The Official Guide to Sales
A successful sales training programme, one that doesn’t involve long lectures that take up reps’ time without providing any tangible value, is hard to come by and even harder to design. Let’s walk through the ultimate guide to sales training success: what to look for, what to avoid, and more.
Why Sales Training Is A Must
Sales training is a necessary investment, not only during the onboarding phase but throughout your reps’ careers. When we say sales training, we mean formal training - i.e. training that is documented and followed up on, not a Monday morning team meeting that happens to gloss over objection handling techniques that worked last week.
Study after study shows that over half of salespeople fail to hit their targets every year. Since a good sales team drives the growth engine of an organization, this means more than half of companies globally are operating with a faulty engine. Management is quick to blame the recruiting process, arguing that targets aren’t met because they don’t have the right people in the right jobs. While that certainly can be a factor, poor sales training is often the primary culprit when it comes to poor performance. The best sales teams out there receive the resources and coaching they need to evolve their skills and processes over time.
Unfortunately, for many companies, training is a one-off. It’s a checkbox to tick off when a new member joins the team, generally consists of a few lectures and some YouTube videos, and is never re-visited again. Reps are rarely provided with ongoing one-on-one coaching, serious performance evaluations, and opportunities to up-skill in order to further their careers. This is absolutely and scientifically the wrong way to approach sales training. Studies show that participants in traditional, curriculum-based training forget as much as 90% of what they learn within a few weeks.
So, two things are clear: training is a must and it should be ongoing and comprehensive in order to be effective. Now, how do you build a best-in-class training programme to reap the benefits of a best-in-class sales team?
What Are Your Sales Training Options?
When it comes to sales training, you have two options: build in-house or hire a third-party sales training partner.
While option one may seem like the cheaper option, and can be, you need to make sure you have the resources and personnel necessary to build a comprehensive sales training programme in-house. Too many companies expect higher-level sales professionals to take time out of their busy days to train new reps while maintaining their regular schedules and responsibilities. It comes as no surprise that sales training takes a back seat. However, there are some clear advantages to handling training internally: your own team will be the most familiar with your product or service, and able to share historical information with new SDRs about what’s worked, what hasn’t, and what makes your company unique. If you have the people able and willing to handle sales training within your organization already, it’s time to start putting together a training plan that can be used as a blueprint for onboarding moving forward and emphasizes continuous, practical learning environments.
On the other hand, many organizations opt to work with a company that can design and deliver the training for them. There are several advantages when it comes to outsourcing beyond taking the burden off your own team’s shoulders. The most obvious is that sales training agencies work with a number of clients and are able to share best practices, new methodologies, and insights in terms of what other teams are doing to be successful.
There are a lot of options available when it comes to choosing a partner, ranging from templatized online courses to bespoke programmes. Not all sales training companies are created equal. In fact, the vast majority of them take a fundamentally flawed approach because, frankly, it’s the easier way to do business. They have a couple of slides that they roll out for every client, deliver a few lectures, and pick up their checks. For sales training to be effective, it absolutely needs to be practical, interactive, and personalized. Your trainers should take the time to understand your product or service, your team, your challenges, and your goals, and build a programme around those pillars. Always look for an organisation that takes a bespoke approach and emphasizes practicality over curriculum. Lectures almost never work, so ask each agency you interview about their plans to make the lessons stick.
Common Sales Training Pitfalls To Avoid
Whether you’re taking on sales training internally or working with a sales training company , it’s good to be clear on what you don’t want to happen. So many of the sales training programmes out there are ineffective for various reasons. Here are a couple of main pitfalls to steer clear of:
In order to maximize success by increasing information absorption, sales training should be broken down into modules. Each module should focus on a different element of the sales process - from prospecting to qualification to negotiation. Throwing the whole kitchen sink at your sales team is counterproductive, as information overload is overwhelming and leads to suboptimal retention.
The best organizations really invest in sales training, setting aside several days or weeks a year to upskill their teams. While it may seem like dedicating this much time to sales training will hurt your team’s overall productivity, that couldn’t be more wrong long term. It’s never a good idea to try to fit everything within a couple of hours in the name of productivity, because your team won’t retain any of the information and that time will ultimately be lost.
If you’re ever working with a sales trainer that encourages you to have every member of the sales team, from the SDRs to the AEs to the sales managers, on the same training session, alarm bells should be going off in your head. One-size-fits-all doesn’t fit anyone. Creating a broad, generic sales training programme that all members of your team can attend means nobody is getting as much out of it as they should. The sales skills and processes needed by an SDR are going to differ greatly from an AE or sales leader. A sales training programme simply isn’t going to be as valuable if it’s not tailored to your team’s needs.
Studies show that human beings remember only 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, but over 80% of what they personally experience. Sales training isn’t effective if it isn’t interactive. Reading from a handbook about sales fundamentals will only take you so far, especially when you haven’t been taught how to apply those fundamentals to your everyday tasks. Role play exercises allow salespeople to practice new skills in real time and ask questions of their sales trainers. Without this practical, interactive setting, you can expect your team to forget most of what they learned within a couple of days.
No Buy-In Upstairs
Your sales team will only be as good as your sales management. If the upper levels of your organizations aren’t bought into a culture of continual improvement and learning, your sales training program will fail. Management should ideally be involved in the vendor selection process, sales training curriculum build, and in mentoring and coaching your reps.
The Difference Between Sales Skills and Process
There’s a key difference between a great salesperson and a great employee. A salesperson can be absolutely fantastic, closing deals left and right, but they may ultimately not be the right fit for your team if they don’t properly follow processes. It’s critically important to differentiate between sales skills and process, and to train your sales team on both.
You should have designated training modules for skills such as qualification, objection handling, discovery, and negotiation. These modules should ideally include interactive exercises to allow participants to work on these skills in real time. These fundamentals make for a capable, well-rounded salesperson that can be trusted with a pipeline.
On the other hand, you should organize a separate and equally important series of modules focused on process. This includes everything from how to mark fields in the CRM, to how to execute a seamless lead hand-off process, to how to forecast deals to provide an accurate view of the pipeline. So many great salespeople have been left off the hook for years, never having to follow processes because they are hitting or exceeding targets. It’s never a good idea to let salespeople off the hook, because process can often be more important than skill when you’re looking for scalable growth.
How To Make Remote Selling Work
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic created one of the most challenging sales environments for most industries, forcing salespeople to go remote, throw out the old playbook, and convince companies to find room in their already strained budgets. One of the main adjustments that all salespeople have had to make is the shift to remote work. Even if they’re going into the office, they’re almost certainly interacting with prospects that aren't. Every business is running an inside sales model at the moment, which has undoubtedly created challenges for industries that relied heavily on face-to-face communication to close the sale. But while virtual selling is new for many, it’s a strategy that has worked for decades and has many benefits.
To start off, it’s cheaper. Making virtual sales requires fewer resources and allows you to spend that travel budget on tools to make your workforce more productive. Secondly, it actually allows for more selling time. Now that salespeople don’t have to commute to and from work, and face the distractions of the office, your organization can benefit from that extra time in the form of extra calls and emails sent. Thirdly, it’s surprisingly effective. While you may have seen a drop in sales over the past few months due to the economic context, virtual selling shouldn’t necessarily be to blame (unless your reps haven’t been trained on it).
Here are a few tips to make remote selling work:
• Use video calling and keep your video on. It helps to create that face-to-face relationship.
• Be persistent. Everyone has more time on their hands in this new remote environment. Knowing that, don’t be afraid to ask for their time.
• Stop talking about the pandemic all the time. You should of course be mindful of the context in which you are reaching out, but your messaging shouldn’t be a minefield of COVID buzzwords. This is the new normal, you don’t always have to address it.
• Add value. Nobody has room in their budgets for an experiment. If your messaging focuses on the features and functionality of your product or service instead of the value it creates, you’re doing it wrong.
• Create an activity plan. Make sure you are holding yourself accountable to a certain level of activity on a weekly and monthly basis.
• Leverage your social network. During times of uncertainty, people value referrals more than ever before. Tap into your existing network and leverage referrals as much as possible.
An effective sales training programme is designed to fit the moment. That’s why sales training can never be a one and done - it should be a continuous process that allows your team to keep evolving and improving. If you’re working with a sales trainer that’s pulling out the same selling techniques that worked in the field back when COVID-19 wasn’t even on the radar, you know you’re working with the wrong teacher. It’s only a good use of your team’s time if they get something tangible out of it.
Measuring Your Sales Training Success
The sales training industry sometimes has a bad reputation. Why? Well, this is the way things usually work: a trainer that hasn’t actually sold in many years will come to your office for a day, give a long lecture with two 15-minute breaks for snacks, cover the same old selling techniques that may have worked a decade ago, pass out a booklet and wish your team good luck. Within a few hours, your team will forget everything they listened to, and go back to doing their work the way they always have. When asked if the training was helpful, they’ll usually say no, and that the trainer had no idea how things actually work at your company.
It’s important to treat sales training like any other investment you make into your business. You should expect to see a return. As a result, there are a couple of metrics to keep track of in the aftermath of any sales training programme to determine whether it really worked.
1. New Hire Ramp-Up Time
a. If you’re working with a sales trainer or designing a sales onboarding process in-house, this is a key one to look out for. The better your programme, the faster you should expect your new hires to add value.
2. Conversion Rate by Funnel Stage
a. This is especially important if you design a training programme that’s focused on a particular funnel stage, such as prospecting or negotiation. You can and should measure the success of the training by tracking the increase in conversion rate for that particular stage.
3. Customer Acquisition Cost
a. CAC is being closely watched by sales professionals across every industry with budgets tightening. The first step should always be calculating your optimal cost of acquisition and determining how far off you are from your target. Once you’ve figured that out, calculate your CAC on a monthly basis after your sales training programme to determine the impact on the number of hours and resources required to close a deal.
4. Average Sales Cycle
a. As your sales team becomes more proficient, you should see your sales cycle timeline decrease. Salespeople should be responsible for building urgency throughout the sales process and following up diligently to get the deal across the line.
If you’re looking to make sales training a priority at your organization, you should take two main things away from this guide: sales training must be interactive and it must be continuous in order to generate the best results. Any two-hour sales training lecture is bound to be a waste of your team’s time and your valuable money.
SalesWorks is a leader in results-driven sales training programmes tailored to our client’s challenges and objectives. Request a consultation to speak to one of our experts about your training needs.
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