Improve Team Performance with Sales Training
High-quality sales training is a proven way to improve the performance of your sales team and transform your sales organization. It is an investment in the future success and growth of your company.
Deciding to invest in training for your sales team is an important strategic decision that might be triggered by any number of circumstances, including:
The impetus for training and the desired outcomes will help you define the goals of the training. The goals will inform the appropriate approach, methodology, strategy, and process needed to build the skills that will move the needle for your organization.
Since every organization has unique needs, a customized approach to training is often the best way to achieve the goals of the sales training initiative and ensure return on investment.
In the video below, Richardson CEO John Elsey explores the 5 keys to transforming your sales organization:
What Makes Sales Training Effective?
Not all sales training solutions are created equal. There are several order qualifiers to watch out for when determining the sales training solution that is right for you.
Click on the links above to jump to a specific section or continue reading to learn more about each element in more detail:
Research shows that organizations that report the most effective sales training are those that invest with a long-term focus. A fully developed sales training curriculum path is designed to build role-specific skills in a sequence that makes sense.
A curriculum-based action plan supports sustainment and continuous improvement. A curriculum also builds skills over time. As sales professionals improve upon their foundational dialogue and strategy skills, they are able to add more tools to their box with advanced training.
Here is an example of what an effective sales training curriculum might look like:
Investing in a sales training solution that is curriculum based ensures that sales professionals are not overwhelmed by too much information at once and paints a clear path to success that serves to motivate your sales professionals and drive constant results.
Customized training is one of the most effective ways to get your sales professionals to change their behaviors in the field and drive real results for your organization.
The problem is that customization is a broad term, and there is a huge difference between superficial and deep customization.
|Deep Customization||Superficial Customization|
|Detailed discovery process that includes conversations with organizational leadership and stakeholders outside of the sales organization||Precursory discovery process often characterized by limited interaction and templated information collection|
|Identification of goals and KPIs that are both unique to the business and drive significant outcomes||Standardized goals and KPIs that reflect the service provider’s measurement needs rather than the needs of the organization|
|Development of training material and curriculum that is specific to the different roles and functions within the sales organization||Training material and curriculum plans that are similar regardless of the sales professional’s role or function|
|Development of training activities that are highly relevant to real-world scenarios faced by sales professionals in the field||Training activities that do not mimic scenarios sales professionals encounter in the field|
A blended approach that combines online learning and in-person instruction helps sales professionals build foundational skills at their own convenience outside of the classroom. This eliminates costly time out of market and helps to make the time spent in the classroom more focused and valuable.
Blending adaptive-learning technology, video content, and micro-assessment with best-in-class instructor-led skills training will truly “flip” the corporate classroom. This means that sellers can acquire basic knowledge and familiarity online and at their own pace.
Once they gain that knowledge, the time that they spend in a workshop can be optimized to focus on skill development and practice with a professional sales coach. This flipped approach saves time and money for sellers and their organizations, and it supports proficiency in learning skills, sustainment of knowledge, and reinforcement of content.
Sustainment is what occurs after sales professionals leave the training session and return to the field. A sales training sustainment plan should address the following:
- Expectation setting
- Knowledge retention
- Skill application
- Supportive systems
- Relapse prevention
While skill development occurs during set events using a variety of modalities (e.g., instructor-led training, virtual classrooms, workshops, and online), skill sustainment and behavior change take place back on the job in a much more chaotic environment, which means it needs to be incremental and consistent over a period of months.
Sales training initiatives that drive behavior change do three things extremely well.
- They spend about a third of their budget and focus significant time getting the sales force ready to change and planning for a successful change.
- They focus on improving a limited number of key behaviors through training.
- They place a heavy emphasis on the sustainment portion of behavior change and measuring ongoing sales training impact.
Like all significant business investments, the effectiveness of your sales training program needs to be monitored. A good sales training solution will include a systematic measurement approach that is deeply connected and aligned with the training initiative.
The measurement should be anchored to scientific research and include both qualitative and quantitative data collection approaches. It should also be designed to collect performance information at various points in the learning journey.
A strong measurement strategy should:
- Create visibility into the sales training’s value in the immediate, short, and long term
- Use data to guide decision making about if, when, and how to alter the implementation to improve results
- Develop momentum that keeps leaders, managers, and sales professionals engaged in your sales effectiveness initiative and accountable for outcomes
Building effective sales skills that improve customer dialogues is only one piece of the performance improvement puzzle. Sales professionals must also learn how to develop and execute an intentional strategy for pursuing opportunities.
The modern buyer’s decision-making process is dynamic. Within each of the common phases, there is a cycle of integration, refinement, and alignment that occurs as new stakeholders and information come to the table.
Sales training should equip professionals with a set of strategic thinking prompts, practices, and planning tools that help them make decisions, avoid traps, and take the right actions at the right time to move the sale forward.
Training to develop an intentional pursuit strategy will help your team:
- Understand how and why the buying process has changed
- Recognize and influence the critical factors buyers consider
- Assess their position, create the right strategy to differentiate, and execute with precision to drive the sale to close
- Apply a buyer-centric methodology
- Create a differentiated buying experience that motivates customers to buy
- Develop an Action Plan to move the deal forward
According to research from the Association for Talent Development, in 2019, organizations spent an average of $2,326 per sales professional on training. However, the cost of sales training varies greatly; factors like team size, program scope, location, technology, and the decision to build vs. buy all affect the final cost.
A good way to start thinking about a reasonable price point for your organization’s sales training investment is to consider explicit and implicit costs.
- Explicit costs are those incurred from training design, development, and delivery. These are easiest to understand and influence based on scope.
- Implied costs are those associated with taking quota-bearing, expensive, and often distributed sales professionals out of the field for training. Easy to measure costs, such as travel and accommodation, need to be added to the cost of lost productivity for sales professionals and managers alike.
In this video, John Elsey shares insight into the true cost of sales training.
At first glance, building a sales training program in-house might seem like a money-saving idea, but ambitious learning and development leaders should be wary of the fact that while they might be saving in the area of explicit costs, implied costs will rise dramatically.
Building a sales training program in-house requires many hours of labor and takes the project team’s attention from other important tasks. According to 2017 research from ATD, depending on the type of training desired, it takes an average of 38-143 hours of development to produce one hour of training content.
Bringing It All Together: Implementing an Effective Sales Training Plan
A simple way to think about implementing an effective sales training plan is to think about it in terms of the activities that will take place before, during, and after training. These tips will help ensure a sales training program is effective and drives the desired behaviors and results.
Pre Sales Team Training
- Align sales training goals with your larger business strategy: Define your strategy and clearly outline the ways sales training will help support your organization’s strategic objectives.
- Demonstrate leadership buy-in: Show sales professionals that this training is important to the company by ensuring organizational leaders demonstrate their support and performance expectations following training.
- Have the right mindset: Most sales training programs are viewed as one-off events as opposed to part of a broader change management program or continuous improvement process. Those who are willing to adopt a broader view of sales training along a continuum have far greater success toward effective sales training.
- Understand your customers: Explore why customers buy what you sell, or the value that you bring to them to better understand the qualities that differentiate your team and product in the market. Consider business or environmental changes that might affect your buyers or your team’s ability to meet buyer needs, then consider how your sales training programs can help your sales teams circumvent or prevail over these issues.
During Sales Team Training
- Invest in great instructional design and facilitation: Learners want to immediately apply new skills. If training does not seem immediately applicable, it loses its impact. Instructional designers and facilitators need to be aware of what’s going on in the business to help move the sales team toward their goals. Sales training is not just about transferring knowledge but helping sales reps understand what you’re asking them to do, why, and how everyone benefits. Great instructional design and dynamic facilitation will help to bring that to life in the classroom and create that “just in time, just for me” feeling.
- Build upon what already works: Study people in your organization who do it well, then incorporate other practices that will help sales reps execute against your strategic initiatives. Many organizations have subject matter experts in areas that have knowledge that will help your sales team add insight during customer conversations. It isn’t always obvious how and when those opportunities are going to present themselves, so having that scenario preprogrammed in the minds of your salesforce so that the conversation flows naturally gives them an advantage.
Post Sales Team Training
- Leverage technology for sustainment: Establish the expectation that new skills are to be immediately applied in the field and continuously homed. Support independent and ongoing skill improvement with technology that provides opportunities for review of key concepts in a timely and consistent manner.
- Execute a communications campaign: Work with your in-house communications experts to craft a communications campaign to reinforce the messages and behaviors that you want to instill in your trainees. Use multiple channels over time to distribute the message.
- Measure and adjust: Finally, identify ways to measure the impact and effectiveness of the training, and make adjustments to enhance your next training initiative and continuously improve performance.