Sales and learning leaders do not ask themselves, “Should I train my salespeople?” Rather, the question on their mind is, “What type of training should I choose?” There are a few key questions that leaders must answer to make sure they are on course. In addition, there are several decisions sales leaders need to make in order to identify training that will have the biggest impact.

Identify Sales Activities

The vast majority of sales training programs available on the market teach sellers how to strategize an opportunity (aka target account selling, strategic selling) or plan and conduct individual sales calls (SPIN selling, consultative selling, conceptual selling). Every commercially available sales training program is designed to help sellers improve through execution of a certain set of activities.

It is important for leaders to understand the key aspects of the sales roles they intend to develop. The book, “Cracking the Sales Management Code,” examines numerous sales metrics and identifies four key categories of seller activities, or sales processes:

  • Territory management: Segmenting accounts by potential and allocating effort accordingly
  • Account management: Retaining and growing accounts
  • Opportunity management: Qualifying and pursuing individual deals
  • Call management: Planning and conducting individual customer interactions

Each of the four sales process categories has a specific set of activities. Once these sales activities have been identified, the next step is to take a closer look at sales roles.

Identify Sales Roles

The challenge for sales leaders is to determine the type of training that will produce the best outcome. How does one narrow the playing field in order to make the selection process productive and successful? First, start by evaluating the jobs of current salespeople.

For example, key account managers get the bulk of their revenue through repeat business from existing clients. In that case, sales leaders must evaluate whether they have as much business as they can get, or whether their competitors have the bulk of the desired business. Next, determine the right product mix. Is the company selling to target? Finally, ensure that there is sufficient penetration across the entire account.

Contrast the key account manager with a territory representative who covers a geographic area with 250 accounts and a mix of existing and prospective accounts. Once again, sales leaders have to ensure that their reps have enough existing accounts, or if not, look to target new account acquisition. Is the growth going to come from retaining and growing current accounts – and if so – how? Is the growth going to come from new customer acquisition? If so, which customers and why?

Select Appropriate Sales Training

How do these insights translate into selecting the most appropriate sales training?  In the case of the first example, the key account manager, it might be decided that better penetration within existing accounts is the key to growth. If so, training might need to focus on account strategy – how to move into other business units and/or broaden the contact base to non-traditional decision-makers. In order to equip key account managers to do this type of strategic planning, it would be critical to institute a comprehensive account management program with powerful tools to drive analysis, since new opportunities have to be found before they can be pursued and won. In this case, account planning is all about finding additional opportunities within new or existing large accounts.

With regard to the second example, the territory representative tasked with pursuing new account acquisition, which accounts should the rep target and why? Training should target effective segmentation and prioritization methods and provide key guidance on how the salesperson should allocate effort differently toward the higher potential account targets. Such training should include an element of time management in order to balance prospective activities with maintenance of current accounts within the territory. In neither case did the training revolve around opportunity strategy or planning and conducting individual sales calls.

Asking the following questions will help sales leaders determine the relevant types of sales training needed:

  • What do my reps need to do to fulfill their specific sales role?
  • What are they good at doing already? What is my evidence?
  • What do they need to do better and in what order?

Such due diligence will help ensure that sales training dollars are right on target and not in the weeds, and will produce the highest return on training investment.

Michelle Vazzana is a partner at Vantage Point Performance and co-author of the book, “Cracking the Sales Management Code: The Secrets to Measuring and Managing Sales Performance.”