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Sales Training That Sticks: Five Key Success Factors

Selling Skills | Sales Training | Sales Coaching

Sales organizations continue to invest in sales training but are often challenged when it comes to demonstrating that the training had a lasting impact on how their sales team sells. According to ATD Research (pre-COVID), sales organizations invested an average of $2,326 per salesperson annually on sales training. Interestingly, a survey by TrainingIndustry.com found that 43.5% of participants felt that sales skills training “needed improvement.”

There are a number of reasons that sales training initiatives fall short. These include:

  • Lack of clear training objectives.
  • Training content that’s not aligned with the actual skills needed for success.
  • Training is offered as an event without a reinforcement plan.
  • Sales managers are not coaching to address skill gaps.
  • Lack of skill application tools.

Another challenge that often manifests itself post-training is unrealistic expectations on business impact. The challenge here is based on the expectation that sales training will improve sales results (lagging indicator) without an analysis of the behaviors (leading indicator) that need to change to improve sales.

Keep in mind that behavior change is the outcome of training, and that applying the newly learned behaviors will improve sales performance. As such, we need to carefully consider what sales results we are looking to improve, since this directly affects the skills we train on. Here are a few examples:

Sales Result Selling Skills
New opportunities Prospecting and call planning
Improve win rates Qualification and differentiation
Higher margins Selling on value and negotiating

Given the challenges noted above, here are five key factors you can adopt to improve sales training outcomes.

1. Executive sponsorship sets the tone for the entire training experience by establishing the importance of improving selling skills. At a high level, it is important to communicate that the organization is investing in training to improve how we engage with customers. This is especially important if the sales team is experienced and may feel that the training isn’t necessary. As an example, the executive sponsor could communicate that we are investing in this training to help us better articulate the full value of our offerings as we transition from a product sale to a more comprehensive solution sale.

2. Consultation and customization are important to ensure the training program aligns with the training goals. As part of the consultation process, it is important to conduct intake interviews with key stakeholders and actual sellers to better understand the product and service offerings, competitive landscape, key points of differentiation, and sales challenges. The actual level of customization will likely vary depending on the number of participants and budget, but, at a minimum, it needs to focus on relevancy by including real-world application exercises and role-plays. In addition, the facilitator needs to custom tailor the training delivery so that it aligns with the sales organization’s culture. This includes the use of skill application examples based on real-world selling situations.

3. Delivering engaging learning experiences is essential to keep participants actively involved in the training. As a general rule, two-thirds of the training should involve group discussion, collaboration, and skills application. Traditionally, this was best accomplished through live workshops where sales teams got together in person for facilitated sessions.

New technologies and the general acceptance of virtual meetings (greatly accelerated by the COVID pandemic) can achieve this objective through blended programs that include collaborative learning and live online training cohorts. In fact, the benefits of spaced learning (i.e., chunking the learning out over a longer period of time) may, in many cases, result in an event better training experience.

4. Reinforcement is essential to ensure that participants can apply the newly learned skills and behaviors and adopt these skills going forward. A comprehensive reinforcement plan includes a combination of live online reinforcement sessions, quick reference videos, skill application tools, and job aids. One of the challenges organizations face post-training is how participants can access the reinforcement materials. It is important to plan for this in advance and establish a method to share the reinforcement resources with participants (e.g., learning management system, sales team webpage, sales enablement platform, etc.).

5. Ongoing coaching from sales managers is the single biggest factor to ensure that training sticks. The power of sales coaching is that it can be personalized to each member of the sales team and focus on specific skills and behaviors. As an example, Rep A needs to better plan for calls by developing clear objectives for sales calls; Rep B needs to ask better questions and apply active listening to identify and understand customer needs; and Rep C needs to learn how to manage objections without getting defensive. Again, the power of coaching is that it focuses on specific skill gaps.

Equally important, coaching provides an opportunity for the manager to provide positive feedback and encouragement as skills improve. This best sales coaching is collaborative, where managers and their reps jointly determine the areas for improvement and the associated coaching plan.

Keep in mind, how we sell makes a huge difference, so it is essential to plan for success in the development, delivery, and reinforcement of our sales training programs.

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About Norman Behar

Norman Behar is Chairman and Managing Director of the Sales Readiness Group (SRG). He has over 25 years of senior sales management experience, and is recognized as a thought leader in the sales training industry. His blog posts and whitepapers are frequently featured in leading sales enablement publications including ATD, TrainingIndustry.com, and Selling Power.