How to Start a Sales Training Session
The sales professional’s job is changing. The global pandemic has demanded new sales skills. Professionals can no longer rely on the sales process that brought success in the pre-pandemic setting. Therefore, most sales managers realize that the time to train is now. This outlook is shared across industries. Recent research from McKinsey shows that 87% of executives stated that they were experiencing skill gaps or expect to in the near future.
Despite this urgency, many have stalled in their training initiative. The reason: starting the sales training process is often the most difficult part of developing the new skills needed today.
Here, we break down how to start a sales training session. This article serves as a practical, step-by-step guide for leaders seeking ways to engage team members in training sessions that resonate.
Leaders must first communicate their intention to start a sales training program. Doing so is a challenge because sales professionals might be skeptical of the value of training. They may believe that they already possess the skills to succeed. They might see training as an interruption to their daily cadence of communication with prospects and customers. Moreover, in a period of uncertainty and change, sales professionals may believe that training is a distraction from the task of adjusting to a changing market. The solution is to communicate how the sales training addresses first principles.
A first principle is a truth that cannot be reduced any further. It is a basic building block. Returning to these basics in a world of fast change helps ground training participants in the core value of training. To build from first principles, leaders should ask, “What will not change?” This approach is in contrast to the habit of chasing different goals based on trends and forecasts.
Despite changing business conditions, there are many characteristics of effective selling that will not change. Customers will always need a sales professional who can serve as a trusted advisor. Customers will always need a solution that solves the root challenge, not just the surface-level issues. Customers will always value a sales professional who listens more than they talk. Changes to technology or the economy will not alter these first principles that underpin successful sales.
The concept of reasoning from first principles should also be applied to internal communication. Leaders must clearly state how the effort required by the training offers rewards to participants. The benefits of the training programs must be stated in ways that speak to the first principles of successful sales. Sales professionals need to see how training will increase their win rate, quota attainment, and deal size. In any setting, at any time, these factors matter to sales professionals. They are first principles of success.
Put simply, starting a sales training program means clearing communicating both the intention to start and the benefits that will follow.
Seek Early Participation
Sales professionals are accustomed to engaging with others. Prospecting, consulting, and negotiating all involve a lot of activity and conversation. Therefore, this level of engagement is necessary to effectively train sales professionals. Early participation is critical to preventing the passive experience that leads to disengagement.
Leaders can prevent this risk by using role play exercises that mimic real-world scenarios. This approach also simulates the tension of real selling conversations by placing sales professionals in front of their colleagues. Effective training is as much about doing as it is about discussing. The value of seeking participation from the learner is evident in research published in the Journal of Marketing Education.
The study, which included over 500 participants, determined that “experiential learning” was “significant in impacting self-efficacy.” Self-efficacy is a person’s belief that they can perform when and where it is needed. The researchers later provided more detail on this outcome of their analysis when they wrote that training “should liberally use ‘real-life’ sales resources.” Such resources could involve examples from case studies in which the sales professional responds to challenges encountered in a previous sale. The outcome of the case study provides valuable insight into what works in the setting of a real sale.
This multi-faceted approach underscores the basic idea that seeking early participation to drive self-efficacy means giving sales professionals opportunities to demonstrate what they can do. This is particularly good news today as more sales organizations engage in virtual sales training in which a cadence of shorter intervals of learning allows sales professionals to apply new skills to real selling opportunities between sessions.
Simplify the Approach
Simplicity is key to sustaining new behaviors. The training process is taxing, and complex approaches rarely carry over to real selling scenarios. Sales cycles have become less predictable, and planning for the long term presents more challenges. Simplifying the approach means understanding what influences behavior adoption.
Social psychologist Icek Ajzen conducted a meta-analysis — a study of other studies — to understand why people do and don’t adopt behaviors. In doing so, he developed what he calls the Theory of Planned Behavior, which shows us that three factors underpin change. Ajzen explains that “attitudes toward the behavior, subjective norms with respect to the behavior, and perceived control over the behavior are usually found to predict behavioral intentions with a high degree of accuracy.” The beauty of this finding is that it distills the requirements for behavior change into a simple three-part list:
- Does the person view the behavior as favorable or unfavorable?
- Does the person believe that the behavior is important to those who are important to them?
- Does the person perceive the behavior as easy or difficult to execute?
Second, the research shows that behavior adoption is more likely when the individual believes that the behavior is important to those who are important to them. This finding reasserts the benefits of cooperative learning, which stem from Social Interdependence Theory. This theory suggests that a sense of “positive interdependence” emerges when each learner understands that goal attainment is a group endeavor.
Third, making the behavior easy to adopt means using a blended learning approach. Blended learning is a form of instructional design that combines online learning with traditional classroom experience.
Now more than ever, sales reps throughout sales teams need new skills. These new skills are needed for in-person communication and virtual engagements over a sales call. Whether the individual is experienced or embarking on the first 90 days of their position, they need the ability to adapt and adjust to the intensified change of today. Enabling this change means applying the three concepts above.
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