Demystifying the Sales Training Process
Using a "First Principles" Approach to Developing a Sales Training Process
The sales training process seems daunting. It doesn’t need to be.
The key is to narrow one’s focus to only the parts that are essential to an effective program. This “first principles” approach works because it avoids the problem of getting fatigued with an abundance of choices.
Here, we provide the essential four elements of a sales training planning process that works.
Those four parts are:
- Define the Sales Training Process
- Identify Stakeholders and Their Roles
- Design the Sales Training Program
- Customize Sales Training to the Organization
Define the Sales Training Process
Effective planning means starting with the end in mind.
The sales leaders need to develop a clear idea of what they want to achieve from sales training.
For most, this means determining the hard, and soft factors that will determine success. For example, a sales organization might target hard factors like increasing win rate, improving deal size and reducing time to productivity. That same organization may also choose soft factors like achieving agility in the sales process, developing a universal sales methodology, and building a more cohesive team.
The main goal in this first part is for the leaders to ask themselves, “what do we want to get from this process?” The more specific the answer the more likely they will be to succeed. For help defining the metrics that matter for your team, download the brief 8 Critical Selling Metrics
It is also important to keep the scope narrow. When facing the question, “what do we want” it is easy to reply “everything.” However, the longer the list gets the more complex the endeavor becomes. Consider the success factors that will be most impactful to the people, process, and profitability.
While the answers to these questions will be unique to each organization we have learned that sales training processes that work share some characteristics. They all:
- Seek early buy-in from sales professionals
- Include sales managers so they can align coaching to the methodology
- Balance in-person instruction with digital learning
- Employ assessments to gauge progress
- Offer content that can be consumed in small pieces
- Follow up training with supplemental instruction
Identify Stakeholders and Their Roles
Once the organization has defined its ideal outcomes they need to decide who will be involved in the process of designing the program.
This list of people should include everyone who is connected to the sales methodology or the sales team. Additionally, anyone who is responsible for meeting sales targets should be included.
When the organization knows who will be involved they need to determine each stakeholder’s role. Getting stakeholders involved at this early stage is critical to developing the sense of ownership that leads to commitment. A stakeholder is empowered with a sense of control when they have a hand in the design of the sales training program.
While an inclusive setting is important this group must still have one person with ultimate deciding power. Often this person is the CEO or CSO. The goal is to maintain decisive momentum so that the process moves forward.
Finally, be sure that these same stakeholders have a role to fulfill throughout training. Each stakeholder’s connection to the initiative must be ongoing. If their involvement is only in the planning stage they will not have control over outcomes. Having this control is critical to maintaining everyone’s focus.
When determining stakeholders and their roles remember to:
- Ensure each stakeholder has a connection to development and outcomes
- Create milestone dates for accomplishing stages of planning
- Provide each stakeholder with an opportunity to be heard
- Encourage stakeholders to gather opinions from sales professionals
- Prompt stakeholders to think about how they will keep sellers aligned to training
- Precede each meeting with a concise list of objectives for the session
Design the Sales Training Program
Begin by breaking down the design process into a manageable set of steps.
First, decide the core sales learning content that will underpin the methodology. For example, choose if you want to adopt training focused on consultative selling, prospecting, negotiating, or account management. The list is long. Today, many organizations are embracing an agile sales methodology that is flexible enough to engage customers with changing needs. Once leaders have selected a core methodology they may want to choose supplemental training that compliments the main curriculum.
Second, determine if the training will be in-person, virtual, or a hybrid of the two. Virtual is often ideal for organizations with a geographically distributed workforce. Organizations with a centralized sales team might choose in-person training. Making the right decision means considering logistics and to what degree leaders are willing to pull sellers from the field.
Third, consider what kind of digital learning tools are needed. Most modern sales training programs include a digital component consisting of workflow tools, analytic insights, CRM-embedded capabilities, assessments, and even AI functions. Together these parts help ensure sustainment of the sales training methodology. Determine what kind of digital learning solution will best fit with the existing IT architecture.
Forth, choose a schedule. Doing so means deciding how much time to devote to training and the frequency of training intervals. Increasingly, selling organizations are opting for a cadence consisting of more engagements consisting of shorter durations. This allows learning to occur in microbursts that limit the interruption of the seller’s work. This approach also provides more opportunities to immediately apply new skills to in-pursuit opportunities.
After making these four core decisions remember to:
- Set a budget for the training program
- Consider the order in which groups will be trained and start with managers
- Prepare pre-work so sellers enter training with foundational knowledge
- Select engagement metrics like attendance, pre-work completion, and assessment completion
- Schedule and prepare a sales kick-off meeting to announce the initiative
- Explain to the sales team how the training connects to their revenue goals
Customize the Sales Training to the Organization
Customization is what makes sales training relevant.
If the main goal is to align all the sellers to one sales methodology then the leaders may want the training to include a change management component. In contrast, if the goal is to become more effective at expanding business with existing customers then the training will need a strong account management focus.
Sellers will develop a deeper and earlier buy-in when the training is customized to their world. Customization demonstrates that the leadership has developed training with consideration for the sellers. For example, the kind of sales training that works for sellers positioning IoT and SaaS solutions might not be a good fit for sellers positioning tangible goods. Keep the program relevant to the team.
Customization means more than just understanding the product and the sellers. Customization is also about the customer. The training must be aligned to the customer’s needs. Therefore, the leaders in the sales organization need to consider how their customer has changed and where the gaps reside in their approach to meeting the customer’s goals.
When customizing, remember to:
- Account for where the customer is today and where they will be tomorrow
- Consider the needs of sellers of different tenures
- Communicate to sellers how the program was customized with them in mind
- Account for the ways in which training will need to fit with schedules
- Choose a blend that leverages the strengths of each medium (digital, virtual, in-person)
- Schedule time to adjust the customization after a period of training has occurred
Learn more about the importance of customizing your sales training program by reading the blog What Does Customization Really Mean, and Why Does it Matter?
Maintain focus and momentum with a sales training process that distills the project to only the essential four parts. The most important step is to simply get started. Once training begins there will be opportunities to make adjustments along the way.
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