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Sometimes the effort that goes into planning is more valuable than the plan itself. For example, companies that created sales training plans for 2020 saw large portions of those plans rendered obsolete by the pandemic and work-from-home orders. But, if done right, the work that went into a creating those plans made it possible to keep reps on course and aligned to company goals, even in a time of unprecedented business disruptions.
Here are four tips to consider when building your sales training plan, so it delivers value (even when a crisis hits).
4 Tips for Building Better Sales Training Plans
- Align Training to Company Goals
- Plan for What You Can See
- Use Technology to Operationalize the Plan
- Don’t Forget the Four Pillars of Sales Readiness
#1: Align Training to Company Goals
This may seem obvious, but with sales training plans, sales organizations too often will latch onto short-term “quick fixes” rather than taking a more strategic approach. Understanding corporate goals should guide the strategy for your training plan. This may require training and enablement leaders to move beyond their typical comfort zones. As a simple example, it might seem automatic to make onboarding a significant component of any plan – but if the company doesn’t plan to hire any new reps in the timeframe of the plan, then training resources would be better spent on other activities.
Another common mistake is taking a reactive approach to sales training due to short-term demands from sales leaders. This kind of activity can derail training programs – where timing should largely be governed by the company’s go-to-market strategy and long-term revenue objectives, rather than short-term fire drills. Company goals should be the North Star for training plans and programs.
#2: Plan for What You Can See
The COVID-19 pandemic is an especially vivid example of why an “annual plan” for sales training falls short. It’s ironic, but long-term plans almost always fall out of sync with long-term realities. (One can imagine all the plans developed at the end of 2019 for the year ahead… only to see them tossed aside a few months later when mass shutdowns and work-from-home requirements emerged.)
Obviously, adjusting sales training plans in response to the pandemic is an extraordinary circumstance, but even in typical years, plans become guesswork after a certain time period. I find quarterly planning to be a good cadence, and I also preview what’s to come every six weeks with the executive team so I can get their feedback. This lets us plan with a reasonably high degree of certainty, while allowing flexibility to adapt to any shifts in company goals. Having a rolling series of shorter-term plans will keep sales training in tune with corporate priorities and shifting realities over the long term.
#3: Use Technology to Operationalize the Plan
No two reps are alike – they have different sets of skills, learning capacities and styles of consuming content. Once you’ve mapped a sales training plan to company goals, how do you make sure every rep gets the specific training they need to deliver the performance required to achieve those goals?
Technology plays a key role.
Sales training and readiness technology enables sales leaders to identify skills gaps and deliver multi-modal training and coaching content that promotes maximum rep engagement and retention. It also facilitates peer-to-peer learning, while providing the measurement required to understand training-program effectiveness. And, with modern sales scorecard technology, sales leaders and enablement pros can gain on-demand visibility into the activities of sales teams and individual reps. When mapped to leading indicators of revenue, this enables them to identify and remediate performance challenges and skills development needs before they impact the business.
Interestingly, many training and coaching activities cannot be “planned” in the traditional sense. Rather, they must be identified and executed as the needs arise, based on each rep’s actual performance and changing corporate priorities. This is another reason why long-term sales training plans are usually out of sync with actual sales operations and training needs.
#4: Don’t Forget the Four Pillars of Sales Readiness
Training plans often incorporate the four pillars of sales readiness. This is the best way to ensure sales reps are ready to sell in any situation. The four pillars include:
- Foundational Readiness - This is where reps master the basic skills they need to perform their jobs. Typically, this is done through onboarding. An increasing number of companies are moving away from traditional “all-at-once” bootcamps (often impractical in today’s times) to “agile” sales onboarding – in which rep learning is structured to meet specific skills milestones (first prospecting call, first product demonstration, etc.) on a mutually agreed upon timeline. This enables reps to learn foundational skills in the context of their next career milestone, which greatly improves learning retention, skills mastery and performance.
- Continuous Readiness - Continuous learning ensures that reps are always ready for their next customer interaction. To achieve this, sales training plans should incorporate a “push” strategy for proactively delivering learning to reps at regular intervals and in bite-sized modules – with reinforcement and assessment mechanisms included in the planning too. This is the best way to keep skills sharp and keep reps abreast of the latest offerings and capabilities.
- Transformational Readiness - When shifting company strategy demands that sales organizations change the nature of buyer conversations (for example, selling new products, or to different customer personas), the sales training plan should focus on transformational readiness. In cases like these, content, coaching and workshops can be used to help reps gain the knowledge and confidence required to effectively sell and message new things or do so to new people.
- Reactive Readiness - Every sales organizations experienced reactive readiness challenges with the COVID-19 crisis. There was a critical need to react effectively to the “new world,” where customers had to be kept informed about the state of the partnership, and reps often needed to change their method of customer engagement from physical to digital channels. Reactive readiness is a systematic approach to getting reps message-ready when a sudden disruptive change occurs. (Beyond the pandemic, this type of change can be new competitor activity, breaking news about the company, and so on.) The sales training plan should include an execution plan for all communications and processes when these changes occur.
By staying focused on corporate goals and implementing these tips, you can build plans that meet any sales force’s ultimate objective: perpetual sales readiness.