When sales leaders suggest that sales training doesn't work, they are referring to the check-box training you often find in corporate sales training. Such sales training initiatives are often started by human resources to document that the sales team has been trained. Much of the time, the sales training is done in a single day and covers a single topic, often at the company's sales kickoff meeting.
It's hard to imagine how this type of training could work. To succeed, the sales trainer must have perfect information on each person in the room, as it relates to their understanding of the training topic. That same trainer must also have perfect delivery, making the training topic clear and accessible to every person, regardless of their different experiences and tenure. For their part, the sales force must have perfect comprehension and retention of the new strategies. Plus, they must be able to execute what they learn after having seen it exactly once. There are better ways to provide sales training.
Here are six ways you can improve corporate sales training and your sales team's effectiveness:
- Start with a sales-oriented competency model.
- Build a development plan and timeline.
- Use a careful mix of live, live virtual, and online courses.
- Include sales managers in all trainings.
- Provide exercises and time to practice in the field.
- Use cohorts to allow salespeople to dial in the strategies.
Start with a Sales-Oriented Competency Model
Selling is a complex, dynamic conversation about change and better results. It requires salespeople with certain character traits and skills. In order to understand what would result in more effective selling, sales managers need to survey their sales force. Using a competency model can help leaders do this in a methodical way. By identifying the team’s largest gaps, a manager can train in the areas that address the largest part of the sales force.
A sales-oriented competency model can also ensure the training you provide directly relates to sales effectiveness. Using a competency is more effective than choosing whatever is in fashion, like social selling, account-based marketing, or some other fad that will disappear in a matter of months. While there is nothing wrong with something like account-based marketing, it isn't a skill. It's a go-to-market strategy and will do nothing to improve the sales force's sales effectiveness.
Build a Development Plan and Timeline
There is a difference between development and corporate sales training. Development is a longer-term approach to building a highly effective sales force that can hit its targets. Corporate sales training is an important part of a development plan, but by itself it can’t produce the outcomes of a true development plan.
Development takes a longer view. It looks at improving the competencies the salesperson needs over a course of years instead of days. It also requires coaching and other activities that allow the salesperson to master a competency or competencies over time. When you see a great team, whether it’s a sales team, an orchestra, a sports team, or a military team, you will notice they are continually developing.
Use a Careful Mix of Live, Live Virtual, and Online Courses
The best way to approach corporate sales training is to use a careful mix of live training, live virtual training, and online courses. Once you’ve determined the right area of focus using your competency model, a live training is an excellent way to start improving a sales skill that will improve results. Following up with live virtual training done in short sessions will help the sales force master the skill without taking them out of the field for several days.
One challenge of sales development is that different salespeople need different content. Because we have the technologies to deliver world-class courses on video, sales managers can assign specific courses to each member of their team, customizing each salesperson's learning path to their needs. While each medium does some of the work of building sales skills and competencies, they are better when used together.
Include Sales Managers in All Trainings
In order to change how salespeople sell in the field, sales managers need to know what behavioral changes to support. They also need to ensure their team members pursue these behavioral changes from day to day. Most corporate sales training programs don't do enough to enable sales managers. Often, the sales managers are not included in the sales training, making it impossible to know what their team was taught beyond the main concept.
Including sales managers in sales training sends a message to the sales force that what they are being trained in must be important; otherwise, the sales leaders would not have shown up. When managers participate, you improve your chances that the sales force will take the training and development seriously, and adopt the changes.
Provide Exercises and Time to Practice in the Field
Development cannot be "one and done." The sales force needs to be provided with assignments to ensure they practice in the field. Without requiring the team to use what they learned, you will hear the complaint that corporate sales training doesn't work. Between the sales manager's engagement, the training, and the practice assignments, you see better results from the training and improve your sales productivity.
These assignments are critical to development. For example, when the skill relates to the sales conversation, you can also add time to practice using role plays where the salesperson can rehearse in a safe environment, one where practice will not cause them to lose a deal.
Use Cohorts to Allow Salespeople to Dial in the Strategies
Andragogy is a method of teaching adult learners. One method of andragogy is allowing learners to share their experiences using a cohort approach, where salespeople meet to discuss what they are learning by using their training. This gives people who are struggling the opportunity to learn from people who have discovered how to make the new training work. Hearing about their colleagues’ experiences in getting better results can help convince the holdouts to act, improving their results.
It takes time to dial in some of the complex competencies needed in B2B sales today. In 30 minutes, a sales team can talk through a skill or a conversation. It's a worthwhile use of their time.
Better Corporate Sales Training
By using these strategies, you can use an approach that I consider a radical reinvention of corporate sales training.
Corporate sales training is an important part of any sales development initiative. The six ideas here will improve your corporate sales training and improve the sales skills that result in better sales conversations, better results, and higher goal attainment. The best way to start is with a competency model and a commitment to longer-term development, which is the best way to improve sales results.