Ask any sales leader who has paid for sales training whether it works, and you will find a large percentage will suggest that it doesn’t. The leaders who suggest sales training doesn't work are telling the truth. But that is only their experience, and other similarly situated sales leaders are wildly successful with training.
The bigger question and one worth addressing is "Why does training work for some sales organizations while failing for others?" Here you will find my top 10 tips that for effective sales force training:
- Explain why the training is necessary.
- Use the principles of andragogy (how adults learn).
- Train sales managers first.
- Focus on competency transfer instead of information transfer.
- Require activity.
- Insist on role-plays.
- Choose a program that isn't limited to one day of training.
- Require the sales force to make behavioral changes.
- Use cohorts to help the sales force dial in the new approach.
- Reinforce the training until the behavioral changes stick.
What follows here is an explanation for each of these tips so you have a clear blueprint for success. If you have ever wondered why training didn't stick, you are likely to find the answer here. You can avoid failing to achieve the intended outcome by paying careful attention to each of the tips. Let's get started.
- Explain why the training is necessary: Once people have had some success doing something in a certain way, it can be hard to convince them to try something different. It can cause other people to believe that they have done something wrong. You can help people adopt the right perspective on sales training by explaining that the external environment has changed, so selling requires a new approach. What the sales force did in the past was not wrong, but future success means adjusting.
- Use the principles of andragogy: The word andragogy describes how adults learn. Adults need to take responsibility for the process, use their own experience as a foundation, and fill the gaps in their knowledge. For adults to successfully learn something new, training needs to be prescribed to the individual and acknowledge that most adults are intrinsically motivated. Sales training tends to lose people when sales trainers don't observe the principles of andragogy.
- Train sales managers first: By training the sales managers and leaders first, you prepare them to support their sales teams after the training. It can be difficult for managers to help their teams if they have no idea what was trained. Any distance between the sales managers and their reports makes it impossible for leaders to answer their team's questions after the training. More important still is the manager's ability to help their team with the behavioral changes.
- Focus on competency transfer instead of information transfer: While it is important to transfer information to the sales force, that isn't the outcome of training. The outcome of training is the development of new and more effective competencies. The information by itself isn't capable of delivering competency. Effective training requires sales teams to execute what they are taught, which often requires a framework that provides directions.
- Require activity: Activity supports competency transfer, so including it in your training ensures you are not simply transferring information. If the sales force is allowed to sit passively and listen without having to take some new action, change is unlikely. Breakout sessions to practice are often helpful, and so is having people describe what they learn and how they will execute their new competencies.
- Insist on role-plays: Professional B2B sales is a series of conversations with clients. It would be difficult to train a sales force to succeed without improving the sales conversation. Role plays provide the people being trained with a chance to practice the new approach and behaviors. It is also an opportunity to see how others apply the training, including what language colleagues use that a salesperson could add to their own approach.
- Choose a program that isn’t limited to one day of training: We call one-day sessions "check-box" training, as it almost always means someone is checking the box that says the sales force received training, even if what they had didn't provide any new competency or improvement. The development of the complex skills and competencies a salesperson needs isn’t possible without a long-term plan, and that requires more than one day.
- Require the sales force to make behavioral changes: The number-one reason sales training fails is that the sales force is not required to make the behavioral changes needed to support the outcome. Unless and until the sales leaders and their managers require the underlying behavioral changes, there will be no improvement in performance. No trainer can enforce the behavioral changes. This outcome is the result of strong leadership.
- Use cohorts to help the sales force dial in the new approach: You can accelerate the changes you need by breaking your teams into cohorts to work on executing the new competency or skill. Adults that work together learn from each other, make distinctions, develop the language to apply the change, and better understand how to execute a new approach. The cohort approach also gives people time to work on developing their new competency.
- Reinforce the training until the behavioral changes stick: Most of the time, sales leaders and sales managers are so busy helping their teams execute, that they don't reinforce the training. By giving up too soon, the sales leaders and managers don't get the better results they need. Competency transfer requires that the training continues until it sticks.
By following this list of top 10 sales training tips for success, you will realize the investment in sales training. Each tip will help you avoid one of the mistakes that cause sales organizations to fail to gain the improvement they need.
As a bonus, the last tip I will give you is to ensure that your sales trainer is credible and has experience creating and winning new opportunities. A trainer that lacks credibility is going to lose the audience in a matter of minutes.