How to Choose a Sales Training Partner
Most companies don’t go through the process of hiring a sales training partner very often. When they do, they’re often looking to be educated about the selection process – or, in a worst-case scenario, influenced toward an ineffective solution by an unscrupulous vendor.
Sales training is most effective when it’s not a one-time event but instead an ongoing process that encourages the sustainable adoption of new skills, changes behaviors, and supports your sales reps’ long-term growth and productivity.
A good sales training partner will ask questions to determine your company’s training objectives, then present a solution based on what they’ve learned. At that point, you will review the proposal and rate how well the potential partner aligns.
We suggest looking at these 11 partner selection criteria and having your decision-making committee prioritize them given your current situation. Depending on the project and your desired outcomes, you may weigh or stack them in a different order from how we’ve presented them here, and that’s OK. The important thing is to do your due diligence as you make this important long-term decision.
Partner Selection Criteria1. Alignment and organizational fit – Just as you tend to have more influence with a buyer when there’s a strong rapport, your sales reps are more likely to value what they’ve learned when there is a mutually respectful, trusting relationship between your company and the training provider.
But, just as in sales, good vibes can only carry you so far. Misalignment of the solution and the desired outcomes is one of the main reasons that sales trainings fail.
We can’t emphasize enough that clearly defining your business requirements and the problem you expect the training to solve is central to the selection process. This guarantees that you’re comparing all prospective training partners against the same list of requirements.
2. Reputation and thought leadership – Ask around about your potential sales training partners. Explore their online presence, both on their website (blogs, white papers, recordings, reports, webinars, etc.) and across the internet. Check into independent evaluations like Selling Power’s list of the top 20 sales training companies. Training partners that are engaged in the industry and publishing valuable sales training content are more likely to provide state of the art curriculum and modern sales techniques that will resonate with your salesforce.
3. General professionalism and responsiveness – Reflect on each interaction you have with the company’s representatives. How responsive are they to your emails and phone calls? How well informed about your business do they seem to be? Are your conversations with them about your goals and priorities or more about their offerings? Have they established a rapport with you? If you feel lukewarm about any of these areas, it could be a red flag. How you are treated during the selling process is a good indication of how you will be treated during implementation.
4. Strength of the sales training (or sales management) curriculum – At the outset, ask yourself, “Will this program result in the behavior change or skills improvement we want?” Use that to frame your evaluation of all the components, from the pre-training consultation and assessment, to the post-training reinforcement and coaching.
Sales training companies typically share enough of their content to give you a sense of whether or not it’s a good fit for you. If they aren’t willing to do this, move on immediately. Look for at least an 80% alignment between their standard curriculum and the areas you want to address. For example, to improve your sales team’s negotiation skills, the curriculum should go into plenty of depth on negotiating a sales opportunity. If it includes only a fraction of content on your desired outcome, keep looking.
5. Customization capabilities – Almost all sales training programs require some level of customization to fit your organization’s individual needs. That’s because sales roles differ from company to company, and each role requires a different skill set. Therefore, it’s important that the curriculum can be tailored to address your sales roles and the associated skill sets.
If a great deal of customization is needed, consider the level of consultative expertise the training partner has. You’ll want to work with someone who can understand your business, industry, products, services, and competitive challenges. You’ll also want great instructional designers and facilitators, because they are the ones who will make the applicable modifications to the training’s terminology, sales process information, and underlying content to make it relevant to your sales team.
If you’re uncertain, ask the potential vendor to send bios or arrange calls with the proposed account team so you can evaluate their experience, background, and ability to collaborate.
6. Strength of facilitation team – This includes anyone who will deliver the training. Do they have experience in settings similar to yours? Have they held actual sales roles so they can bring real-world experience to your team? Do they understand your industry? Are they comfortable with the level of customization that will be required? Can they tailor the delivery to your organization’s culture and roles?
7. Delivery options – Although in-person instructor-led training (ILT) is making a post-pandemic comeback, the future is bright for virtual instructor-led training (VILT) and blended training solutions. Or you may opt for an on-demand delivery option so participants can learn at their own place and pace. We are proponents of blended options that combine asynchronous sessions and live group interactions, with follow-up coaching to reinforce learning after the course ends.
8. Program sustainability and reinforcement – Your investment is predicated on improving skills and changing behaviors, so look for programs that include a comprehensive approach to skill application and reinforcement. Make sure you have a holistic plan in place that clearly explains what will happen before, during, and after training. This ensure that participants will apply and adopt the new learning into their day-to-day work.
9. Pricing and contract terms – The cost of sales training is impacted by many factors, including pre-training consultation, the training license and materials, the amount of customization, the method of delivery, and whether you can deliver or reinforce the training with in-house resources. A solution that is a great value for one company might not deliver enough return on investment for another.
10. Flexibility – As we saw during the pandemic, circumstances can change on a dime. The reassurance of knowing your sales training partner can adapt with your organization is invaluable when the unexpected happens.
11. References/similar work – While the above list will help you narrow in on the right training partner, it is always reassuring to speak with other clients to understand their experiences and outcomes. Ask what their objectives were, whether they were met, and how much the training impacted sales performance over the long term.
Your organization is making a multi-year investment in a training provider. The cost of getting it wrong is compounded when you consider that a poorly aligned training may introduce additional problems that you then have to fix – on top of the initial problem you were trying to solve. Using these selection criteria makes it more likely your organization will pick the right partner.
About Ray Makela
Ray Makela is CEO and Managing Director at Sales Readiness Group (SRG). He oversees all client engagements as well as serves as a senior facilitator on sales management, coaching, negotiation and sales training workshops. Ray has over 20 years of management, consulting, and sales experience and writes frequently on best practices for coaching and developing sales teams.