Today’s post is by Norman Behar, managing director of Sales Readiness Group and co-author of The High-Impact Sales Manager: A No-Nonsense, Practical Guide to Improve Your Team’s Sales Performance.
As sales organizations plan their sales training initiatives for 2020, here are my thoughts on the biggest drivers for success.
1. A Clear Focus on Sales Training Objectives
Companies often select and implement training programs without a clear focus on the training objectives. Given the number of competing priorities within sales organizations, sales training often gets thrown into the mix as a “we should also include sales training.”
Generally, investing in training is a good thing – but the investment (in time, money, travel, etc.) is much more purposeful when tied to specific ways that will help the sales team better engage with customers.
I always ask two questions of clients embarking on sales training initiatives:
- “What would you like training participants to do better six months from now?”
- “What skills or behaviors need to change to support your training goals?”
The ROI of sales training is likely to be metrics driven (for example: new client acquisition, increased margins, more significant market share). But what drives these metrics is the underlying improvement in skills and behaviors.
Bottom line: Focus on what you want the training to do, and make sure your training program aligns with your business objectives.
2. Well-Structured Onboarding for New Hires
Sales organizations have been growing rapidly in a very tight labor market. As a result, they have to focus on hiring the best available talent, which often means hiring salespeople with great raw potential but less experience.
Also, more advanced selling skills have become the norm as companies are transitioning from product sales (i.e., relationship driven) to solution sales (i.e., consultative and value driven). Given these challenges, implementing a well-structured onboarding plan that quickly gets new hires trained and productive is essential.
Key elements of the onboarding process include
- A thorough understanding of solutions and the customer needs they address
- Knowledge of the competitive landscape and points of differentiation
- Win themes
- The critical selling skills required to engage with customers successfully
Bottom line: Develop a well-structured onboarding plan for new sales hires and stick to it.
3. Customized Sales Training with Blended Learning
While most organizations have historically included some form of blended learning, the technology-driven options available today are far more robust and compelling.
From a pure learning perspective, sales training initiatives should strive to include the following:
- Pre-training assessments and exercises (online)
- Highly engaging workshops (live or via virtual classroom)
- Reinforcement sessions that include homework for skills application (live or via virtual classroom)
- Performance support (self-paced micro-learning videos)
- Skill application tools (online or embedded in CRM)
While these have typically been approached sequentially, today’s sales enablement technologies allow sales organizations to configure the training experience to the specific needs of the users.
As an example, if you want to onboard a new user – and group training isn’t offered right away – you can begin by asking them to go through the micro-learning videos and complete the online skill application exercises.
You can also train smaller groups through a series of interactive live online sessions and include homework between the sessions so participants can apply the skills and share their experiences.
Bottom line: Embrace technology to deliver a more robust training experience.
4. Stronger Sales Coaching by Managers
Sales coaching by sales managers is the central driver of sales management success. Because managers see their teams in action, they can target the development of specific skills for each salesperson.
As an example, a newer member of the team may need help with prospecting and call planning, so it makes sense for the manager to coach on these areas to help them build a pipeline.
More experienced reps, however, may need help with more complex skills such as navigating accounts and advanced negotiation techniques to help develop and win more significant opportunities.
The key is to remember that sales coaching needs to be personalized and collaborative. To make this happen, managers need to understand the salesperson’s perspective and jointly develop plans that secure commitment and buy-in. Unfortunately, many veteran sales managers still resort to “telling.” While “telling” is expedient, it does little to enhance skills and empower salespeople.
Great coaching requires patience and practice so that managers can help reps discover areas for improvement, observe and provide feedback, and empower their teams to achieve even greater success as they adopt and apply those skills.
Bottom line: Train your sales managers to be great coaches – and instill a coaching culture in your sales organization.
For more insight from Norman Behar and the Sales Readiness Group, check out his white paper, “Developing Great Frontline Sales Managers.”