in groups. “It's like kids in a locker room,” he says. Some people open up more in a group setting, Jones says, while others need one-on-one — especially in the beginning.

Dan Merrifield, vice president and sales manager at Lakeside Exteriors, in the St. Louis area, agrees. He says that his most effective way of getting a new hire up to snuff is having that person shadow him while Merrifield does four or five complete product demonstrations. After that, he adds, “I'll be the one watching.”

Lakeside Exteriors incorporates role-playing into its Tuesday and Friday morning sales meetings. “We might have a guy who has a great close,” Merrifield says. “He'll do the close word-for-word.”

Other reps might be called on to run through the company story, to go over product benefits, or to present on price. Merrifield says that reps need to be able to assess their prospects and to move toward whatever part of the presentation will be most meaningful. In a well-conducted group training exercise, “the guys become the teachers,” Merrifield says. “When you do this on a regular basis, everybody is there to help each other.” Everyone benefits, he says, because sooner or later “every salesman is going to get to that point when you're selling and you're tongue-tied.”

Many sales managers find group training and one-on-one useful. Without constant training, Slicko says, “you're not going to get the salesforce you want.” He makes a point to regularly ride with each of his five reps.

TECH CHALLENGE Mike Damora, VP of sales at Roeland Home Improvers, in Denville, N.J., says that his challenge these days is “getting [sales reps] over the technology curve.”

Four years ago the company moved away from “a canned sales presentation” and toward a consultative selling approach that now involves two to three visits, the first to collect information (including taking digital photos), the last to present price on an array of design options.

Salespeople — there are four at Roeland Home Improvers — carry iPads into their presentations and call themselves project managers. They order the products, assign a crew to the installation, and meet with homeowners on the jobsite to ensure that everything happens as promised. So while the company still holds daily sales meetings, the “challenges are twofold,” Damora says: “learn how to use the technology and how to make friends with the homeowner.” Since moving to the new system, Damora says the company closes more sales and at greater profitability.