Know this about stales training: It’s not an event.
Sales training is an ongoing process.
Leaders can always teach something new. Professionals in any sales role – account executive, sales development, customer success, service, etc. – can always learn something new.
And the process works: At organizations with formal sales training programs, team goal attainment rate is 78%, customer retention rate is 71% and individual salesperson quota attainment rate is 64%, according to an Aberdeen Group study. Organizations with no formal training plan come in 10 to 20 points lower in each category.
“They develop a sales education system where they not only build sales team capabilities, but also design training that enables sellers to apply those capabilities to transform the way they sell,” say Mike Schultz, Dave Shaby, & Andy Springer, authors of RAIN Group research The Complete Guide to Sales Training Success. “Leading organizations approach sales training like building a sales university.”
5 Sales Training Approaches
Like any university today, you want to give students – your sales pros – a variety of ways to learn.
Every sales team is super busy, in demand and usually on the go. Online learning is a must, not a nice-to-have these days.
The beauty of E-learning is salespeople can train when it’s convenient, brush up on what they need to and study what’s most relevant to the job. It’s important, though, that they’re accountable for E-learning. You’ll want to incorporate testing with online material.
From there, the training world is your oyster. You can post videos, incorporate gamification (often through your sales software) and create modules. For every “course,” include a test before sales pros move onto the next topic, module, video, etc.
Note: E-learning is not ideal for new hires. Yes, incorporate it, but don’t rely on it heavily, as new sales professionals need more hands-on time to get indoctrinated into your organization, solutions, culture and processes.
Field sales training
This kind of training never grows old. While it’s an ideal opportunity to train salespeople, it also serves as a catalyst for group training.
Sales leaders and coaches can accompany sales pros on calls to help them improve and develop skills. Before a call, training might include an emphasis on soft skills – such as listening and understanding needs. Training shouldn’t happen during the call.
After a field sales call – ideally immediately or within a few hours – leaders can analyze performance and give specific feedback.
In field sales visits, managers can also identify training needs for the group. For instance, they might see a few salespeople stumble using the CRM system and plan group training with the vendor. Or they might recognize sales pros are behind on some product or service changes and schedule group training on solution updates.
Caveat: Remember that sales training and sales coaching are different beasts. Training can be regimented with a one-size-fits-all approach because everyone needs to have the same base – and often advanced – knowledge to sell your solutions. Sales coaching should almost always be a personalized, encouraging experience.
Shared sales training
While this kind of learning isn’t always considered training, it’s highly effective. Shared success training uses the best ideas to build knowledge, skills and morale.
Managers can either get success stories – including the problem, the tactic, strategy, skill or idea to overcome it, and the result – or ask salespeople to share theirs in a training session or through video or audio posts.
This kind of training creates a network of best practices, engages salespeople, builds community and encourages more success.
Interactive sales training
Interactive training gets salespeople directly involved in the learning experience. They are participant/teacher/learner.
The training should involve simulations, scenarios and role playing. It can be one-on-one with a manager or with a group that participates and observes. For instance, you can work with one salesperson role-playing a sales call. Or you can have two salespeople simulate the call while others observe and give feedback.
This is effective because salespeople get to practice the skills by applying them in realistic work situations.
Classroom sales training
It’s the most traditional form of training – the kind lead by manager, done with a group, in a meeting room. But it doesn’t – and shouldn’t – have to be traditional.
Groups sales training today should incorporate a bit of every other kind of training – video, white boards, shared knowledge, great stories, coaching, call analysis, testing.
For maximum retention, short sessions on specific topics work best. Think of TED Talks. They’re only about 15 minutes, and you probably remember most of what you learned in those.
The key is follow up. Remind salespeople of the top points in email within the week after a group session.
Fundamentals of Initial Sales Training
Most new salespeople take six to eight months to ramp-up. With that long of a learning and adapting time, you can’t discount the necessity or importance of initial training.
You’ll want to include the variety and depth of the training approaches mentioned above here. And you’ll want to dig down into these imperative seven topics, skills and strategies throughout the initial training program.
Sales process overview
Whether you call it a sales funnel, pipeline or process, it’s likely different from what new employees know.
Give them visuals and explain the process, qualifications for moving along in it and conversion rate benchmarks. Help them recognize where the priorities lie and the kind of numbers they’ll be expected to achieve (at first, at least).
You might want to spend separate time zeroing in on the most important steps. For instance, add a module or session on prospecting – your best lead sources, research tools, social media strategies, and the details that are most important to your organization.
Every CRM system has its nuances and customizations, so even if new hires have worked with yours, they’ll need training.
Give them baseline training, and if possible, have your vendor do more in-depth training. If it exists for your system, train them to take and pass a CRM certification exam so they’re able to maximize its benefits.
With this, include company technology resources training, too – from the phone systems to presentation tools to basic software everyone in the organization must touch.
Go over the anatomy of a successful call – scripting, timing, personalizing, etc. Have new hires listen to recorded and live calls from top reps.
Add in some calls from less experienced salespeople, too, so new hires can get a sense of the levels of development.
Buyer persona training
Introduce new salespeople to your ideal customer through your established buyer persona. Teach them what a best-fit company and/or buyer looks and acts like.
Also, explain how you determined and created the ideal customer (and the fact that not every prospect and customer will fit the mold). This element helps them understand how your company assesses and works with decision-makers.
Train new salespeople on your industry competitors, their solutions and how they compare to yours (even if the new hire used to work for the competition!)
The competitor analysis also opens up product training specific to what makes you different. You’ll want to cover your solution’s unique benefits, plus shortfalls the competition will undoubtedly use in their proposals.
You’ll want to start to build negotiating and objection handling tactics early.
Every sales organization approaches the negotiation phase differently. You’ll want to train them on the math, logic and etiquette for handling discounts and add-ons in negotiations.
No matter the number or variety of topics you cover in initial training, follow up for success.
Almost 35% more of first-year salespeople achieve high quota at companies that reinforce training compared to organizations that don’t follow up, according to research from Aberdeen Group.
Follow up can be e-newsletters, self-paced modules, gamification, re-testing, certifications. Read on for more …
Importance of Ongoing Training
Everyone – from green newbies to grizzled veterans – needs ongoing training to keep skills sharp and knowledge current. Plus, training needs often change depending on seasons, demands, technology and growth.
Here are six best practices for ongoing training.
Train in the field
Any training that’s reinforced with in-the-field training will boost the ROI of your training program by four times, according to research by Brainshark.
Go on sales calls with reps, or partner newer reps with veteran salespeople. Either way, cover best practices before the meeting. Use a checklist of your sales fundamentals after the meeting to assess performance, reinforce what went well and train in areas for improvement.
Focus on real-world successes
Sales leaders want to continuously collect success stories and case studies (not just their glory day stories). Show examples of what worked, what didn’t and the process that was involved. Find common themes in successful sales situations and the data to back them up.
Break down successes into actionable steps sales pros can replicate.
Give training micro-bursts
To reinforce all training, or share quick tips, create daily micro-bursts of training. Three to seven minutes of learning is ideal for memory capacity, according to research by Shift Learning.
Mix it up. Send an email with one sales strategy and bullet points on how to apply the concept. Post videos from a training session or a snippet from a TED Talk or webinar that’s relevant.
Even better, build a learning library from all the material you create for these micro-sessions. Then sales pros can move through it at their own pace or pull up information on a topic in which they need a refresher.
Brush up on soft skills
Salespeople can get so efficient at their work that they start just going through motions and skip the emotions. You want to include some soft skill review from time to time. Some essentials:
- Active listening. Salespeople can practice this with role playing activities. One can tell a story that involves a challenge. The other can test and prove listening skills by responding with a brief summary that includes details and understanding of the issue.
- Empathy. Active listening can be improved with empathy – understanding customers’ feelings and responding to them. Sales pros can build empathy by asking themselves these questions at customer touch points: What’s the problem that frustrates customers most and they aren’t fully aware of yet? How can I help them solve it?
- Overcoming fears. Salespeople struggle from time to time – and often subconsciously – with fears of rejection, presenting and asking for the sale. Just acknowledging these fears in training can help salespeople overcome them. Share stories and tactics for beating fears and the successes that resulted.
Consider the audience
You might need – or want – to differentiate training to some degree between veteran and newer salespeople.
For newer sales professionals, you’ll want to focus on continuing to build knowledge and skills of:
- product and/or service
- customer persona
- lead generation
- initial pitch
- evaluation and closing
For veteran sales professionals, you’ll want to focus on updates and changes to:
- product or service features
- competitive landscape
- new case studies and customer success stories
- funnel management
Follow up. Then follow up again
If you want any training to stick, follow up. Then follow up again. Be a nag, if you must.
Here’s why: Companies with a follow-up training plan have 31% more salespeople reach quota and a 10% higher year-over-year revenue increase, RAIN Group researchers found.
For every training initiative, create the follow-up plan while you’re building the actual training.