Onboarding – every company does it, but a shockingly few do it really well.
The sales profession looks much, much different than it did even 20 years ago. Today’s sellers are dealing with the high expectations of B2B buyers, decision-by-committee, disruptive technology, M&A, product innovations… and more.
So it almost goes without saying that reps need to know A LOT in order to be at their best in front of buyers. Has your sales training strategy kept up with the times?
Many organizations have allowed their sales training to grow stale by relying on old-school tactics, like on-site bootcamps and long-winded presentations that cause information overload for new reps. It's partly why 20% of salespeople say their training needs a complete overhaul.
Before we dive into specifics, however, let’s clarify our terminology up front.
Sales Training Defined
Sales training can cover a wide array of topics, ranging from key sales skills, to the sales process or methodology, to product training, to effective use of sales or sales enablement tools. The goal, according to CSO Insights, is typically “to kick off change… as an initial step to establish new skills and methodologies or to develop new behaviors.”
Sales training can come in different learning formats, such as eLearning, on-site sessions, or online simulations. These approaches can be enhanced with sales training technology that provides on-demand access to engaging microlearning content, such as video-based presentations and interactive quizzes. In fact, firms that use technology effectively were 57% more effective at sales training and development than ineffective technology users, according to the Sales Management Association.
In addition to training, it’s critical to support reps with a sales coaching program that allows managers to reinforce what reps learn, and ensure reps can apply that knowledge in the context of the job.
What about Sales Training Programs?
The sales training process itself can be led by an in-house expert, such as a sales enablement manager or L&D professional, or a consultant associated with one of the many external programs available today.
If you’re looking for the latter, here are 10 well-known sales training program providers:
If you're an internal training or enablement leader, we've also got you covered! Below, we'll take a closer look at 10 sales training ideas and activities that can spice up your strategy for 2020 – and ensure that your reps stay prepared.
10 Sales Training Ideas for 2020
- Incorporate assessments
- Examine win/loss reports
- Leverage peer learning
- Put sales reps in their buyer's shoes
- Highlight industry trends and news
- Keep millennials in mind
- Practice responding to objections
- Sales process deep-dive
- Sales manager "mastery sessions"
1. Make Assessments Part of Your Sales Training
Sales organizations often cross their fingers and hope sellers who complete their training courses are ready for the field. In doing so, they risk unprepared reps flopping in front of buyers, costing the company deals, hurting brand reputation and seller confidence, and wasting time for all parties.
Sales enablement leaders should focus not just on learning consumption (“Did my reps finish their courses?”), but also assessment (“Can they perform key sales activities?”) to encourage better training engagement, knowledge retention and sales readiness.
You can implement training assessments in a few different ways:
- Knowledge-checks, such as quizzes and tests, ensure that reps have mastered key concepts
- Simulation, which can range from role plays to practicing elevator pitches with a video coaching tool, tells you whether reps are ready
- Observation, such as a manager ride-alongs, shows that reps can apply learning in the field
2. Examine Win/Loss Reports
Although there are several ways to encourage knowledge sharing in your organization, you can make reports on key wins and losses available to reps as just-in-time learning assets and incorporate them into training curriculums, as you can tie takeaways directly to positive (or negative) sales outcomes.
For example, if a high-performing rep just closed a highly competitive deal, assign a team member (sales enablement or product marketing) to interview the new customer about their challenges, what steps were taken to secure their commitment, which value points most resonated with them, and why your solution was chosen over alternatives. Based on what comes out of the report, you can identify areas where best practices made a difference and ensure reps are trained on those.
Deal losses can be just as valuable in preparing sales reps for tough situations. Maybe pricing objections threw a wrench in an otherwise smooth sales process, in which case you can review best practices. Maybe there were missed opportunities to position your product against a competitor’s, giving you an opportunity to incorporate the loss report into competitive intelligence training.
Whatever the case, ensuring that sales reps have reviewed your key wins and losses allows them to apply actionable tips to future sales cycles.
3. Leverage Peer Learning
According to ATD, 91% of sales reps believe peer learning will help them succeed, and with good reason. Peer learning done well allows training leaders to harness the “tribal knowledge” of veteran salespeople – before they leave the organization – and transform it into training material for sellers of all ages and experience levels. Your ‘B’ and ‘C’ players especially can benefit by learning from the practices of your star salespeople and seeing what “good” looks like in action.
These best practices can also be used to create useful sales training content. One way to make that happen is using video coaching technology, which allows reps to record videos detailing best practices, tips and tricks or win stories. For instance, you could ask the sales force, “What is one technique you use to move a stalled deal forward?” The best video responses to that question can be converted into formal learning content and made available for future reference.
4. Put Sales Reps in Their Buyer’s Shoes
Training programs tend to focus heavily on product details and messaging, often at the expense of explaining the needs and challenges of the buyers. Perhaps that’s why 77% of buyers believe salespeople don’t understand their business, according to Accenture.
Make the buyer’s journey a more prominent part of your sales training – both for new hire onboarding and learning reinforcement for the existing sales force. You can do this by ensuring that buyer persona details, including key business challenges, success metrics and pain points, are part of your training curriculum (and then assessing your reps’ mastery of them).
You'll also want to outline useful approaches for engaging buyers at each distinct step of the buyer's journey. Is the prospect committed to considering alternatives to the status quo? Share persuasion techniques that can help buyers move into a decision cycle. Is the prospect settled on your solution and trying to justify the purchase to other decision-makers? Outline approaches for accelerating time to a buying decision.
In addition, you can pair sales training with coaching exercises that require reps to think like buyers on their feet. For example, if you sell security software, ask reps what points the director of IT security might use to get the CIO on board with a new solution, and how they would be best presented? What issues matter most not only to the security lead, but also to the CIO?
5. Highlight Industry Trends and News
Your salespeople may not be reading 30-page research reports on the state of B2B selling, or your target markets. But a 600-word blog post covering timely social selling tips, on the other hand, is a perfect addition to your training strategy.
However you deliver continuous education to the sales force, incorporating outside perspectives into your training is important, because it reminds your salespeople that the profession is still changing all the time and encourages them to stay up-to-date.
For instance, using a sales readiness tool like Brainshark, you could embed relevant research and news articles about target industries into training courses as required courses or attachments, to ensure reps review them to complete their training. You could then add a knowledge-check that quizzes the salespeople on key findings.
6. Deliver Training with Millennials in Mind
About 10,000 Baby-Boomers retire every day, and by 2025, millennials will make up 75% of the global workforce. So it almost goes without saying that your sales training activities need to meet the learning needs of a changing workforce.
Most millennials prefer informal, bite-sized, microlearning content that can be accessed on-demand, wherever and whenever it might be needed. Research from the Journal of Applied Psychology shows that microlearning can improve engagement with – and retention of – your training content.
Career development is also deeply important to millennials; they want to learn skills that will help them in a future role. For example, many sales development reps move into quota-carrying roles, like account executive or account manager, but the skills required to be a successful SDR don’t perfectly align with the traits of a high-performing AE or AM. Identify those gaps and deliver training that helps close them.
7. Practice Responding to Objections
Buyer objections are a part of life for all salespeople, and reps who aren’t prepared to handle common objections will have a tough time closing deals. Ensuring that salespeople have mastered key skills will prevent them from “practicing” on your buyers. But how should you address objections in your sales training?
Create training courses that break down the fundamentals of handling different types of objections. This includes misunderstandings (“I heard your software doesn’t integrate with our marketing platform”), skepticism (“will your solution work for a small business?”), drawbacks (“we like your solution but it’s missing a feature we want”) and indifference (“we don’t need something like that”).
Recalling the importance of assessment, you should also require that sales reps master their objection responses – either through an in-person role play or using a video practice tool like Brainshark – in order to reinforce your training content.
8. A Sales Process Deep-Dive
Without a strong grasp of your sales process, reps won’t know which activities they should perform at each stage, nor will they know when an opportunity has progressed from one stage to the next (e.g. when a prospect is fully qualified).
It’s why 59% of sales organizations plan to invest more in sales process and methodology training in the coming year, according to CSO Insights. So, what can you do to ensure reps execute your sales process at a high level?
Consider creating a series of microlearning courses that cover the key activities reps need to complete at each stage of the sales process, and guidelines for how those activities should be completed. You can supplement these courses with sales assets and in-depth tactical training that gives reps tips for handling common challenges.
For example, your discovery call training could include presentation slides, follow-up content to share with the buyer, and messaging guidelines for handling your company’s most common discovery-stage objections. Reinforce the training by having reps practice objection-handling skills to receive feedback from managers or peers.
9. Get New Reps Ready Sooner with Pre-Boarding
Pre-boarding is a helpful way to ease sellers into the onboarding process before their official start dates, setting a positive tone for the new hire experience and accelerating time to productivity.
Compared to a traditional onboarding strategy, which might have reps starting from “zero” when they first arrive, a pre-boarding strategy ensures basic training and important to-do items have been completed before Day 1 – hardware and software setup, sales manager availability for the rep’s first week, etc.
For instance, a pre-boarding learning path might include a short overview (i.e. 10 minutes or less to complete) of your company’s history, strategy, value proposition, along with a welcome video from the CEO or exec team, and a brief quiz at the end to check for comprehension.
10. Put Managers into Action with “Mastery Sessions”
Consider launching a training program that empowers front-line sales managers to improve rep performance through hands-on coaching.
You can start by creating microlearning content and coaching exercises for short, manager-led “mastery sessions” that focus on a specific topic. These sessions should be built around a narrow, easy-to-digest topic, such as opening a sales call, pre-call planning or objection handling.
For in-person mastery sessions, reps can act out a simple role play scenario, such as practicing an elevator pitch to a prospect; managers can provide feedback on the delivery and messaging.
For remote or dispersed sales team, video coaching and practice tools are an excellent way for reps to perfect their messaging in a safe environment, share their submissions with peers for informal feedback, and then submit them to a manager as part of a formal assessment.
Helpful Sales Training Books
Looking to learn more about the latest sales training trends and best practices? These 3 books can be a helpful starting point:
Authors: Byron Matthews and Tamara Schenk
“Sales Enablement” explains (in great detail) what it takes to provide sales training, content and coaching. Schenk and Matthews carefully lay out the complexities of leading sales enablement, outline step-by-step implementation tactics, and illustrate best practices via case studies. You won’t find a more comprehensive look at sales enablement and training.
Author: Geoff Colvin
Talent is Overrated looks at what fuels success for the world’s elite performers – whether they’re musicians, doctors, or salespeople - by examining how they approach “deliberate practice," and how that strategy can help the rest of us achieve better results.
Author: Jeb Blount
To the unprepared rep, sales objections can be a huge hurdle. For well-trained sellers, however, they present an opportunity. Jeb Blount, CEO of Sales Gravy, uses his expertise to break down the realities of facing objections, and how sellers can use human influence best practices to overcome deal roadblocks and win more business.
More sales training resources from the Brainshark Ideas Blog: