Whenever people strive to buy a complex product, they want to learn as much as they can prior to talking with a sales rep. For example, people spend almost two months researching new cars online before ever stepping into a car showroom. Or they download user manuals for expensive cameras to study features before making purchasing decisions.

If they're doing that for cars and cameras, you can imagine how much time they are spending to learn about complex B2B products and services prior to giving your sales rep a call.

While customer training can be a nice source of revenue after a sale, offering free training prior to a sale can be one of the most powerful weapons in your marketing arsenal.

For complicated products, customers want to know whether the product is really going to do what they hope. As useful as whitepapers, Web sites, case studies, podcasts, data sheets, and demos are, customers won't make a commitment to your product until they're sure it will meet their needs and that they can put it to good use. That means they have to understand how it works, and they need to kick the tires in a meaningful way to see whether it'll work for them before they make the commitment to place an order.

In short, while they may not be ready to speak to someone in sales, they may be very ready to study your product in detail on their own.

The best way to accomplish presales training is by helping your prospective customers try your product and learn to succeed with it. Oddly enough, you might find that your trainers could become your top sales people.

Here are eight tips for making presales training a success for you and your future customer:

  1. Trainers need to be trained by marketing how to answer questions in a meaningful way that addresses the customer's underlying concerns. It's essential that the trainer understand not only the technical aspect of the question being asked but also the underlying concerns of the customer, so that the answer can address real objections.

  2. You need to assess the level of detail you want to go into for your presales training. You don't want to give prospective customers so much depth that they find the training boring, yet you don't want to be superficial, either. You'll have to gauge the proper duration and depth by talking to customers prior to developing the training program, and you may even want to offer different levels of training.

  3. You want your customers to succeed at doing something tangible and useful without overwhelming them with complexity. You have to design your training so that your customers can appreciate your product's range of options while helping them accomplish something simple.

  4. Build customer success stories into your training. Offering interesting anecdotes and short case studies throughout the presentation is an excellent way to both explain the benefits in a meaningful context and keep prospective customers engaged.

  5. Provide a student guide. You want your prospective customers to have a tangible student guide laced with additional feature/benefit and customer success information. In short, you want to give them a useful handbook that's stuffed with your features, benefits, and case studies in the margins.

  6. After they've gone through your training, make sure they feel like they're "in the club." Bags, hats, mugs or any relevant and useful item is a nice gift to offer them on their way out the door.

  7. Give them a comparative buyer's guide. Handing out a document that frames the issues to facilitate a competitive evaluation can help shorten decision timeframes.

  8. Offer an honest assessment of the market options, and don't be afraid to recommend another product if it's truly a better fit for a customer. Not every shoe fits every customer, and you'll do wonders for your credibility by just giving an honest opinion.

When people feel you've empowered them, they'll love you. Presales customer training empowers your sales prospects and helps your reps to close the sale.

There's an added benefit to offering presales training to potential customers—you can bring your competition to tears. Why? Once potential customers learn how your product works and feel good about the interaction with you, they'll be comparing your competitor's product to your product every step of the way. You'll be the benchmark to beat.

And keep in mind that training can be offered in many formats. You can offer instructor-led training, video training, or even e-learning by leveraging the same core set of training materials. Big prospective customers can get the in-person, instructor-led training; customers with less potential can get the online video version delivered from your Web site.

Once you've built a good curriculum and core set of materials, you can use them throughout your marketing campaigns.

While you'll still need whitepapers, podcasts, datasheets, case studies, demos, and all the standard fare in marketing, a well-constructed training program offered early in the customer's product-research process will give you the unfair advantage that your sales reps will love.

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David Rogelberg is a two-time Inc. 500 CEO and the founder of Studio B (www.studiob.com)—a full-service marketing agency. His clients include giants like IBM, Microsoft, Apple, and Adobe. Contact him at david@studiob.com.