You know the famous sales acronym, ABL? Always Be Learning?
Okay, you’re right, that isn’t how the saying goes. But maybe it should be updated.
Continuous learning and training should always be part of your team’s sales toolbox. No matter how much experience your sales reps have, everyone on your team, from new recruits to established pros, can benefit from sales training.
Why sales training is important
Sales is part of the backbone of any company. No sales team means no deals. No deals means no new revenue, and, well, we all know what that means for a business.
I asked Lisa Jackson, our VP of Sales and Customer Success here at Proposify, and Eric Fry, managing partner at Sandler Training Maritimes (the program our reps use!), to weigh in on what to consider when implementing or improving your sales training.
There can be some hesitation when it comes to investing in sales training. If we train someone, and they become amazing and successful, they’ll leave!
Over time, on any team, there will be departures and arrivals. But, Jackson urges sales managers and company executives to look at it another way.
She asks, “Why not invest in making your sales team amazing at what they do? And, if they are wildly successful, why would they leave? Wouldn’t they want to stay and keep a good thing going?”
Yes, training is about creating long-term consistency and success, but there are also going to be improvements in the short-term. These smaller achievements can keep your sales reps locked into their goals and less likely to leave.
Sales training questions to ask yourself and your sales team
Whether you have a training program in place to build on, or are looking to start fresh, here are five questions to help you think proactively about your educational needs and how you can get the most out of training.
How are we investing in sales rep success now and how can we improve?
Take a look at your employee onboarding. Do you have an organized plan for how you set-up and train your new sales reps for success?
Fry says that some new reps are “given a laptop and a pitch book, and then they wing it from there. Their strategy becomes ‘quote and hope’, which is really no strategy at all. If you want to move the sales needle, you need a proactive process.”
Beyond a new desk and passwords to access the CRM, initial and ongoing training needs to be part of the strategy from day one for each new sales rep. It’s important to build training and mentorship into your onboarding process.
Internal training is a great place to start, especially with a smaller sales team. As the team grows or as sales become more complex, an external trainer or training program helps your salespeople hone and adapt their skills.
How can we better use our internal resources for training?
For sales training and coaching to be effective, it needs to be steady and ongoing. Some experienced sales managers have “been there and done that” and can provide their reps with sales coaching, notes Jackson.
The drawback is that the bigger the team, the harder it is to do this. Good internal coaching involves investing considerable time in sitting in on calls and demos and going through the feedback and next steps with reps.
The key is that it can’t be haphazard. To be effective, coaching must be well-planned and reliably executed. If you have the capacity, make sales coaching a priority.
What other internal resources can you draw upon? The full responsibility for sales mentorship doesn’t have to rest solely with the sales manager. For example, successful senior salespeople can mentor less experienced reps or provide mini-training sessions on particular techniques.
What should we look for in external sales training options?
An external training program can provide more support beyond internal coaching. It also gives sales reps a different perspective on selling and how they can improve their own processes.
“Experienced sales reps are confident in their skills,” says Jackson, “which might make it more difficult to accept internal coaching and feedback.” She points out that reps could be more open to hearing advice from an outside expert.
Even on the biggest sales teams, sales can sometimes be an individual sport. Participating in group training, particularly with reps from other companies and industries, reminds your team that they are not the only ones learning and hustling.
A group format allows your sales team to network, and share perspectives, new ideas, and best practices. In this setting, even the most senior reps, the ones who have been selling for years and have the basics down pat, are likely to find takeaways.
Look for trainers who have a background themselves in sales and can keep the curriculum rooted in real-world examples and references.
Do we have the knowledge and skills to pivot quickly if needed?
Markets and industries can shift and evolve fast, so reps need the skills and knowledge to not just stay abreast, but move ahead of the curve. This is why learning needs to be an ongoing process.
As Jackson says, “The best reps have sales knowledge, but are always thirsting to learn more, and ready to evolve.”
Training gives you and your team a variety of skills and techniques to use to pivot strategies and continue to hit goals as things change. If you only know one way of doing something, changes are going to hit hard and disrupt your processes.
Being able to pivot quickly allows a chance to embrace the positive shifts, and lessen or avoid the impact of the negative ones, like sales downturns.
Do we have the right attitudes, behaviours, and insights for success?
Salespeople need to be able to recognize and act on the differing needs of each of their leads quickly. Sales training can provide insight into the psychology of sales and customer behaviour. This helps sales reps pick up on cues and prompts to sell in a way that speaks to the client.
Successful sales reps must have the skills to recognize not only what the customer needs solution-wise, but what they need from them as a salesperson. One person might want the rep to go into every minute detail. For another, that level of specificity might have them falling asleep during the demo.
Customer experience is now a top sales benchmark. Customers don’t want a one-size-fits-all sales approach, even when selling to customers who appear similar, like those in the same industry or those who have the same job title.
Your team needs to have the know-how to provide each client with a top-notch experience. They should be able to recognize personality differences in their leads and adjust their selling style to have impactful conversations every time.
Sometimes, sales training is thought of as simply learning techniques, like going over and over the same skills for cold calling or closing. These are important, but a good training program will also cover the attitudes that lead to sales success.
Your sales reps will need a positive attitude to help them bounce back from rejection. Fry points out that his training program devotes an entire section of their three-pronged approach to working on the reps’ belief system, attitude, and confidence.
Adds Jackson, “Positive attitudes and behaviours are what will get them through any hard times.”
How to get more ROI from your sales training
Jackson and Fry also have some tips for getting the most out of your team’s sales training:
Set and manage expectations
“Managers should set clear expectations with reps in terms of participation and desired outcomes,” says Fry. Let reps know the level of commitment required and that you will be holding them accountable for making changes in their sales techniques and behaviour.
In order to hold sales reps accountable to their training, you need to understand what they’re learning. Fry advises sales leaders to sit in on sessions or meet with salespeople after each one to go over what was covered, answer questions, and do some additional roleplaying.
Break it up
Participating in a three-day sales bootcamp might seem productive, but it’s more likely to overload reps. Instead, plan for small, easily-digestible sessions. Make sure there’s time in between for them to use what they’ve learned and figure out questions to ask next time.
Putting one or two small things into action at a time helps establish or improve good habits and can add up to marked improvement over time.
Know your metrics
Get benchmark numbers so you know how much sales training moved the needle in certain areas. Jackson says that her key metrics and data points to watch for training ROI are average contract value, sales cycle length, and closed-lost reason.
“These will show if your salespeople are improving their skills, and using them to sell bigger packages. If they’re moving up-market to sell these bigger packages, are they now using techniques to keep the sales cycle to a reasonable length? If they had a high volume of ‘no response’ for their closed-lost reason, is that number going down?”
Watch for changes
Jackson adds that sales team leaders should be on the lookout for anecdotal changes that the numbers can’t show.
“You can see movement and improvement sooner than you think,” she says. “You might start hearing more success stories and seeing more confidence. Your reps might be having more of those ‘a-ha!’ moments in sales meetings.”
Make sure it’s not dry
Both Jackson and Fry point to the importance of interactive training.
To get team buy-in, “it can’t be dry and boring,” says Jackson. Fry adds, “We see a natural level of skepticism from some attendees. They come in with their arms crossed, and you can see them thinking, ‘These guys are going to be talking at me and it’s going to be cheesy.’”
Fry explains that he limits each lesson to 10 minutes or so. Attendees then put lessons into action with roleplaying or small-group discussions.
Roleplay and adapt
Roleplay doesn’t have to be confined to the classroom. Doing some team-based roleplaying helps reinforce material and gives reps additional feedback, especially on how a new technique can best fit into your selling environment.
It takes a while to get comfortable with a new tactic or approach, so sales reps should try doing as many dry runs as is productive. Practice may make perfect, but the true measure of success is in closing deals.
Keep in mind that external training is not a substitute for day-to-day sales management and training. Sales reps still need to be coached internally, especially on areas that are specific to the company, like product or industry knowledge. “We’re not trying to replace sales managers and leaders,” Fry says. “We’re trying to help them succeed.”
Sales training also isn’t going to be a silver bullet for a struggling sales team. “It all comes down to having impactful conversations with leads, every time,” says Jackson, and cultivating the tools and techniques to do that doesn’t happen overnight. Says Fry, “We call it sales mastery because it’s not a quick fix. It’s a process over time.”