A few months back, I was fortunate enough to be featured in iPresent’s article on Effective Sales Training. Here’s a republishing of the article.

Sales training is one of the pillars of Sales Enablement. Just like content and technology, it’s a way of helping salespeople improve their process and close more deals. But it’s not just about winning. Effective sales training has also been proven to improve employee engagement and staff retention. And sales success has an impact across the business.

For those wondering where to begin with sales training, we have put this guide together, answering some of the key questions that might cross your mind as you prepare to implement a sales training program. These include:

  • Why do I need sales training?
  • What should salespeople be trained on?
  • Demo training?
  • Should sales leaders be involved in sales training?
  • What’s the best mode of delivery for sales training?
  • Do I need to do anything to prepare for sales training?
  • How do we reinforce sales training?
  • How do we measure the success of sales training?

We’ve talked to some of the clever folks from the Sales Enablement Society to get their expert insights and advice on all things sales training, some of their wisdom is interspersed throughout this piece.

The unique and important role of sales is to bridge the gap between the potential customer’s needs and the products/services that the organization offers that can fulfill their needs.

Do I really need to do some kind of sales training? Aren’t salespeople just born?

You’ve probably heard people talk about ‘born’ or ‘natural’ salespeople, as though you’re born with everything you need to meet quota. While research suggests there are some natural personality traits that are more likely to make for a good salesperson, there’s no doubt that sales skills can be learned. And should be, if you hope to grow your business.

What should I train my salespeople on?

Sales training exists for every part of the sales process. You could train on all of it, bit by bit, if you have a lot of fresh new recruits with no real sales experience. Or you could just focus in on those parts of the process where you notice you’re missing out.

In order to give you a starting point – since that’s what we’re aiming to do here! – below is a list of sales skills taken from the recent study on the impact of sales training, run by the Sales Readiness Group. These skills were ranked by survey respondents and are listed here in order of importance.

  • Identifying customer needs
  • Building relationships
  • Presenting value
  • Closing
  • Managing objections
  • Prospecting
  • Account management
  • Qualification/qualifying
  • Negotiating
  • Call planning

So ask yourself: what do you need help with?

If you can easily identify where you’re losing deals, it’s perfectly possible to buy an off-the-shelf training package to fill the gap. However, most training providers strongly recommend you seek some help assessing your sales team for skills gaps prior to making the decision on what training you need.

I think our salespeople understand the process fine, but they lack some of the soft skills. Is there training for that?

Sales training is a multi-billion dollar industry. There is a provision for every kind of skill – be it soft or hard – that you could possibly need. You can certainly train in soft skills. In fact, most of the skills listed above could be described as soft – any human interaction that relies on good communication is really a soft skill.

Introvert or extrovert, technical or not, all these skills can be learned provided you have people willing to engage with the training.

While salespeople tend to hone their sales presentation to the nth degree, and most people by now understand the importance of customizing your pitch to your audience, demos don’t always get the same treatment. Yet, sitting through a bad demo can be enough to put you off not just that particular provider but the entire product/service.

Fear not: demo training is available. We spoke to The Demo Doctor for a post on How to give a demo without losing your audience and came away with a few key pointers:

  • Customize your message as well as your visuals. Customers don’t just want to know what their version of your product would look like. They need to know what problems it would solve for them.
  • Take it slow. Keep asking your audience for feedback or confirmation that they are following what you are saying.
  • Remember it’s a sales demonstration, not a training session. The hope is that your customers get a feel for how they would use your product, not that in your 30-minute demo you manage to show them exactly how it works.
  • The goal is not to show how smart you are. The goal is not to show how wonderful the tool is. The goal is to show the few key things that align with what your customer is trying to accomplish, confirm that they understand what they’ve seen and get some kind of acknowledgement that what they just saw will help them do what they’re trying to do.

That says it all really, but in case you need more justification for sending your sales leaders to at least some if not all of your training sessions, here are a few more reasons.

Training sessions give sales leaders the opportunity to observe their team in a different environment, as well as to see salespeople other than their direct reports. It’s as beneficial for the sales leaders as it is for the sales executives themselves to see how others in the wider sales team work.

It’s possible the sales leaders could have as much to learn from the sales training as the rest of the team. It wouldn’t look good if their direct reports are later coming to them with questions about matters raised during the training that the sales leaders are unable to answer.

Sales training reinforcement needs to come from sales leaders. They are in a position to observe their team on a regular basis and check whether skills acquired during training are being put to use. If sales leaders are to be coaches, they need to engage in training and take an active part in the personal development of their sales team. (FYI – Salespeople who exceed quota are 32% more likely to be coached.)

What’s the best mode of delivery for sales training?

Training is available in three main ways:

  • In-person
  • Facilitator-led, online
  • Self-directed, online

There are pros and cons to each, and in part your decision will likely be based around scheduling and budget.

  • In-person, classroom based training – whatever style you choose – is the most popular, but also the hardest to schedule and the most expensive.
  • Facilitator-led online training – most likely webinars and group calls – works well when you can only manage an hour here and there, and especially when you are gathering together geographically-dispersed teams.
  • Training programs that you access as and when you need them are the cheapest option and don’t come with any scheduling problems, but struggle to get the same level of engagement as facilitator-led programs.

Ultimately, your best bet could well be a mix of all three, kicking off with in-person training and following up with facilitator-led online, with supplementary pre-recorded online training available for further reinforcement.

We love to employ what I call the ‘teach back’, where we get people to literally teach back to me. Put them in the role of the other teacher or a trainer and have them teach back to somebody. It works magic in that it really reinforces what they just learned. Dionne Mischler, Inside Sales By Design.

Is there anything I need to do to prepare for sales training?

In order to get the most from sales training, the experts recommend you undertake some pre-training to prepare for the program. This helps the trainee feel more engaged in the process and more ready to begin the training. It also helps the facilitator understand what your priorities are and identify any weak spots that will need special focus.

If you have chosen facilitator-led training, your facilitator should set the pre-work for you. Even if no facilitator exists, it’s likely any online program you choose would have some pre-work assessments, quizzes, etc. to help you boost training engagement. And of course you can always create your own in-house so that they’re tailored to what specifically you’re hoping to pick out in the course.

What about after training? How do we reinforce what we’ve learnt?

Reinforcement is integral to training. Put simply, without reinforcement you are wasting your investment. Studies show that most people will forget about 50% of the training within about an hour of the information being presented. Within a week that figure is up to 90%
The good news is that with regular reinforcement, those statistics change. By constantly using the skills we’ve learned, our brain learns that that information is useful and stores it safely for regular use. Thus, the curse of the Forgetting Curve is broken.

A couple of notes on reinforcing:

  • Don’t underestimate the power of rewards and recognition. Single out those who are using the training to win more deals and parade them around the company with a golden halo around their heads and wads of cash in their hands. Or something like that.
  • Use your sales leaders to keep reminding the team of all the tools and techniques they have learned and where they should be applying them.
  • Bear in mind that most people learn best by doing, so give them plenty of opportunities to practice what they’ve learned and reflect on the experience. Again, your coaches are really critical to making the most of this practice.

How do you assess the success of sales training?

In order to define the success of sales training, you need to ensure you’ve set objectives from the outset.

If you’re working with a facilitator, it’s important that you work together to define precisely what you’d like to achieve with the training program so that both you and they are able to later measure how those things have been impacted. For example, if your training focused on prospecting, you would be measuring the increase in your pipeline. If your training focused on call planning, you might measure the increase in meetings booked. If your training focused on managing objections, negotiating or closing you would measure both the number of wins and the size of the deals.

To measure the wider impact on the business, you could use the Kirkpatrick Model. This measures the impact of training in four levels:

  • Reaction – the degree to which participants find the training favorable, engaging and relevant
  • Learning – the degree to which participants acquire the intended knowledge, skills, attitude, confidence and commitment based on their participation in the training
  • Behavior – the degree to which participants apply what they learned during training when they are back on the job
  • Results – the degree to which targeted outcomes occur as a result of the training and the support and accountability package.
  • Check out our blog on using SMART ways to prove the value of sales training for some ideas on good goal-setting practices.

The facilitator should have a preferred method to measure these things, using a combination of interviews, quizzes and observations as well as the metrics relevant to the targeted outcomes.

Whatever you decide to do, we wish you every success with your sales training! We’d love to hear what you choose and how you get on with it. We hope you enjoyed this brief introduction to sales training. If you found it helpful, please do share it with your colleagues and friends.