According to Salesforce, the competence of the salesperson is the most significant factor in B2B purchase decisions. To acquire the needed level of competence and confidence takes work – and competent sales training. A strong sales team is made up of individuals with a depth of understanding of your products and prospects combined with a breadth of knowledge about human emotions, the current economic climate, and your competitive landscape – all presented in a confident package fitted with a neat bow.
Sales training is central to sales effectiveness, which is driving growth – everyone needs to see this as a be a high priority. All these moving parts make it a complex undertaking, but one that can’t be ignored. Creating a winning program requires consistent diligence and a commitment to adapting as you grow.
One Problem: Money Spent is Missing the Mark
“In the U.S. alone, companies spend $15 billion each year training sales employees and $800 billion on incentives to retain talent.” (Source: https://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/326525/800-billion-for-sales-training.html)
CSO Insights surveyed over 2,000 companies as part of a Sales Performance Optimization and Sales Management Optimization study. A majority, nearly 55% of companies surveyed, indicated that their sales training programs did not meet expectations. (Source: https://www.csoinsights.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2016/08/2016-Sales-Enablement-Optimization-Study.pdf)
We understand the importance of training, but most of us seem to miss the mark when it comes to implementing such a program. With that in mind, how do you go about setting up a sales training program that’s worth the investment?
The 5 Main Ingredients of An Effective Training Program
To create an effective sales training program, it not only needs to teach the right information, but also strengthen the relevant confidence-building soft skills that allow a salesperson to deliver it in the field. They not only need to know this stuff, but they also need to believe in it.
1) Internal Training
In my opinion, internal training is the most important focal point. Training internally goes far beyond the “here’s who we are and who we help” or “here’s how to use our CRM.” There are many subcategories to touch on here:
- Company Mission and Vision: This is the stuff that gets people fired up. What does a future look like without your product(s), how does the future look with it? Why do you work here? How does your company plan to change the world?
- Product/Service: Once they see the future the way you do as an organization, show them how you plan to get there. What specific features do you offer (and why)? How does your product work? I’d recommend they get hands-on and interactive experiences.
Let them play with it, ask questions, break things, come up with ideas on how to use it, etc. before you show them what they should know. This humbling first exposure will be a crucial component to creating an empathetic sales team that answers questions with patience. It also ensures they understand what they’re talking about when making promises to a prospect (and that they’ll be less likely to put you in a pickle later when they make an incorrect assumption or promise).
- Cross-Functional Training: So they’ve seen the product and understand what their mission is – but who do they turn to for questions? Knowing what each department does and how they interact is a game-changer.
If a prospect calls them with a technical question, who can they go to for the answer? When a customer they’ve signed has basic questions on billing, can they answer it themselves? Cross-functional training is useful in any role, but for the sales team, it’s paramount. Investment in this will build a true resource to and through the sale for both prospective and existing customers.
2) Competitive Landscape Training
Once they understand these foundational elements of what makes your business awesome, they need to see what other products or services are on the market and how they compare to yours.
They’re sure to get questions of this nature, so arm them with the benefits of your years of experience in this industry. Show them the details of the competitive landscape your business operates in – show exactly where you’re better than the competition and honesty where you’re not.
3) Target Customer Training
This is the training most programs focus on – learning who your customer is and how to sell to their pain points. It’s extremely important, but only one element of the puzzle.
Knowing how to sell to pain points is a basic sales skill – but the heat of the moment decision-making is where the real training shines.
4) Model Scenarios
Imagine this scenario: your employee is on a call with a potentially huge prospect and the call starts to get heated. Now what?
Can they quickly and confidently make a decision while on the phone? When can your salesperson offer a discount or something free? How do they know the high priority clients from the pack? At what point should they look to escalate the call?
By teaching your team the foundation: who you are as a company, what your overall mission is, and what problems you solve, the decision-making becomes clearer. If offering a discount aligns with your goals as an organization, it’s a no-brainer. The key to this skill is practice: create mock scenarios that your salesmen can talk through and make decisions – gently correct and explain when decisions don’t align to the greater purpose. Build confidence through repetition.
5) Create the Environment for Success
The truth is: training doesn’t end. It’s a muscle that needs added weights to keep building over time.
Talk through weekly highlights and learning lessons as a team, continually train the team on new features or products, foster an environment of communication and team building, and keep an ear to the ground – you’ll always find new topics to train on.
The Bottom Line
The goal of any training program should be to build people up to the point that they could find a job anywhere, while (and this is really important) treating them well enough that they don’t want to leave.
How does your sales training serve your organizational goals?