Luck won’t improve sales. Training will.
Sales is talent-based work. The only way to become more talented is to train, practice, repeat.
Sales training will improve performance by about 20%, according to research from Salesforce Training. So someone performing at 50% can move into the 60% range with training. Someone killing it at 80% can become a 96%!
Unfortunately, about half of sales managers say they don’t have time to train. Some see it as a regimented distraction from selling. Others don’t recognize the return on investment. And some are buried in other priorities.
It doesn’t need to be that way. Most best-in-class organizations train sales professionals quickly and effectively with unique and research-proven strategies.
We have 12 of them here.
Train for the long-term
Many training agendas are built around picking up one or two skills or learning a new product or process.
World-class training focuses on skills and ideas that sales pros will need over several years, according to research from The RAIN Group.
That starts with a training geared toward the organization’s future. Build a curriculum around skills sales professionals will need to succeed in the vision. Once a sales pro masters a skill or expectation, and consistently applies it, you can move onto the next step in line with the future.
Sure, you’ll have to adjust as short-term needs pop up. But the curriculum stays focused, organized and logical for the organization’s long-term vision.
Train beyond selling
The best-in-class organizations recognize that salespeople need to do more than sell to be successful. They need to be trained to manage their accounts, career and beyond.
“Companies that are world class spend more time training front-line employees and managers,” says Patrick Morrissey, General Manager, Revenue Optimization Business Unit at Upland Software. “They train sales professionals to organize time, coach others, qualify their and someone else’s deal. They’re always preparing the next generation of leaders.”
Organizations that focus on the long-term goal still create training content that’s relevant to sales pros in the moment.
Salespeople want to apply what they’re learning immediately. So the best training sessions and material are relevant to what’s going on in the industry and how the market reacts.
Best-in-class organizations talk about real-time conditions and give practical advice for selling in those conditions. They reinforce the information and skills with follow-up reminders until the conditions change.
Create learning circles
Sales pros often have great ideas, performance hacks and creative approaches their colleagues can benefit from knowing. To help sales pros share their insight, Rakhi Voria, Director at IBM Global Digital Sales, suggests “learning circles” for salespeople and managers.
Voria has a team that’s spread across eight locations. She says they use small, peer-led mentor groups. A seller or manager from each location is paired to meet monthly. Leaders give the groups a framework for their discussions, but the team has the conversation and share takeaways.
At APS, they bake little failures into training so salespeople can recognize pitfalls before they step into them. When trainees make mistakes in training – and not actually selling – they learn the skill, plus the lesson from failing to apply it or applying it incorrectly. Then sales pros can avoid the mistakes in action.
Important key: Create opportunities for small fails that don’t make sales pros feel defeated or afraid to try again. You want fails that are easy to identify, and rebound and learn from.
“Best in class organizations believe everyone deserves to be coached,” Morrissey says. “It used to be that you hammered people until you got what you wanted. Now you want to invest in coaching and development in ways everyone can learn.”
Some leaders mainly train middle-of-the-read performers. Low performers get treated as lost causes, and top performers simply follow their own rules.
Managers and sales pros get the opportunity to find where they belong (or don’t) and how they excel with the equal-training approach. Perhaps you’ll find a low-performer who is better suited in a niché role. Or maybe you’ll find a top-performer who would be ideal as a mentor and coach. You can’t know that unless everyone gets a shot at the same training and coaching.
One steps back, another steps up
Pair senior salespeople with newer salespeople. For instance, Tommy McNulty, VP of Sales and Customer Success at Fundera, gives new hires one shared quota with a veteran salesperson. That way, newer salespeople can ask questions they may feel uncomfortable asking a manager and get real-world, real-time advice. Senior salespeople have incentive to train reps well because of the shared investment in a win.
Another example: At Contently, salespeople who’ve been on the team longest take over group meetings from time to time. They plan the agenda based on what they experienced and feel should be discussed and developed. They also collaborate on bigger problems to help find creative solutions faster.
Change the focus
One thing should be at the heart of every sales training session: customers.
“Leaders have to keep a focus on the customer with a backup of the operations,” Morrissey says. “It’s outside-in thinking. Think about, ‘What are we going to do for the customer?’ when you design training.”
The “operational backup” is the skill, knowledge or process you cover. Add to that a regular cadence to review and improve on what already exists.
Tap other experts
The best training organizations don’t go it all alone. They steer their sales pros to industry experts for unique perspective and motivation.
Stay ahead of training challenges
Great training strategies won’t work if you can’t overcome the biggest challenges: finding the time to hold it and getting people engaged in it.
“To beat those challenges, the training must be executed and sponsored from the top,” Morrissey says. “Senior executives need to encourage it. Treat it as something baked into the regular calendar.”
Make sales training part of the operational calendar. Invite (or require) anyone who touches the sales process to be part of ongoing training and reward them for engaging in it and applying it to their work.
Use video to manage time
At H&H Products Company, the management team record short videos with training topics that are searchable, according to Emily Hauptvogel.
Managers and salespeople who are experts on topics can share their knowledge, skills and theory in one-time training that lives on for new hires, reference and refreshers.
Assess the training
Regardless of the strategies and tactics you use to train, you want to assess their effectiveness. Best-in-class organizations and leaders check that sales pros were engaged in training, absorbed the information and executed the skills.
Any one of these assessment methods will work:
- Knowledge checks. Try quizzes or tests – formally in your CRM or informally in email – a week, month and several months after training.
- Simulation. You can role play in one-on-ones or practice negotiation tactics and elevator pitches en route to coaching calls to make sure sales pros are practiced and ready.
- Observation. Go to scheduled meetings occasionally to confirm sales professionals are on target with the training.