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Sales organizations are under a lot of pressure these days. Every salesperson and sales manager is feeling their own version of that pressure. Turnover is high.
Let's face it, the job has been changing for years. It isn't just new technology and sales enablement tools, it's also changing customer expectations and preferences. And, in many industries, the product lifecycle is shorter.
A lot of products and services aren't so sticky either, and there are a lot of competitors, sometimes coming out of nowhere, with a new business model to unstick you.
Rejection is part of sales but often you don't know why. Now, with remote work, salespeople are more isolated, separated from their tribe and getting far less of the in-person interaction so many have built their careers on.
It's no wonder sales professionals are hungry for training. But the training they need might not be as obvious as sales training on a product or sales methodology.
In this article, we'll look at the traditional aspects of a sales training program and consider how new alternatives, such as training in mindsets and behaviors, might help sales teams be more effective and more sustainable over time.
What is sales training?
Sales training is any program, course, or webinar designed to increase an individual’s ability to generate revenue. Historically, most sales training programs focused on developing specific skills. But training companies are moving away from that model.
The most effective sales training programs now focus on other methods to increase production and revenue retention. These include simulations, games, blended learning, sales psychology, and periodic refresher courses.
The sales panorama: What does the sales industry look like right now?
No matter the company or industry, chances are good that there’s a job available in sales. Sales skills are among some of the most valuable and transferable skills in the job market. Sales leaders provide revenue and scalable growth for their companies. They are responsible for translating the mission of the company to customers and bringing them onboard.
Often, the sales organization is the face of the company to the customer.
Currently, over 14 million Americans work in sales-related jobs. That’s a lot of sales professionals — and a lot of opportunity for training and development. While companies historically default to offering discounts to boost sales, that approach is losing steam. Modern sales is more value-focused. As the sales adage goes, price is only an issue in the absence of value. One study showed that 87% of high-growth companies favor a value-selling approach. However, that means that salespeople need to be skilled in communicating the value and return on investment (ROI) of an organization’s product.
Why should you focus on sales training?
Organizations don’t grow without increasing revenue, and successful sales leaders are key to cash flow. However, when looking to cut costs, companies often eliminate or reduce their investment in sales training programs. This often happens because sales training is seen as separate from other workplace initiatives. They occur as “one-off” programs with poor retention, integration, and results.
In order for any kind of training to be successful, it has to take place within a culture of growth. Ongoing sales training keeps the team’s focus on improving their selling skills and performance. HR Magazine reports that companies that spend at least $1,500 per year per employee on development have a 24% higher profit margin than their competitors.
Those that are successful in sales tend to be naturally competitive, and that means they’re intrinsically motivated to stay on top. These leaders will appreciate the opportunities to develop their skills. This helps your company attract — and keep — the best salespeople.
The modern approach to sales training
Once you’ve hired a new sales representative, it’s critical that you get them successfully onboarded as soon as possible. In modern sales, it no longer makes sense to wait for a training cohort or session to roll around. A successful sales onboarding program can explode your ROI, with some estimates around 10 times higher than traditional onboarding. Behind recruiting, a high-level onboarding program is the most decisive factor in business impact and growth.
So what does a successful onboarding program look like? New salespeople should become well-versed in the product that the company offers and how to communicate its value. Onboarding training programs typically cover three main areas:
- Company offerings, products, messaging, and solutions
- Organizational mission and culture
- Sales cycle, the selling process, and selling skills
Of course, that's just the beginning, slightly more than the bare minimum. Considering your sales professionals are the face of your brand to potential customers and the ones you hope to cultivate, it's worth investing some time and effort in understanding who these people are and helping them show up at their best.
Here are 3 best practices for more effective sales onboarding:
- Start early
As we mentioned above, onboarding starts on day one. Your sales representative is the ambassador between your organization and the public. Assume they will be talking with friends, family, and old business contacts about their current role from day one.
Give them information, but arm them with a great story to tell. It isn't just being familiar with company values and offerings, it's knowing the company's mission and DNA, feeling the passion of the leaders who started it and the people who build the product. And, while they don't need to know all the ins and outs of the product at the beginning, make sure they know how it's sold.
- Focus on the human touch
There’s more to sales than just knowing how to close a deal. At its heart, sales comes down to one human interacting with another, even when those humans each represent big organizations with policies, budgets, and deadlines to meet. The best salespeople are good listeners, solutions-oriented, and care about the success of the client as well as their bottom line. Spend time training communication skills, problem-solving, and other sales training topics that aren’t strictly about getting a “yes.”
But beyond training your sales professionals to think of the customer as a human, recognize that the people on your sales team are human, too. They cannot be good listeners and creative problem-solvers if they are burnt out, anxious, or trapped in a negative mindset. BetterUp's Sales Performance coaching is targeted at developing the skills, behaviors, and mindsets for personal thriving and inspiring leadership in sales leaders and managers. It will pay off with more well-rounded leaders and skillful sales ambassadors who feel supported and able to bring their best.
- Space out learning
Have you ever attended a training intensive? How much of it did you recall after a week or two? In order to master new information and skills, you need time to practice and absorb the information. Staggered training sessions and coaching from a leader allow participants to integrate the new skills into their sales conversations and have support to reflect on what worked and didn't and make adjustments. Working and learning simultaneously, in the flow of life, provides important context for the new information. It also makes it easier to track the effectiveness of the training and improve in the future.
What should an excellent sales training program have?
You may choose to design your own sales training program or collaborate with an established third-party provider. Either way, there are some characteristics that set the best programs apart. Here are 9 questions to ask when choosing or building a sales training program:
- Who is this for?
- What topics are covered?
- Is this in line with company values?
- How is the training delivered?
- How interactive is the training?
- Does this training favor a particular learning style?
- How will we measure success?
- How do we reinforce learning?
- How does this training fit into our overall growth strategy?
Characteristics of a great sales training program
Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll have a better understanding of what your needs are and how to measure the success of a training program. While the specifics will vary, it’s likely that any effective training will meet the following criteria:
The best training programs will adapt to the needs of your team. While there are universal sales techniques and communication skills that will be helpful no matter what, selling a product or service isn’t one size fits all. You’ll want to narrow down your ideal client, key points, and sales strategy to fit your company.
What’s the best way to offer this training? Should you use a series of self-paced modules or live webinars? Would your team respond better to an offsite retreat or a group presentation? There isn’t a right answer, but you’ll want to take the locations, personalities, and skillsets of your sales team into consideration.
How will this training program grow along with your company? Is it something that you can duplicate for new hires or adapt to new sales training topics? Can it be implemented quickly for new business initiatives? You can always change your methods as the company — and your sales team — grows. But it may save some time and stress down the line to choose training with scale in mind.
And, last but not least, a great sales training program doesn’t waste your time. Every component needs to deliver value to the sales professional, in a way that is flexible to what they need, when they need it, how they want it.
How long should a sales training program be?
Ideally, a sales onboarding program should last through the first 90 days of a new hire’s tenure. This is a great way to acclimate them to the sales organization and provide support.
When planning refresher training, the most important factor is that they occur regularly. Short, periodic training sessions are more effective (and easier on your team) than marathon sales “boot camps.” Consider offering individual training modules “on-demand” so that sales reps can continue to get support as needed.
10 types of sales training courses
Basic sales skills training
For new hires with little sales training or seasoned team members transferring into a new role, you’ll want to invest time in basic sales methodology training. This will give an overview of the sales process, the difference between B2C and B2B sales, and best practices for connecting with a client’s needs.
Sometimes, you need to help prospects understand why they need your products or services. Demand generation training helps salespeople communicate the solution your company provides.
Inside sales training
Any kind of sales transaction that’s handled remotely (via phone or email) is referred to as inside sales. Many companies are relying on remote and virtual selling as their primary method of driving revenue. Because of the potential, devoting time and resources to inside sales training can pay dividends.
For high-end products or service contracts, sales representatives may need to go through a few rounds before they can officially close deals. Learning to conduct negotiations and what to expect can help these back-and-forths go smoothly.
When most people think of sales training, they think of motivational seminars with popular speakers and catchy sayings. Although the emotional high from these events are hard to beat, this kind of training tends to be the least effective in the long run.
Sales inevitably involves sales presentations, so spending time working on your presentation and public speaking skills is worthwhile. This kind of training involves practical tools (like Powerpoint and Keynote). It also teaches presenters to gauge their audience’s reactions and adjust as needed.
Lead generation is about reaching out to qualified leads and developing relationships. Successful prospecting requires communicating value in a compelling way while maintaining good rapport with potential new customers.
Sales management training
The best salespeople don’t always make the best sales managers. The skills that make a top producer don’t necessarily translate to managing and motivating a team. Sales management training helps to bridge the gap between being a top producer and learning to mentor sales reps to become top producers. It teaches them how to hold others accountable, hire the right talent, and manage underperforming reps.
Training for team sales focuses on presentation skills. But it's also important to learn how to balance individual strengths. Teams learn how to prepare, present, hand-off, and address concerns as a seamless unit.
What makes your company unique? Vendor differentiation training helps your sales staff learn to communicate. It's key to explaining why customers should buy from you (and not someone else). What can you offer that no one else can?
Mindsets, skills, and behaviors
Sales isn’t an easy profession. Whether for sales managers or individual contributors, support for developing the right growth mindset, resilience, focus, empathy, problem-solving, and courage to have difficult conversations can make a difference in productivity and success over time.
How to implement a sales training program
If you’re planning to launch a sales training program within your company, there are a few important things to keep in mind. Remember that many sales tools and training content barely get used so don’t just stick with the way it’s always been done. And don’t be afraid to rethink your approach — just remember that time is everything to sales people so be thoughtful in your design.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to implementing a sales training program for your team:
- Determine how you’ll measure your success
What metric are you looking to improve with sales training? Do you want more sales, more revenues, or more qualified leads? Once you determine your key performance indicators (KPIs), you’ll be in a better position to choose or design the best sales training program for your team. Make sure that your CRM (or whatever tool you use to track sales opportunities) is equipped to track the KPI you want to measure. Revisit this measure periodically to ensure that it isn’t having unintended consequences on sales behaviors.
- Analyze your team’s performance
Where do you currently stand? Look at your team’s recent performance and use it to establish your post-training goal. Set a measurable objective. Instead of saying “We need more inbound leads,” try aiming to increase your qualified leads by 10%.
- Plan your training
What’s the best method to deliver training? Do you want to customize the training yourself, or hire a third-party training provider? Will it be conducted onsite or as an e-learning course? How long will training take, and how often do you need to provide refreshers?
- Put it into action
There are two ways to test your team's new sales know-how. First, you should set aside some time to role-play sales conversations before they take it out into the real world. Once they move on to actual sales calls, continue to follow up with your sales reps. Encourage (and create incentives for) your sales team to share their stories of what’s worked and what hasn’t and let them learn from each other through cold calls, first meetings, and relationship-building. Review their sales performance and win rates to narrow down areas for improvement.
Working with your sales force after the training will also help you spot any missed areas in the training and get a deeper level of feedback. How did it go? Did you identify any gaps? Be sure to follow up with the participants so you can improve future training.
- Refine your team’s skills
Based on the feedback and outcome of the training, determine what your next steps are. Do you need to offer a refresher course, sales readiness training, or one-on-one practice? Consider offering something to supplement the training. This could be written materials, an online sales training course, or individual sales coaching.
With the rapid growth of sales jobs in every industry, salespeople will continue to become a more integral part of every business team. Sales success is a critical part of driving revenue and promoting healthy growth.
At the same time, the role and tactics of sales professionals have been changing with new tools and new expectations from customers. It makes sense, then, to continue to invest in sales training as an investment in the future growth of your business. However, the content and mode of sales training must evolve.
At BetterUp, we believe that while tools, training, and content are important elements to enabling the field, companies must also prioritize investment in the mindsets and behaviors that impact sales performance.
BetterUp Staff Writer