Sustainment is critical to the success of a sales academy because each tier of learning builds upon the last. Sales professionals need to be able to connect their skills into a cohesive selling style.
Sustainment is increasingly important to leaders because it drives ROI. The strongest selling skills are of no use unless they happen in front of the customer. For this reason, it’s important that skill development continues after training ends.
What Drives Sustainment in a Sales Academy?
Sustainment requires intentional effort. Leaders cannot expect to deliver training and walk away. Rather, they should approach sustainment as a process that occurs in five steps.
- Setting Expectations
It’s easy to forget that a sustainment plan must begin before training ends. Often, leaders focus on sustainment only after learning is complete. Instead, they need to set and articulate expectations before training. Doing so communicates to participants that the learning process will not be passive.
Sales professionals need to know that the investment carries expectations of meaningful outcomes.
- Reinforcing Skills
Hearing and seeing new skills one time is not enough. Learners need reinforcement after formal training is complete. Many leaders have found success by periodically following up with testing that keeps skill sharp.
Additionally, instructors and leaders can help concepts stick by making them relatable, by connecting skills to practical, real scenarios. Relatability works because it requires learners to be part of the process.
- Applying Skills
To properly apply skills, leaders need to help participants single out the most salient concepts in a practice called active learning. This process helps sales professionals identify when to use the new skills.
Leaders then need to coach team members by offering feedback on how well they used the new selling behaviors. Regular feedback is part of sustainment because it shapes broad skills into practical strategies that work in the real world.
Skill application requires a shared commitment between the sales professional and the leader. The process is one of incremental change, individual persistence, and continuous improvement.
- Fostering a Culture of Change
The post-training environment must reflect the organizations resolve to drive improved selling skills. Therefore, leaders must prioritize the selling metrics that most directly fit the skills learned.
For example, if training focuses on upskilling new hires fast, then managers will likely want to use a measurement like time to productivity.
- Avoiding Drift
Change is a process. Part of that process is resisting the inevitable backslide into old habits.
Leaders and sales professionals alike must be aware of this gravitational pull so that they can recognize it when it occurs. It is important to break up behavior change into incremental steps so that people feel that they are making progress.
In addition, success, even partial success, is important so that people feel the benefits of putting in the effort to master the new knowledge and skills.
Finally, holding people accountable for their behavior change through verification dialogues helps people to take personal ownership of the need to continue using the new knowledge and skills rather than the “old” way of doing things.
What Are the Essentials for Sustainment?
Sustainment requires more than a plan — it requires a frame of mind. Leaders need to demonstrate their inner drive for change with outward expressions and initiatives. They need to clear the everyday hinderances. They must commit to the following long-term initiatives:
- Focus intensely on a small list of reasonable change goals rather than complicating the issue with too many directives that compete with one another
- Align at all levels for a consistent strategy that has buy-in among all participants
- Demonstrate the intention to change both in words and actions that persist
- Overlay processes, metrics, and tools onto the change initiative to ensure that results are meaningful and ongoing
- Maintain accountability at all levels
What Is the Core Element of Sustainment?
While sustainment contains many parts, at its core, sustainment is about coaching. Too often, we mistake coaching for one-way communication characterized by a leader telling a sales professional what to do.
Effective coaching is more than telling. A coach needs to be a thought partner and resource. They must ask questions, listen, learn, and offer perspective, with the goal of helping the team member gain insight and inspiration to grow.
Trust is essential. While the focus of the conversation is on the business issues, the essence of a coaching interaction can be deeply personal and emotional. The salesperson must trust that the sales manager’s intent is to help and support, not criticize, judge, or control.
Without a sustainment plan, skill training is just a passing phase. Leaders need to play the long game and instill a sense of ongoing change. Sustainment requires as much planning and focus as the training program and will, in the long term, require more of the leader’s and sales professionals’ time than anything else.