Is Virtual Reality the Future of Sales Training?

Jeff Cochran


Virtual reality is finally reaching its heyday, thanks to increased affordability and big names like Facebook and Google embracing the trend. VR headset makers promise the technology will revolutionize the way we work and play. But do the same applications relate to sales training? Here are some of the benefits virtual reality brings to sales training along with potential pitfalls to avoid.

VR Offers Cost-Effective Education Solutions

Imagine a classroom where education can be presented to learners one-on-one, and everyone is learning at the same time. Sounds like a solution across education spectrums: Learning for elementary students becomes more fun and engaging, military and law enforcement can train for dangerous situations without being put at risk, and college students get more clear direction from the get-go.

Virtual reality training benefits businesses as well. Managers often struggle to find time to train their sales teams. With VR, the manager can create one virtual training session distributed to each person on the team to be viewed when they’re ready. Training feels like it’s face-to-face, so it’s more effective and saves costs. Sales trainings can take place more often, providing greater regularity and more consistent results.

Virtual reality allows sales teams to be immersed in environments they might not otherwise experience, but that they will eventually need to understand. Train salespeople in the features of heavy machinery without having to leave the office. Practice demonstrating a product or conducting negotiations with virtual clients before it happens in the real world.

VR Promotes Retention

Any time you learn something new, the brain retains more as exposure increases. Provide your sales team with virtual reality training and encourage them to return to it more than once.

Virtual reality allows sales people to practice what they’ve learned. When trainees go through sales simulations, they find holes in their knowledge and work through their nerves to develop confidence. Team members can practice presentations in a low-stress environment before they face the real one.

Virtual Reality Helps Sell Products

VR is compelling, even when the subject matter you are trying to explain feels dry. Consider the medical industry: If you place the viewer in a virtual environment where they can experience a stent implant, suddenly, they can wrap their brains around the process in ways much more multidimensional than through language alone.

Virtual reality gives salespeople a tool to engage the prospect and offer the chance to try before asking for a purchase.

Limitations of Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality can be great for training, but it does have some limitations. There’s no human interaction, which can lead to communication problems. In a real training, you can ask questions. The person in charge of training can see if someone looks confused.

VR can be a cost-effective tool for your trainings, just ensure there’s a backup plan for those who fall behind.

4 Lessons We Can Learn From Famous Business Flops

Jeff Cochran


Big businesses have seen their fair share of flops in PR, sales, and marketing. Some businesses are even forced to fold because of their embarrassing mistakes. Here are some of the most famous business fails throughout history and the lessons we can learn from them.

The Hamburger Mistake – Not Knowing Your Buyer

In 1996, McDonalds introduced its Arch Deluxe. The burger cost more than standard McDonalds’ fare and was aimed at “urban sophisticates.” This was outside McDonald’s target demographic. No one bought it, so McDonalds had to take the item off the menu.

The takeaway – If you try to sell to someone who doesn’t want what you’re selling, you’re destined for failure.

The Chip Mistake – Making Claims Too Good to Be True

In 1998, Frito-Lay marketed WOW! Chips. The chips were made with Olestra, a compound that made them fat free. However, Olestra’s molecules were too large to be digested properly. Customers experienced stomach cramps and diarrhea. The chips had to be taken off the market.

The Takeaway – Don’t get so excited about the good aspects of your product that you fail to conduct due diligence. Take your time, do your research, and make sure the data backs your claims.

Nintendo’s Mistake – Offering a Product Before It Was Ready

In 1995, Nintendo released Virtual Boy, new technology that was supposed to transport buyers into virtual reality. The tabletop game console was supposed to create the illusion of depth with stereoscopic 3D graphics. It didn’t. Games had low-resolution graphics, grainy images, and an often-monochromatic display.

The Takeaway – Know your target audience, and give them what they want, but be sure your product is up to the challenge first.

Facebook Home – Making Things Too Complicated

In 2013, Facebook launched an app for Android that makes Facebook’s cover feed the user’s home screen. The app was only compatible with a handful of devices and got negative reviews. Users reported Facebook Home gave them too many notifications and made it hard to see other apps. Critics said it used too much data and battery. Most people uninstalled it.

The Takeaway – Don’t over-provide. Start slow, and build from what works.

Don’t make the same mistake these big businesses did when they lost sight of their audience, rushed in with a product that wasn’t ready, or overcomplicated their sales efforts. Focus on your target market and audience and stay within that demographic. Eliminate unnecessary information and counterintuitive steps so these mistakes won’t happen to your business.

SNI’s Jeff Cochran Scores Highest Feedback at 2017 SAMA Conference

Jeff Cochran


Strategic Account Management Association, Inc. (SAMA) gathers talent in strategic and key account management from around the globe every year at their annual conferences, one in North America and another in Europe. At this year’s North American conference, SNI’s own Jeff Cochran presented the “The Power of Nice: Maximizing Your Most Crucial Negotiations”.  Jeff showcased SNI’s philosophy on how you can maximize your share while still maintaining a long-term relationship with the other side.

His ability to captivate and provide value to his audience was shown in his post evaluation scores and anonymous participants’ comments. Two examples are:

  • “Best session I attended during the conference.”
  • “Appreciated the handouts to use for note taking. Jeff did a super job of keeping everyone engaged, especially considering it was the last session of the day.”

Here is a summary of scores that made him the #1 ranked speaker at the conference:

SAMA Report Card

SAMA Report Card

5 Common Negotiation Mistakes

Jeff Cochran


Negotiating is an art form, one that requires skills honed over time, but there are some mistakes you can avoid no matter how new you are to the game. Here are some common mistakes made by rookies and experienced negotiators alike.

They Don’t Listen

Negotiators can be so focused on presenting their piece and closing the deal they forget to listen. This alienates the person you’re trying to persuade. Show up prepared and know your stuff, but make sure you know your audience. Ask questions to find out where they’re coming from and what matters to them. No matter how great your pitch, if your listener feels un-listened to, it will likely fall on deaf ears.

They Talk Too Much

Have you ever been in a situation where someone communicated successfully, then kept talking so long you forgot what the original point was? Don’t make this mistake. Clearly and concisely present your case. Allow the other party a chance to ask questions. Answer them as clearly as possible, but be concise.

They Don’t Define What They Want

Before entering a negotiation, define exactly what you want from the other party. Decide your best hoped-for outcome and the minimum terms that will be acceptable to you. Use these as fixed points to ensure you won’t get derailed by emotion or manipulation.

Plan to get what you want, but don’t expect it. Have alternative solutions prepared ahead of time. Often, you’ll find you get what you want or you’re able to find a similar option that’s agreeable to both sides.

They Lack Confidence

Projecting confidence means putting in preparation time and being able to demonstrate you’re the expert in your field – no matter what the question. It doesn’t mean being loud or pushy. Know everything you can possibly know about your subject, then carry yourself accordingly.

They Don’t Build Relationships

A good negotiator is always building relationships. If you are meeting someone for the first time, try not to start at the negotiating table. Meet for dinner the night before to establish rapport and get to know the person you’re going to be dealing with.

Build time into every day to strengthen personal connections with others. Let people know you aren’t just in it for what you can get from them, but you care about them personally. Ask questions about things that interest them and really listen. Return to those topics every time you see them to build a deeper connection.

Be prepared, be credible, and let the other side know you care about what matters to them. Negotiation is an art that takes practice, so keep these blunders in mind before you start the process.

How Aristotle Invented Influence Training

Jeff Cochran


While we may think the basics of public speaking starting recently, it was actually 2,300 years ago that Aristotle recorded his theory on effective public speaking. He espoused the importance of ethos (credibility), pathos (emotion), and logos (logic) to influence behavior. His principles are still the key foundation for negotiations training. Here’s how Aristotle’s tenets have shaped the art of argument and influence in business today.

Ethos – The Speaker’s Character

To persuade anyone of anything, you must appear credible. Regardless of what you wear, how solid your company is, or even how your reputation may precede you, if your listener has reason to question your credibility, your negotiations will suffer. Aristotle says a credible speaker conveys three qualities:

  • Competence – The knowledge and ability to do what you say you can do.
  • Good Intention – You intend to do good for your listener.
  • Empathy – The listener feels as if you have been in their shoes.

Ethos is both articulated and nonverbal. Your demeanor, body language, and tone all play a role in your perceived credibility. It’s about your audience’s perception of you and your ability to control that perception. To improve ethos, develop expertise in the subject you’re going to be speaking about. Learning more and growing more comfortable in the subject matter will allow you to speak confidently and convey knowledgeable insight.

Pathos – The Speaker’s Emotional Influence

If your goal is to persuade, you must make an emotional connection. Aristotle said if people feel anger, the speaker should discover with whom they are angry and why. The first step in doing this is to have a basic knowledge of your audience. What are their values and beliefs? Use techniques that appeal to their emotions and offer something they desire.

Choose presentation techniques with which your audience can identify. Use humor to get them laughing with you. Tell a story to draw them in and help them make personal connections. Use words that are charged with the emotion you seek to convey. Offer carefully chosen visuals so your audience sees what you have seen.

Logos – The Speaker’s Appeal to Reason

Only after you have established credibility and made an emotional connection, should you proceed with your logical statement. This step is as important as the other two, but, without ethos and pathos, logos will fail.

Evaluate your message to be sure it makes sense. Use plain language that everyone in your audience can understand. Repeat key ideas so they stand out. Present facts, statistics, and evidence to back up what you’re saying. Give your audience a clear call to action so they know what to do with what they’ve experienced.

Keep ethos, pathos, and logos in your mind the next time you come to the negotiation table.


What are the Sales Pipeline Stages

Jeff Cochran


When you work in business and sales, one of the most effective tools you can develop is your sales pipeline. This is the sequence of stages that a sales team follows and takes customers through in order to convert them from prospective customer to actual customer and finally—in the most successful cases—to returning customer.

If you want to be successful, you can’t just sit back and wait for people to come to you. An effective sales pipeline is proactive, regularly going out and seeking qualified leads. To do that, you need to know how to talk to people, understand what exactly it is that they are looking for, and then find a way to meet those needs.

Like most successful negotiations,  a solid sales pipeline starts with PLEASE. And while manners are indeed important in every negotiation, in this case, PLEASE is an acronym that stands for the six sales pipeline stages:

  1. Prospecting
  2. Lead Qualification
  3. Engage
  4. Action
  5. Support
  6. Evaluate

Each of these stages is a key part of an efficient sales process, so we’re here to walk you through each one.

1. Prospecting

Before you can start sending leads through your sales funnel, you actually have to find and/or generate those leads. So where do these leads come from? How do they actually become a lead, rather than just a random stranger or company with whom you’ve never had any interaction?

The best way to acquire leads is different in each industry, but there are certain steps that are useful no matter what industry you’re in. Train your team to recognize what makes a good lead in your industry and keep an open mind about coming up with a lead wherever you/they go. Identify your target demographic, then do market research to find out what companies and individuals within that demographic are looking for. Develop your marketing campaigns to target those demographics to bring them in.

2. Lead Qualification

In the context of your sales funnel, not all leads are created equal. There are some leads who are golden—eager to work with you, and almost ready to buy right out the gate. And, there are others who seem like, no matter what you do, they’re really just not interested in what you’re offering. One of the most important sales pipeline stages is determining which category each lead falls into so that you know how best to work with them and how to best manage your time.

In order to determine how to work with a lead, you should reach out to them. But, before making any contact, make sure you doo some outside research on that business to learn who they are and what they want. Then, put yourself in their shoes and think through what their challenges and interests might be. Remember, even the first communication is a “negotiation” so be strategic and treat it like one. Make a good impression, show genuine interest, and don’t just write anyone off immediately. Sometimes, leads that don’t seem promising at first can become some of your most loyal clients.

3. Engage

After you have qualified your lead and progressed them a bit farther down your sales pipeline, you need to actively engage with them. Ask thoughful open ended questions  and really listen to the answers. Find out what goal(s) they are trying to achieve. What problems are they trying to fix? What aspect of their business are they trying to improve? It is based on this information that you can position your product to meet those needs. They will almost inevitably have objections. You should be able to  anticipate many of those objections and have a solution already prepared. Ultimately it all comes down to, did you create a relationship, and how can you tie your product or service to the solution they are looking for?

4. Action

At some point in the negotiation, it will be time for your prospect to make a decision. While it seems like a “no” is your worst-case scenario, it’s actually worse if a prospect is stuck in a state of indecision and unwilling to make the call (or take your call). Your job is to get them to say yes, but, at some point, the objective becomes to force a decision, even if the answer is no. Do everything you can to get to a yes, but if a yes doesn’t seem likely, then the next best option isn’t “maybe”—it’s no.

5. Support

Every year, there are dozens of studies researching which companies provide the best—and worst—customer service. The best organizations realize that customer service starts with the salesperson. Not only does this lead customers to keep coming back, it often spurs them to to spread the word about your business. It’s much easier and more cost effective to sell to and develop already existing clients than it is to find new ones.So, the best salespeople do enough to get the sale but leave themselves with room to over-delive..

6. Evaluate

Evaluation is possibly one of the most often overlooked sales pipeline stages. In order to become the best sales person or team you can, you should be constantly evaluating your performance. Look for ways you can learn from every sales opportunity negotiation. What did you do right in your successful interactions? How were you able to provide what the customer wanted? And what did you do wrong in the unsuccessful interactions? Sometimes, failures provide the best learning experiences and reveal opportunities for improvement.

Take the information that you gather from each sales/negotiation your team enters and find a way to organize it so that you can correct weaknesses and develop strengths in the future. Use it to improve your entire sales team rather than just a single individual. You can use each success and failure as a way to make everyone on your team better.

Once you’ve set up your sales pipeline, keep an eye on it. You should constantly be looking for ways to improve each stage in the process. Recognize strengths and faults and work to hone it to a fine edge. Ultimately, it all comes down to generating more leads, managing your time, developing strong relationships, and over-delivering – that’s the secret sauce that keeps them coming back and providing referrals.