Every day we hear from individual sales reps that they get no support to improve their sales skills. We also hear from sales managers who have no budget to provide training for their sales team. And we hear leaders say that they expect the reps they hired to know how to sell. These leaders must believe the salesperson was trained by their prior employer or that they were born with some innate ability to sell. Neither is likely.
When I worked for a $4 billion staffing firm in Los Angeles, I was provided exactly one day of sales training. The single topic was asking the client for an order. During a role-play exercise, I asked the client for their business instead of for an order. The vice president of operations said they liked what I did, and that typically the sales force was afraid of asking for an order. I was already asking clients for their business, showing that I was thinking long-term.
That was the single training I had in the two years I was selling for the company. I already knew how to ask for the client’s business, so I learned little from being trained in order-taking.
Can You Outsell Your Competition Without a Sales Training Program?
Selling is a competition to win a prospective client’s business. You might believe that the prospect is choosing to buy the solution from your company, but that isn’t true. The client is buying from the best salesperson.
Let me prove this by using your sales force as an example. Two salespeople work for your company. They sell the exact same thing to the same kind of clients. Every day they compete against the same set of competitors. Both work for the same sales manager and share the same competition. The first salesperson is wildly successful, while the other struggles to win deals. I’m sure you can identify people on your sales team that demonstrate this phenomenon.
When your sales force loses deals to your competition, it means that your competitor’s sales rep provided the client with a better B2B sales experience. It’s not because the competitor had a better solution or a lower price.
When you are unable to win large clients, the implication is that your competitor will retain and grow that target for many years. It could be years before the clients ever explore changing, presenting you with an opportunity.
Without developing your sales force and training them to sell effectively, how do you expect them to outsell your competition?
The Best and Worst Methods to Train Your Team
The one day of training I received was a method we call checkbox training, the one-and-done approach that allows leaders to prove they provided their team with some sort of professional development. B2B sales in the 21st century is not only competitive, but it is also complex and complicated, making it more difficult than at any time in the past. In order to succeed, you need to change the way you think about training.
Checkbox training typically looks like this: A sales manager picks one sales skill and trains their team for one full day. Then, the next year, they choose a different skill. There are some major problems with this approach. Let’s say you choose negotiation. This indicates that every salesperson on your team is struggling to negotiate effectively at the exact same time. The reality is that salespeople’s skills vary and that not everyone needs training in the same thing at the same time.
Another problem with checkbox training is the lack of frequency. If you have an annual training day, it will take you 12 years to train your team in the 12 major skills in sales.
You need to stop checkbox sales training.
What’s worse is that most sales training is some version of SPIN Selling and Solution Selling, approaches that worked in the 1990s but are ineffective in this environment, where buyers have little interest in learning about your company and your solutions. You should never train your sales team on strategies that no longer work.
The best method for training your sales force is one that takes a consistent and long-term approach to development using modern sales techniques, which is what works now. Stop training your team in sales tactics and sales techniques that don’t work. No client wants a history lesson on your company.
Technology allows salespeople to attend short, impactful live virtual trainings, supported by online courses. When sales managers provide this type of development and hold the sales force accountable for the required behavioral changes, their results will improve.
With a full catalog of sales skills training, sales managers can customize the training content to each salesperson based on what skills they need to improve their sales effectiveness. This approach speeds development and allows for greater results, and it doesn’t take the sales force out of the field for a full day.
What Can a Company Do to Ensure They Reach Their Targets
One sales leader asked us to help his team to create enough new opportunities so that each of them would have eight times their quota. The only reason someone believes they need to lose seven out of eight deals is because their sales force can’t win.
There are only a few variables to reach your targets. First, each salesperson on your team needs to create enough opportunities. Second, each salesperson needs to win enough of their opportunities to reach their individual goals. It doesn’t make sense to create more opportunities that you can’t win. What makes sense instead is improving your win rates.
For a lot of companies, they will have to retire the legacy approach to B2B sales and build a modern sales approach.
Budget for Sales Training
When sales managers and sales leaders suggest they don’t have a budget, we translate this to mean, “I am not certain I will see a high return on the investment.” The average budget per person for sales organizations is between $2,000 and $2,500 per year.
If you are not investing 2–3 percent of a rep’s base pay and 2–5 percent of their time improving their ability to sell effectively, your team will get worse over time, and you’ll never duplicate your best reps. You do have a budget. You pay your sales force every two weeks.
You need your team to succeed and win the deals that will achieve their goals. Your team needs you to provide them with a modern sales approach and a new set of sales skills, starting with business acumen, industry and market insights and intelligence, change management skills, and the ability to lead their clients.
A sales organization’s most important strategic advantage is the sales effectiveness necessary to win. Consistent, effective training is the only way to get that.