Sales training is one of the pillars of Sales Enablement. Just like content and technology, it’s a way of helping salespeople improve their process and close more deals. But it’s not just about winning. Effective sales training has also been proven to improve employee engagement and staff retention. And sales success has an impact across the business.
For those wondering where to begin with sales training, we have put this guide together, answering some of the key questions that might cross your mind as you prepare to implement a sales training program. These include:
We’ve talked to some of the clever folks from the Sales Enablement Society to get their expert insights and advice on all things sales training, some of their wisdom is interspersed throughout this piece.
The unique and important role of sales is to bridge the gap between the potential customer’s needs and the products/services that the organisation offers that can fulfil their needs.
You’ve probably heard people talk about ‘born’ or ‘natural’ salespeople, as though you’re born with everything you need to meet quota. While research suggests there are some natural personality traits that are more likely to make for a good salesperson, there’s no doubt that sales skills can be learned. And should be, if you hope to grow your business.
The most obvious reason to undertake sales training is to improve sales skills. The better the skills, the greater the wins. There’s a stat out there that says salespeople who receive continuous training are bringing in 50% higher net sales. Training is good for business.
But it’s not just that. Training also increases engagement and happiness, boosting morale and reducing staff turnover, all of which are also good for business. And if that isn’t enough to convince you, here are a few more stats:
So there you have it. More wins. More engaged employees. Less turnover. Three great reasons to invest in sales training.
Sales training exists for every part of the sales process. You could train on all of it, bit by bit, if you have a lot of fresh new recruits with no real sales experience. Or you could just focus in on those parts of the process where you notice you’re missing out.
In order to give you a starting point – since that’s what we’re aiming to do here! – below is a list of sales skills taken from the recent study on the impact of sales training, run by the Sales Readiness Group. These skills were ranked by survey respondents and are listed here in order of importance.
So ask yourself: what do you need help with?
If you can easily identify where you’re losing deals, it’s perfectly possible to buy an off-the-shelf training package to fill the gap. However, most training providers strongly recommend you seek some help assessing your sales team for skills gaps prior to making the decision on what training you need.
Somebody says they want sales training. Great. Why? Are they building an existing market, are you tapping into a new market either geographically or a different segment or different industry? Are you looking for top line growth or are you looking to increase your margins? What are we training, why are we training it, what are we looking to accomplish, what are we measuring it against, what are the KPIs, what are the metrics for it? At some point there has to be a strategy, a rhyme or reason, something we’re looking to accomplish. If sales training is just a check in the box, it’s going to be a very expensive experiment that may only benefit a few people.
If you know what you want and you just want to buy some sales training off the shelf, we’re not going to say no. But what we really want is to have that transformational relationship with you.
Working with an expert to create a tailored training program ensures not only that your need is met but also that you have a stronger determination of how you’re going to measure ROI and what that return looks like in real terms.
One should never deliver a sheep dip solution. It’s annoying to the learner and frustrating for the teacher.
You’re really looking for someone who’s going to teach you the skills, methods and approaches to strengthening relationships, because that’s where sales comes from.
Sales training is a multi-billion dollar industry. There is a provision for every kind of skill – be it soft or hard – that you could possibly need. You can certainly train in soft skills. In fact, most of the skills listed above could be described as soft - any human interaction that relies on good communication is really a soft skill.
You can train a nurse how to give injections; you can train an electrician how to hook up wires; you can train a salesperson how to ask questions. Those are learnable skills. So anyone can be a great salesperson. You just have to learn a few skills and the most important one is just the ability to ask proper questions.
Introvert or extrovert, technical or not, all these skills can be learned provided you have people willing to engage with the training.
While salespeople tend to hone their sales presentation to the nth degree, and most people by now understand the importance of customizing your pitch to your audience, demos don’t always get the same treatment. Yet, sitting through a bad demo can be enough to put you off not just that particular provider but the entire product/service.
Fear not: demo training is available. We spoke to The Demo Doctor for a post on How to give a demo without losing your audience and came away with a few key pointers:
The goal is not to show how smart you are. The goal is not to show how wonderful the tool is. The goal is to show the few key things that align with what your customer is trying to accomplish, confirm that they understand what they’ve seen and get some kind of acknowledgement that what they just saw will help them do what they’re trying to do.
If you have a sales issue then it’s directly or indirectly the responsibility of leadership. It doesn’t matter the methodology, the number of hours, the estimate that’s made, if leadership is not involved on some level, the training is doomed to fail.
If you have $1000 to invest in training a sales force you should spend $900 of it on the sales leader.
If the sales managers aren’t in the sales training then the company’s making a huge mistake.
That says it all really, but in case you need more justification for sending your sales leaders to at least some if not all of your training sessions, here are a few more reasons.
Training is available in three main ways:
There are pros and cons to each, and in part your decision will likely be based around scheduling and budget.
Ultimately, your best bet could well be a mix of all three, kicking off with in-person training and following up with facilitator-led online, with supplementary pre-recorded online training available for further reinforcement.
When you’re running a facilitator-led program, if you need to spend more time on a specific topic because there is an area of weakness for the people you’re training or an area that they want to explore wider and deeper, you can spend a little bit more time on it. If you know their industry, you can customize the training to be very specific and relevant to them. It also builds camaraderie among the team members and there’s a better sharing of best practices across the team when they’re all in a room together. And I think the last benefit is having the managers see people outside of their direct reports and perceive their mental ability, their mental agility and how different people look at the same situation in different ways.
We love to employ what I call the ‘teach back’, where we get people to literally teach back to me. Put them in the role of the other teacher or a trainer and have them teach back to somebody. It works magic in that it really reinforces what they just learned
When it comes to human behavior we have found it significantly more effective to be human to human in the same room, for the sake of modeling and skill practice and role-playing and all those things that are really important when learning new behavior.
In order to get the most from sales training, the experts recommend you undertake some pre-training to prepare for the program. This helps the trainee feel more engaged in the process and more ready to begin the training. It also helps the facilitator understand what your priorities are and identify any weak spots that will need special focus.
It isn’t what you do during the training that matters as much as it is what you do before the training occurs and after the training occurs. Readiness and follow up.
If you have chosen facilitator-led training, your facilitator should set the pre-work for you. Even if no facilitator exists, it’s likely any online program you choose would have some pre-work assessments, quizzes, etc. to help you boost training engagement. And of course you can always create your own in-house so that they’re tailored to what specifically you’re hoping to pick out in the course.
Reinforcement is integral to training. Put simply, without reinforcement you are wasting your investment.
The good news is that with regular reinforcement, those statistics change. By constantly using the skills we’ve learned, our brain learns that that information is useful and stores it safely for regular use. Thus, the curse of the Forgetting Curve is broken.
A couple of notes on reinforcing:
In order to define the success of sales training, you need to ensure you’ve set objectives from the outset.
If you’re working with a facilitator, it’s important that you work together to define precisely what you’d like to achieve with the training program so that both you and they are able to later measure how those things have been impacted. For example, if your training focused on prospecting, you would be measuring the increase in your pipeline. If your training focused on call planning, you might measure the increase in meetings booked. If your training focused on managing objections, negotiating or closing you would measure both the number of wins and the size of the deals.
To measure the wider impact on the business, you could use the Kirkpatrick Model. This measures the impact of training in four levels:
Check out our blog on using SMART ways to prove the value of sales training for some ideas on good goal-setting practices.
The facilitator should have a preferred method to measure these things, using a combination of interviews, quizzes and observations as well as the metrics relevant to the targeted outcomes.
Whatever you decide to do, we wish you every success with your sales training! We’d love to hear what you choose and how you get on with it.
We hope you enjoyed this brief introduction to sales training. If you found it helpful, please do share it with your colleagues and friends.