SalesWorks Blog

Timing is everything in sales training

To get the most out of sales training for your team, you need to tailor it to their stage of development. Let’s find out more.

Can you remember the first sales training session you ever went on? I can. I’d just started in a BDR role selling enterprise financial technology - $1m AOV, 12-18 month sales cycles. My new company sent me on a course to learn the fundamentals of selling. I got talking to the guy next to me at the session. Guess what he was selling? Keys! I thought, what could the trainer possibly say that could help us both?

As I progressed into a leadership role, I discovered that most sales training courses just aren’t relevant enough. They were not equipping new salespeople with the skills they need now, in a way that sticks. 

That’s why I started SalesWorks – to change all that. Last year, we launched the SalesWorks academy – training that’s practical, interactive and results-driven. At the heart of what we do is tailoring the training we give to the development stage of the rep. In this article, I want to explain more about it. 

The four stages of competence

To work out what type of training a rep needs, we evaluate their knowledge and the skills they can demonstrate based on four stages of development. You may know this as the ‘conscious competence’ learning model.

Let’s imagine we’re looking a training an SDR in prospecting. Here are the four stages:

1 – Unconscious incompetence

SDRs start with unconscious incompetence as their skill level for prospecting. It means they don’t know how to do it. But not just that, it means that they don’t understand why they need to know how to do it. They must recognise their incompetence AND the value of being able to prospect before they can progress on to the next stage. 

2 – Conscious incompetence

This is the essential stage of the process because it means your SDR realises that they do not have the necessary prospecting skills yet, but they understand the value that comes with learning this new skill, consciously. They are ready and willing to learn.

3 – Conscious competence

Your SDR knows how to use and apply their prospecting skills. They have the knowledge. However, putting into practice takes hard work and thought - a conscious effort. They don’t have the necessary confidence yet to progress to the final level of mastery.

4 – Unconscious competence

The final stage is the outcome you are aiming for - unconscious competence. It means your SDR has got so much prospecting experience under their belt, they can do it without thinking. It’s almost second nature, like riding a bike. When your SDR gets to this stage, usually after around 12 months in the role, they are possibly ready to teach others what they know.

What does this mean for leaders?

How does the four stages of competence work for leaders who want to invest in training and enabling their team? It comes down to three things.

  • Leaders need to understand the learning state of their reps when they go in for training. The most significant difference is between stage one and stage two - unconscious incompetence and conscious incompetence. When they’re at the first stage, and they don’t even understand the value of what they’re being trained in, they’re more likely to disengage from the process. At the second stage, they’re eager to take it all in. It’s all about understanding your reps’ emotional state and tailoring the training to match.

  • You must diagnose which stage of the model each individual rep is at when they start a training exercise. You must be accurate and accept that not all your reps will be the same, even if they have been in the role for similar lengths of time. Let’s take stage three as an example - conscious competence. They may not need training on the basics, but they may need practice and coaching to get them to stage four, such as deal coaching or call coaching. 

  • Leaders need to recognise that developing the confidence to move from stage three to stage four takes time. Leaders often ask me when we do onboarding training, ‘How long do you think it’ll take the new hires to get up to speed?’ It’s a reasonable question, but there isn’t a definitive answer. It depends on the task and the learner. We all have different learning trajectories.

Get the timing right

Effective training is all about timing. When you know the frame of mind your salespeople are in before you train them, you can position the training to drive the best results. 

Also, while training is excellent at building competence, but competence isn’t everything. Reps need to develop their confidence, so the right sales behaviours become second nature. As a leader, you have a responsibility to inspire that confidence. Think of what you can do every day to build up confidence in your reps. Then, you reap the rewards.