The Basics of Sales Training: What You Need to Know to Get Started
According to a Salesforce research paper, 62% of organizations use some kind of sales coaching and training solutions, and the number is growing yearly. That means two out of three companies take sales seriously, leaving nothing to chance. If you don't want to be left behind by your competitors, you should too.
This article will help you set your future sales success on the right foundation by establishing the basics of sales training. With the correct approach, you will get highly-trained and competent sales rockstars who will ensure all your marketing efforts materialize into new customers.
We will explain why businesses need sales training, what you should pay attention to when developing a sales training program, but also what to do when the training is complete, giving you a full overview of the basics of effective sales training.
Is sales training actually necessary?
If you don't develop a dedicated sales training process, you won't be able to train your agents efficiently. Even worse, if the staff is not trained in a standardized way, employee performance will be unpredictable. Since closing the actual sales is one of the most crucial parts of the customer acquisition process, it's imperative to leave nothing to chance.
Harvard Business Review wrote that sales coaching makes a real difference among those of your employees who fall in the mediocre 60% when it comes to sales performance. Their performance isn't bad, but it can be improved. After a quality sales training program, those individuals will see a performance increase of as much as 19%. That can turn a mediocre 62%-er into a near-rockstar with 80% efficacy.
If you can improve the performance of most (if not all) mediocre performers by up to 19%, that will benefit your company much more than adding another 5% to the best team member's performance. That's simply because fewer individuals perform at the top (or bottom) of any group, while most are about average. Those average-performing individuals will benefit the most from sales training, and because of their numbers, your company will benefit even more from training them.
The importance of continual training
While onboarding and training newcomers is important to get them ready and accustomed to their new roles and working environments, it is equally important to continue with sales training as time goes by.
In fact, after 12 weeks with no further training, only about 12% of the information learned initially is retained, the rest forgotten. That gets to show that it’s not enough just to bombard new colleagues with as much information as possible and never get back to training after that. But, even veteran team members will benefit from refreshing their skillset, helping them stay sharp and prepared.
Step #1: Set a clear training goal and a measurement of success
The first step will include observation of your current sales process. You need to look at the statistics, ask team members about their opinions on what can be improved, go through customer feedback, and figure out which part of the pipeline performs excellently and which needs revision.
For example, if most customers only buy when presented with a massive discount, that is a hard signal they don't value your products at your regular price. To fix this issue, you should work on presenting value, teaching your representatives to believe in what you have to offer, and not only recite their scripts.
But, if you notice that a few of your sales reps tend to offer discounts much more often, that is probably an indicator that they are giving up too quickly, and it would be a good idea to work on their persuasion skills.
Nevertheless, it's essential to identify a concrete problem and make it a focus of your training. Of course, that should not be the only part of it (we will get to that later), but having a clear goal in mind will help you determine what kind of training is needed and which team members will benefit the most from it.
As for the success measurement, it will depend on the isolated problem. In our example, if the reps who are giving discounts way too quickly learn to be more persistent with presenting value, and their stats align better with the team average, it will be a clear indicator that the sales training worked.
Step #2: Develop a strategy and gather materials
Once Step #1 is complete, and you know what you should work on, it's time to develop a training strategy to accomplish those improvements.
Training goals will dictate your best course of action. For example, if you want to improve the performance of team members who are failing to meet the quota, mentoring by managers and more successful reps can be enough. They can work together temporarily, receive live advice as they make sales calls, and get feedback right then and there. This type of mentoring will also improve team chemistry and cohesion.
In other cases, such as when you need to onboard new colleagues, webinars and presentations are a better option. That way, you will be able to standardize what each new colleague learns, ensuring everyone is on the same page and ready to commit to their new role. Webinars are also a good option as you can record them, allowing colleagues to get back to the information in case they forget. What will tremendously improve the onboarding is creating a sales playbook - what is a sales playbook, though? It is a comprehensive guide for your sales team that contains everything one needs to know to succeed at your company.
Finally, developing an entire step-by-step course might sometimes be necessary. This is the ultimate option, as you will be able to cover everything in-depth, and colleagues enrolled will get the best kind of experience they can get back to.
Keep in mind, however, that this option is highly time-consuming, both for the course creators and the viewers. Creating a material like this would make sense if you are introducing a significant change, for example, switching your whole system from Salesforce to SAP.
There's also an option of paid sales training. Yes, this is expensive, but it is often more reasonable to pay for a certified course than to spend a tremendous amount of time creating your own, especially if you have never done anything like it before.
Step #3: Always focus on a few basic sales skills at a time
No matter how many weaknesses you uncover during the evaluation of your sales processes, it is super important not to include too many things in your training at once.
If you do, you will not only make the training longer but also less effective. We have already talked about how most newly learned information is forgotten – the more information you present during training, the less will stick.
Nevertheless, your training should cover some of the essentials:
Core sales process
CRM and other tools you use in your sales process
Cold outreach (calls and emails)
Creating and pitching proposals
Things from the list above are sales 101, and you can't go wrong with covering them. However, those shouldn't be the only goal of your training process, particularly if you are not just onboarding new colleagues. Step #1 should identify the key goal; covering general sales skills will supplement it.
Also, try to focus only on a handful of skills at a time. When you think about it, "negotiation" can be taught indefinitely on its own, and there's always more to learn about cold pitching prospects. In fact, cold calling is one of the hardest tasks for a salesperson to do. You need to learn a great deal about it. No wonder why so many hate doing cold calls. Putting everything into a single session will make the training too shallow and very hard to put newly learned into practice, which we will cover in Step #5.
Step #4: Help reps establish relations with other teams
This step is particularly important for larger companies with multiple teams. It's imperative for your sales reps to understand their role in relation to other teams fully and also when is the right time to communicate or send the lead to another department.
For example, if a potential customer has many technical questions, your sales rep could ask or even introduce them to one of the personnel in charge of your product or support. That way, the lead will get a much more precise answer and will be glad to know they will get quality support once they buy.
It should also go the other way around. A sales rep can get involved and mediate if a support agent is dealing with an angry customer. Sales personnel are more persuasive, and they will be more likely to calm the customer down, maybe even by offering a discount at the right time
In any case, your sales representatives should understand how your other teams work too, and how it's about the system and not just about making a hard sell and forgetting about the deal. That will help them make a better, lasting impression, resulting in happier customers later.
Step #5: Practice and continual training
Every sales training needs a practical part where team members will implement what they just learned in a controlled environment. Simulating actual calls will help reinforce knowledge but also identify skill gaps, showing colleagues what to work on. It may also uncover issues in the training process or even in the sales process itself, helping you improve it.
Practice doesn't have to be too demanding. Simple role-playing would do. Each person should try talking to one of your target buyers, with a senior colleague on the other side of the line, asking common and tricky questions a real prospect would. Drills like these should be included in every of your training sessions, as they are very easy to implement.
As for continual training, how often you will organize it will depend on the complexity of your processes and your results. Keep an eye on your sales performance overall, but also on the performance of each of your colleagues. Whenever you notice a drop, consider going through Step #1 again, and organize another training session.
But, even if your reps perform well, refreshing their memory from time to time won’t hurt. Ultimately, continual training will prevent wasting away the newly acquired knowledge, level up the playing field across your whole team, and reinforce the skills of your reps.
Step #6: Ad hoc training
Besides new staff, existing staff members should get training whenever you change something significant in your system. Whether this is switching to a new CRM, introducing a new product, broadening to a new audience, or opening another sales channel – if a change is big, you should ensure everyone is familiar with it and on the same page by organizing a training session.
Likewise, you should constantly update your training materials. It can start as a shared cloud folder, but eventually, look into creating an internal FAQ page or knowledge hub. This will make planning future training sessions easier but also benefit your sales staff daily, as they can find answers faster if everything is centralized.
The sooner you put some effort into developing a sales training program, the sooner you will reap all the benefits of having highly skilled staff ready to take on new assignments in the shortest time possible. Plus, developing sound training processes in one department will easily overflow to other areas across your company. Good training principles remain pretty much the same, and you will gain experience organizing training sessions. So don't wait, start working on Step #1 of this article today.
About the author
Bowen Moody is the Co-Founder & CEO of Wonderway - a sales performance platform proven to increase the revenue per rep. He’s built hundreds (thousands?) of sales training programs to set up sales people for success all over the world.