ASTD ICE - Five Sales Training Best Practices from Industry Leaders (Part 1)

By Debbi Conger

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One of the benefits of attending industry trade shows is being able to learn best practices from industry leaders.  For us in the sales training industry, it is always useful to see how clients (i.e., sales organizations) develop and implement sales training programs.

Sales training best practices

At the recent ASTD (now ATD) International Conference and Exposition in Washington DC, Sales Readiness Group hosted a panel discussion on how to improve the effectiveness of sales training.  The panelists were Jenny Dearborn, Chief Learning Officer and Senior Vice President, SAP, Robby Halford, Learning Architect, Sales Enablement, ExactTarget, Maria Leggett, Director, Learning Design, Time Warner Cable, and Ray Makela of the Sales Readiness Group.  Roxy Torres, the ASTD Sales Enablement Community of Practice, moderated the discussion.

Our goal in hosting this panel discussion was to learn how training leaders were incorporating the following five factors into their sales training programs: Motivation, Spaced Learning, Customization, Reinforcement, and Measurement.

Here are some of highlights from the panel discussion:

#1 Motivation

Motivating sales people is always a challenge, and motivating sales people to pariticpate in sales training can be particularly challenging.  Nevertheless, our panelists agreed that motivation is a key driver of the success of any sales training program and in a lively discussion shared ideas on how to increase motivation.

Jenny noted that the surest way to motivate a sales team to participate in a sales training program is ensure that you have executive sponsorship.  If the senior executive team believes that sales training is important, then the sales reps will also believe it is important.  In that regard, Jenny noted that she views her primary “client” as the Chief Sales Officer and tries to understand what his or her business goals are for the sales training program.  Jenny further emphasized the importance of engaging the Chief Sales Officer in business/sales terms, not training terms, in order to be viewed as their strategic partner.

Robby explained that his approach to increasing motivation involves positioning the training program as a key driver in the sales team’s success.  He does this by first positioning himself as the sales person’s advocate. In order to gain credibility with the sales team, Robby advocates that training professionals get out into the field or into the call centers to observe the sales team in action.  Only by direct observation can you develop training that is relevant and addresses the sales team’s pain points.  And, ultimately, this drives motivation. 

Ray added that it is important to communicate the message that the training program is important, and why it is critical to the sales organization.  Accordingly, the CEO or the VP of Sales should kick off the training, even if it is just video message. This imparts the importance of training and motivates the participants to apply the training on the job.

Maria reminded the audience that motivators can vary greatly among individuals as well as sales teams.  For example, if you are training a telesales team, they may highly value specific tools that help them have better sales conversations in real time such as a knowledge base or quick reference job aids.

#2: Customization

How important is customization to the overall effectiveness of a sales training program?  Not surprisingly, all of our panelists agreed that customization is important

Ray said that by including customer case studies, scenarios, and examples from the salesperson's business is essential to making any sales training program relevant to the participants. This type of customization causes the participants say, “I see you understand my challenges and how I have to sell to my customers.” This better engages the participants so that they will apply what they learn when they return to selling to their customers.  

Robby offered a clever strategy he uses for customizing sales training: prior to the training he offers a reward to sales people for the best sales presentations and sales aids that they were already using.   He then selects the best, modifies the messaging and branding if necessary, and uses these tools in the training.

Jenny discussed how she helped developed a highly customized training program to help solve a common sales problem: inconsistent messaging among the sales team.  The highly customized training program required each member of the sales team to watch a video, read a script and white board their solution presentation before recording their own presentation. The rep’s presentation was then uploaded and the product managers listened and graded the each presentation with a pass/fail system. The incentive to pass this test was that the rep could not go on a call for a deal on that product until they passed their presentation test. The result was a 98% improvement in win rates for reps that passed the presentation test.

Maria observed that in the telesales environment, sales training programs must be designed to provide information in the “moment of need.” You need to know the focus of the call, whether it is improving customer satisfaction or trying to ensure first call resolution, and have access to the right information or training at your fingertips.

In Part 2 of this blog, I will summarize what the panel had to say about Spaced Learning, Reinforcement, and Measurement.

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Written By: Debbi Conger

Debbi Conger has over 25 years of experience in instructional design and development of customized training program for sales professionals, marketing organizations, and technical teams. She spent over 12 years at Microsoft where she developed and taught a wide selection of courses covering product knowledge, partner programs, and selling skills. Debbi also was responsible for Microsoft's world-wide new hire sales onboarding program.

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