The Building Blocks of an Effective Sales Academy
A sales academy is a structured system put in place by a company for developing its sales team. Such systems consist of:
- Numerous sales training programs, which together form a single competency framework for driving the performance of sales professionals over time. This doesn’t mean that a sales academy is “one size fits all” – on the contrary, it can and should address the different curriculum needs for the range of sales roles that exist in a complex selling organization from Business Development Professionals up through Global Account Managers
- Benchmarking tools to monitor progress and consistency in best practices for sales
- Content delivery through a variety of avenues such as written material, classroom training, digital learning tools, and coaching
The success of a sales academy rests on the engagement of sales professionals with training and the subsequent application of learning content in their jobs. But do sales professionals see themselves as engaged?
To find out, Training Industry, Inc. and Richardson Sales Performance conducted a study to explore how sales professionals view the utility and usefulness of the training programs provided to them. The goal of the research was to reveal insights about what sales professionals find effective in the structure of a sales academy.
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Below is a summary of key findings from the research. Click here to download a complimentary copy of the complete research.
Our data shows that most companies rely on a mix of learner-controlled and company-mandated training. Similarly, most companies rely on a mix of structured learning paths and on-demand training. The goals of sales training typically address a mix of short- and long-term objectives.
When building a sales academy, the overarching focus is on fostering competencies over time. But what are these competencies? The best way to determine this is to look at both what the company is mandating and what learners are self-selecting.
Core competencies in sales are nothing new and typically defined by company leadership, but metrics on learner activity can reveal places where an existing competency framework is underemphasized or imbalanced. Clearly, metrics should reflect what is going on with sales professionals, in addition to what should be going on with them. Metrics on sales competencies help define and target aspirational goals, while also providing a roadmap of what’s going on “now” and where a company is falling short of its aspirations.
Similarly, learning paths should reflect the existing competency framework with the continued ability for learners to take on-demand training, which will inform future revisions. On this foundation, a sales academy can provide the backbone to sales performance, with the agility to include new competencies or skills to meet the shifting needs of the market.
Richardson Sales Performance’s Connected Selling Curriculum offers a full suite of programs that work in combination to continuously improve the effectiveness of your sales team. In this video, Richardson Sales Performance SVP & Chief Product Officer explains the benefits of this new approach to sales training design.
The most often-used as well as most effective modalities were found to be on-the-job learning and coaching sessions. Learners most often augment their formal training with written materials and internet resources.
A key step in determining how to develop a sales training program is figuring out how to match content with the appropriate delivery modality, both to maximize learning outcomes as well as to offer learners options for how to engage with training material.
Depending on the topic, it may be beneficial to have classroom training paired with follow-up coaching sessions and online modules. For a different topic, videos may introduce certain concepts, but it might take on-the-job learning for these concepts to affect performance.
Our survey showed that sales professionals do not shy away from looking outside their own companies’ curricula for sources of learning. Identifying what these are, and what topics they cover, can help identify both gaps in knowledge and skills as well as the ways in which sales professionals might be most likely to engage with content curated by the company itself in the sales academy.
Learners want classroom experiences that last one day or less and digital learning modules that last 15-30 minutes. The majority of sales professionals also see benefits from performance benchmarks based on their peers. This might be one of the least obvious points about building a sales academy: it’s not simply a governance exercise that is handed down to a sales force. Sales professionals need to have input into the framework because they’re the ones working within that framework.
In the results of this research, we’ve identified two major preferences of sales learners for the duration of classroom and digital learning experiences. This goes beyond the question of which modalities are used and sheds light on how they are put into practice.
A sales academy should be built around what sales professionals are likely to engage with – a motivated learner is an engaged learner. If their experience is positive, if the length or depth of content meets their needs without falling short or erring on the side of overkill, the metrics will tell that story over time. Similarly, peer benchmarks help shore up weaknesses in performance on a sales team, but these benchmarks need to be focused on the metrics that both the company and sales professionals see as the most important.
The goal of the sales academy is to balance the needs of both in a way that keeps both learning and performance moving in a positive direction.
The skills important to sales jobs were knowing the market, targeting buyers, understanding buyer needs, presenting effectively, establishing relationships and becoming a trusted advisor. Based on our data, the list represents a core set of skills that should be applicable to nearly any company’s sales training.
While these skills were the ones most universally endorsed in our research, that doesn’t necessarily mean other skills can be disregarded with impunity. Depending on the type of sales role, such as inside sales or service sales, different skills will naturally be emphasized in daily operations. A significant function of a sales academy is to bring these differences to light, upskill sales professionals appropriately based on the distinctive needs of their roles, and provide the metrics to gauge whether everything is moving in the right direction.
We all know sales is not a one-size-fits-all type of job, and an effective sales academy does not try to force it to be.
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