September 6th, 2013

7 Essential Ingredients in Creating Effective Sales Training for Sales Teams

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7 Essential Ingredients in Creating Effective Sales Training  for Sales Teams

Adapted from an interview with Dario Priolo, Chief Strategy Officer for Richardson and Michael Rochelle, Chief Strategy Officer for Brandon Hall Group

Part one our series on applying key practices in learning and development to effective sales training

Listing ingredients implies that they are part of a recipe, which of course can be literal or figurative. Without wasting time on prologues and previews, we know you’re hungry to learn about the 7 essential ingredients in effective sales training programs. The ingredients can be easily categorized by pre-training, the training itself, and post-training.

Pre-training

1. Align training with your business strategy, goals, and needs.

What is your strategy and how does the sales training help to support the organization’s strategic objectives? At the end of the day, what is the behavior that you are hoping to drive? How do you want your sales reps to change the way they do things? What do you want them to actually do in order to achieve the desired outcome?

If you can’t easily answer these questions or connect your sales training to the needs and priorities of the company, then you should modify it or scratch it altogether. Don’t waste precious time, effort, and energy on tangential diversions. Instead, be able to connect the dots for the trainees as well as senior management to keep everyone focused on the ultimate bottom line.

2. Have the right mindset.

Most sales training programs are viewed, planned, and executed as one-off events as opposed to part of a broader change management program or continuous improvement process. Those who are willing to adopt a broader view of sales training programs along a continuum – seeing the before, during, and after of the training event – will have far greater success towards effective sales training.

If we’re thinking about the ingredients for a meal (training), take your planning one step further: It’s not just about preparing one dish or meal, but rather about how to sustain that level of satisfaction until the next meal. Conversely, a one-and-done mindset is akin to fast food – it’s cheap and quick but unhealthy and no way to live.

3. Understand your customers.

In addition to knowing your business, you also need to consider what’s going on with your customers. There has been a tremendous shift in buyer behavior in recent years fueled by Internet searches, “showrooming,” tighter budgets, savvier buyers, mobile and social habits, and the expectation of instant gratification and what-have-you-done-for-me-lately attitudes that can quickly trump customer loyalty. To combat these trends and obstacles, you need to understand why your customers buy what you sell, the value that you bring to them, and how they make buying decisions.

While you’re at it, consider other business or environmental changes that could factor into your sales training. Are there any new competitive forces or trends that could cause a shift? Once you’ve dispassionately evaluated these questions, then consider how your sales training programs can help your sales teams circumvent or prevail over these issues.

During Training

4. Great instructional design and facilitation makes for great learning.

Relevance is critical. There is a premium on sales reps’ time, especially for coming out of the field for training. Therefore, make learning situational, real-world based. Make it practical. Highly situational learners want to immediately apply what they’ve learned. But if what they are learning does not seem immediately applicable, then they disengage. The training loses its impact, the messages are soon forgotten, and learners retreat to their old habits.

Instructional designers and facilitators need to be keenly aware of what’s going on in the business and apply their knowledge to helping move the sales team towards their goals. Making sales training relevant is critical, but in addition to that, it must also be actionable. It is not just about transferring knowledge, but helping sales reps to know what you’re asking them to do, why, and how everyone (reps, company, and customers) will benefit. Great instructional design and dynamic facilitation will help to bring that to life in the classroom and create that “just in time, just for me” feeling.

5. Build on your best practices.

Build on what you know works in your organization. Think about those best practices that you might want to replicate across the organization that relate to your training needs. Study people in your organization who do it well, then incorporate other practices that will help sales reps execute against your strategic initiatives.

Many organizations have deep subject-matter experts in areas that could represent a considerable opportunity for the business. These subject-matter experts work with marketing teams to produce white papers or thought leadership pieces, but that content is not in a format that is easily digestible by sales.

The challenge is to unlock the subject-matter expert’s knowledge and experience, package it, and train your team to share these insights in customer conversations. It isn’t always obvious how and when those opportunities are going to present themselves, so having that scenario pre-programmed in the minds of your salesforce so that it becomes very fluent and natural gives them an advantage. That requires mastery of the content as well as the skills necessary to deliver that content in the customer conversations.

Create learning principles and takeaways that are highly relevant to real world scenarios. A homerun on content development with a salesperson is “Wow, I just faced that situation, and these concepts and tactics seem to fit perfectly. I took a lot away from what I have just absorbed through learning, and I will do a better job (or take a different approach) the next time I am faced with that situation.” Or “I can see where this could happen in my territory. I am glad to have had the opportunity to master the issue before I had to face it.”

Post-training

6. Leverage technology.

It was recently announced that Major League Baseball will formally institute instant replay into all games. Those in favor of it argue that if the technology exists to improve the game, why not use it?

The same can be said for training environments. Just because you’ve always done things a certain way doesn’t mean you need to treat your training programs with the same level of sophistication as a one-room schoolhouse on Little House on the Prairie.

We’ll cover this in greater detail in future posts, but here are two ways to use technology to make your training more effective:

  • Have your instructors record their lessons in advance and share them with trainees before the training. That way the classroom time can be used for more practical skill building, role plays, and other exercises as opposed to listening to lectures.
  • Keep the training alive by investing in a tool such as QuickCheckTM to engage reps beyond the classroom and increase the odds that they’ll remember what they’ve been taught.

7. Communications campaign.

Ever-important, yet always overlooked. If you’re trying to initiate a change, work with your in-house communications experts to craft a communications campaign to reinforce the messages and behaviors that you want to instill in your trainees. Use multiple channels over time to “drip” the message (e.g., email, break room posters, webinar presentations, internal social networking groups, lunch and learns). Finally, identify ways to measure the impact and effectiveness of the training, and make adjustments to your next training initiative if necessary.

Does this list of essential ingredients resonate with you? What else would you add to ensure successful and effective sales training initiatives? Tell us in the Comments section.

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Sales Organization Change Checklist

Click here or on the image below to learn more about how ready you are to effectively implement change within your sales organization with Richardson’s Sales Organization Change Checklist

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About The Author: Dario Priolo

As Chief Strategy Officer, Dario Priolo is responsible for driving Richardson’s market, product, and corporate strategy and planning — sharing critical insights with clients to help them win in today’s changing market place. Dario gathers intelligence and market and customer knowledge to: drive Richardson’s innovation; ensure that Richardson offers the best and most relevant solutions for clients that exceed client satisfaction; and raise awareness of Richardson’s extensive capabilities with sales and business leaders.

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Dario Priolo

One Response to “7 Essential Ingredients in Creating Effective Sales Training for Sales Teams”

  1. February 21, 2014 at 2:12 pm, Mckinsey on the 3 "Most Destructive" Activities For Your Sales Reps said:

    […] Mckinsey Pace Productivity Sales Training Forbes […]

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