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How to Build a Sales Academy

What’s a Sales Academy?

A sales academy is a structured system for training and developing a sales team. A sales academy consists of numerous programs, which together form a single competency framework for driving the sales professional’s performance throughout their career. This learning design also offers the benchmarking tools needed to achieve consistency in best practices.

What’s Included in a Sales Academy?

A sales academy includes a collection of learning tools like written material, instructor-led classroom training, digital learning tools, and coaching.

Leaders and trainers use whichever teaching method is best for conveying the material. For example, instructor-led classroom training is an effective way to learn and practice negotiating or handling objections because participants can engage in role play. Other attendees can offer feedback on the interactions and allow the learner to capitalize on broad-based insights.

Digital learning tools, which can be used on the go, are an excellent resource for field sales professionals working on site with customers. Online courses leverage multiple learning styles — auditory, visual, and written response — and are suitable for all participants.

What Are the Benefits of a Sales Academy?

Sales professionals increasingly work in teams and need to be a cohesive group. With a sales academy in place, leaders know that each team member is working from the same group of core skills. Training like this boosts engagement, which is a key driver of business outcomes. Other benefits include:

  • Improved quota attainment and win rates
  • Continual skill improvement that goes beyond one-and-done
  • A roadmap to career advancement
  • Skill building that moves in lockstep with industry changes
  • Shorter time to productivity for new sales professionals
  • A forum for exchanging ideas and strategies
  • 360-degree development that covers all aspects of the sale cycle

How Do You Start to Build a Sales Academy?

Start with a close review of the existing sales training structure within the selling organization. Have an honest discussion with the sales leader to determine what is working and what is not. Let the effective pieces survive into the new framework.

Next, look at the list of critical selling metrics to determine which will become your key focus. The idea is to start with the end in mind. For example, if the organization chooses to strategize around the goal of boosting contract value, then include material covering team selling, which is often necessary when engaging groups of decision makers common to large sales.

After these steps, expand the conversation. Talk to the sales professionals within the organization and determine where they believe they need to focus. The sales professionals are your connection to the market; they understand what challenges and goals customers face. The intent is to identify the skills that are lacking or underdeveloped so that the training in the sales academy offers relevance. This step is critical because it makes the sales professional part of the building process, a critical step toward achieving buy-in once the academy is fully formed.

Using this feedback, partition the program into tiers. Each tier should address the skills necessary for the various selling styles. For example, consider developing the academy into these five segments:

  • Inside Sales
  • Field Sales
  • Complex Field Sales
  • Service Sales
  • Sales Manager

Some of the critical skills will apply to more than one segment. For example, consultative selling skills will apply to inside sales professionals, field sales professionals, and sales managers. A more targeted group of skills, like large account planning, might only apply to global account managers.

At this point, the framework should start to take shape, but leaders will need to develop a baseline measurement strategy before going any further with the design. A sales academy is not a fixed structure; it will need to change over time. To make these changes, leaders need to know how business outcomes respond to the framework. Engage everyone in the baseline skill measurement.

About the Author

Ben Taylor is the content marketing manager at Richardson. He has an MBA in finance from LaSalle University and over a decade of business & writing experience. He has covered content for brands including Nasdaq, Barclaycard & Business Insider.

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