How can a company train its sales consultants given the lack of suitable resources in the market?

Land-based real estate company Walton International overcame such a challenge by developing a proprietary set of training materials — conceptualised in-house and customised to its unique business model.

The company acquires strategically located land in Canada and the United States after extensive research and analysis. It then “divides” each piece of land into smaller units known as land parcels, which are then sold to clients globally. Over the mid- to long-term, clients stand to reap capital gains when the entire land project is sold to a buyer, such as a real estate developer.

Given such a business model, Walton’s training goals for its sales consultants are very clear. Besides gaining familiarity with Walton’s modus operandi, the sales consultants must also be able to clinch sales by convincing clients of the merits of the company’s land projects.

Since there was nothing suitable in the market, Walton decided to develop its own resources instead. These include a board game, a card game, a jigsaw puzzle and other training tools.

Says Mr Wyman Chan, Walton’s executive vice-president for marketing and training in Asia: “These training materials were designed to familiarise our sales consultants with Walton and our offerings, as well as to equip them with the knowledge and confidence for dealing with clients’ myriad concerns and queries.

“In addition, we wanted the materials to have an element of fun, so that the participants enjoy the training sessions. This will help them to remember the key takeaway points better, which will eventually translate to improved sales.”

* Board game

Ateli (Accelerated track for education in land investment) is a Mono
poly-like game in which players earn money, incur expenditure and buy land parcels amid simulated real-life events such as marriage, children’s education and sudden loss of income. By playing Ateli, the trainees understand real-life financial planning concerns and how land ownership helps to address some of these concerns.

“Everybody goes through various milestones in life, and our clients are no different. Ateli was designed for our sales consultants to better understand how these milestones could impact our clients. In fact, the trainees have commented that the game has helped them to better internalise key facts and figures on Walton’s various land projects,” he says.

* Card game

During training sessions, participants are paired up, with one person acting as a potential landowner and the other as a sales consultant. They are then issued cards with instructions pertaining to various stages of the sales process (such as lead generation, fact-finding and sales pitching), and are tasked with role-playing these scenarios.

“Clients need to be constantly educated on our land projects and the ownership opportunities that they provide. Hence, our sales consultants typically need to meet potential landowners several times before they can eventually clinch a sale. The card game simulates various kinds of meetings and trains the participants on what to expect during such sessions,”says Mr Chan.

* Jigsaw puzzle

Just like any other jigsaw puzzle, this requires participants to form a “big picture” using lots of smaller pieces. In this case, the “big picture” is the sum of Walton’s key strengths (known as the Walton Advantage) vis-à-vis their competitors, formed using “smaller pieces” such as the company’s business strategy, land ownership opportunities, scope of operations, industry experience and service excellence.

“The jigsaw puzzle contains some of the most commonly asked questions about Walton and our value proposition. Solving the puzzle requires trainees to match these questions with information pertaining to various aspects of the Walton Advantage. This helps our sales consultants to better internalise our competitive strengths,” he says.

* Other training tools

In addition, Walton produces a “Fun Sheet” divided into four quadrants representing the main elements of the company’s business model — Research, Selection and Acquisition; Syndication; Concept Planning; and Exit.

Participants have to recall all the pertinent facts of each element that address clients’ concerns and list them in the correct quadrant accordingly. During training, participants also play a game called  Circle Of Fire where they answer numerous questions (such as land ownership returns and timelines) in a rapid-fire manner.

These tools help to reinforce some of the most important facts and figures that the sales consultants must be familiar with. In particular, Circle Of Fire also conditions their thinking reflexes and hones their ability to adapt to real-world situations where they may be asked impromptu questions by clients.

Better equipped staff

Developed over eight months, the training materials have been used to train nearly 500 Walton sales consultants in Singapore and Malaysia since March last year.

Says Mr Chan: “These training materials have resulted from extensive brainstorming, testing and fine-tuning. Going forward, we will regularly update our materials as we seek to stay in touch with the latest market conditions and training methodologies.”