I used to be guilty of saying, “All sales training is good, some programs are just better than others. You can always learn a golden nugget.”
Now, after years of sales leadership experience, I know better. The “golden nugget” concept is BS. Why waste a day of sales training so your salespeople can learn a golden nugget? If you want them to learn a golden nugget, serve it up each morning via email, at a team meeting, or using learning management software.
If you want to deliver custom sales training that achieves measurable objectives, here is how to do it.
Traditional sales training is delivered as an event; a facilitator led program lasting a day or two. Occasionally, it is combined with reinforcement, post training. But this type of sales training doesn’t deliver a measurable return-on-investment or have lasting impact.
To deliver sales training that achieves lasting results, you need to customize your sales training and approach it as process, not an event―because sales training is about changing human behavior, which is a process. As a metaphor, wouldn’t it be great if you could stop smoking after one smoking secession meeting? You can’t. Because stopping smoking is about changing human behavior too.
If you want to deliver sales training that changes human behavior, your curriculum must include teaching relevant sales skills combined with reinforcement, delivered over a period of time, and tracked against measurable objectives. That is what changes human behavior.
What follows is a methodology for delivering custom sales training that truly changes human behavior and delivers a measurable, lasting return-on-investment.
Identify required skills
Begin by identifying the sales skills required for success in each position on your team so that you can develop sales training that teaches those skills. Start by spending time with your top producers. Listen to their phone conversations, attend their sales calls, learn how they manage their pipelines, and ask them why they are successful. Identify what top producers do that B-players don’t.
Decipher sales skills from personality traits, as many top producers have traits that are not trainable; it’s who they are. For example, you can’t train someone to be analytical, humorous, or energetic, which may be traits that help a top producer sell.
Then brainstorm additional sales skills required for success in the position. Start at the beginning of your sales process, which is often stage one in your CRM. Work your way through the stages and discuss what skills are required at each stage.
Now you’ve identified the sales skills required for success in the position. Armed with the list of required skills, it’s time to perform a gap analysis.
Perform a gap analysis
Perform a gap analysis in order to prioritize which skills are most important to include in your program. This can be self administered by asking sales team members to rank their preferred training topics from your list of sales skills required for success. And/or it can be determined by Sales Managers who interact with and coach sales team members daily. Your goal is to train salespeople on skills that are required for success, prioritized based on the gap between skills they possess and skills they need to develop.
Armed with a skill gap analysis, you are ready to develop a custom sales training program that achieves measurable increases in revenue because it teaches the skills required for success in the position.
Most sales training is about learning a specific sales methodology. Sales methodologies are good and every sales professional should study the myriad of methodologies that exist. They’ll walk away with a ideas on everything from prospecting and qualifying to territory management and developing a return-on-investment presentation.
However, most methodologies are not connected to your sales team’s real world. To deliver sales training that measurably increases sales, your training has to be connected to your team’s selling situation as it exists today. Since you understand the sales skills required for success and what skills your team needs to enhance or learn, you can develop custom content that delivers precisely what is needed, not a golden nugget.
For example, your team may be selling in a fast paced industry (e.g., technology) where decision makers are hard to reach, and when you do reach them you have seconds to say something that keeps the conversation going. So a methodology that teaches how to connect with decision makers combined with a methodology that teaches executive level conversations would be relevant. In this instance, a methodology that teaches presentation skills or a methodology that teaches social media selling may not be as relevant. Of course, what your top producers are doing would be the most relevant skills to teach.
Alternatively, if your team is in a situation where they need to educate in order to sell (e.g., a product or service that will disrupt an industry), a methodology that teaches adult learning concepts combined with a methodology that teaches how to map a prospect’s organization structure would be relevant. A methodology that teaches territory management or a methodology that teaches objection removal may not be as relevant. Once again, what your top producers are doing would be the most relevant skills to teach.
Instead of teaching your salespeople a methodology, use a methodology to develop custom sales training content that doesn’t deliver golden nuggets, it delivers relevant and useful sales skills that your team will put to use immediately!
Determine measurable and observable goals
Before you deliver your custom sales training, establish measurable objectives (and observable when appropriate). Define success and determine how you will track it. For example sales per rep increase 5% within 2 quarters, all reps add multiple $50,000+ opportunities to their pipelines within 10 months, or opportunity velocity decreases from 4 months to close to 3 months.
Publish a leader board and keep it updated at least weekly. A leader board is a publication that ranks team members’ performance against goals.
Pedagogy is your instructional method, not a sales training methodology. Examples include:
- Facilitator led
- Peer to peer
- Case study
- Teach back
- Role plays
- Call recording
While adult learners require a different pedagogy than teenagers, salespeople are in a class of their own. We have ants in our pants. Sitting still for a day is not easy for us. So your pedagogy needs to include a mix of instructional methods. It’s best to begin with the facilitator led method, however for logistical reasons you may need to use a teleconference. Also, your instructional method should change at least every hour and include breaks long enough for salespeople to respond to an important email or voicemail or just take a break and go for a walk.
Sell the team on the importance of the skill
Explain to your team why the skill is important and what’s in it for them if they learn and use the skill. In essence, you are selling your team on learning and using the skill. Consider having a top producer talk about how they use the skill and/or provide specific examples of situations where the skill can be used to lead a prospect through their buying process.
Make sure your custom sales training is instantly useable by making it experiential. Death by PowerPoint doesn’t work. Your curriculum must include giving salespeople the ability to actually try out the newly learned or enhanced sales skills. With early stage career salespeople, role plays are the best way to accomplish experiential training. However, with experienced, tenured sales professionals, an open conversation may be a better instructional method. Again, it is important that you match the instructional method to the needs of the participants in your training.
A note about role playing: it is imperative that role playing is done in a “safe” environment. Sitting in front of a room full of peers is not safe; in fact role playing in this manner can be humiliating. Break into teams of two or three salespeople. Have them role play the sales skill. Regroup and have team members share their experience. Ask what worked? Ask what challenges did you incur? Depending on the complexity of the skill, consider mixing up the groups and having team perform multiple roles plays with different peers.
Other experiential training approaches include having team members “teach back” the skill they role-played to peers will make your training even more experiential. You may also want to include “gamification.” This is when you craft some type of game that reinforces the skill.
Validate skills have been learned
Validate that what has been taught, has been learned. Throughout the training, periodically “test” the team on their knowledge of the skill. This can be done by open group conversation where the facilitator asks questions of the group regarding their knowledge of using the skill. Another approach to validating your team has learned a skill is to literally administer a test. Using multiple choice questions makes it easier to grade the test. How you deliver the results is important. Your goal is to reward success. You could have team members grade themselves and discuss their results with their peers. Or the facilitator or Sales Managers could grade the test and discuss the results in individual meetings.
Reinforce the training by “catching people doing things right.” The minute a team member applies a skill successfully, make some hoopla! Reward success with recognition, verbally and in writing, individually and publically in front of the team, and regularly and often. Have successful salespeople discuss how they did it. Provide monetary and/or non monetary rewards. Have the executive team recognize success via email or in person.
In addition to catching people doing it right, lead follow up strategy sessions to further reinforce the training. Upon conclusion of your training sessions, gain commitment as to who’ll do what, by when. Explain that during the upcoming follow up strategy session they will be asked two questions:
- What worked?
- Where did you have difficulty?
The only unacceptable answer is, “I didn’t get to try it.” This approach creates peer pressure. No one wants to show up at a reinforcement session and say they didn’t try using the skill.
To achieve lasting and measurable improvements in sales results, deliver sales training that is:
- Custom designed to develop the skills your sales team members need today, in their real life situation
- Combined with reinforcement activities over time
- Tracked against measurable objectives