Nearly a year since the COVID-19 pandemic first impacted salespeople and their leaders and trainers in a significant way, sales organizations continue to feel the ripple effects. Still working from home and distanced from customers and prospects, navigating a challenging economy, and traversing tighter purchasing budgets, some companies are flourishing, while others are floundering.
Is sales training having an impact?
ValueSelling Associates, Inc. and Training Industry, Inc. set out to explore what companies that grew in 2020 did differently and to learn what effective sales training looks like for a remote sales force navigating a global crisis. We surveyed 256 U.S. sales leaders and learning and development (L&D) decision-makers about the approach their company took toward sales skills and change management.
Two distinct groups of companies emerged from the study: companies with high revenue growth and companies with negative revenue growth. High-growth companies’ leaders said 2020 was a banner year of growth, and negative-growth companies’ leaders said 2020 was the worst year of the last five.
Let’s compare and contrast the differences between these two groups to demonstrate how the right strategic focus on sales training distinguishes the companies that have experienced growth despite the economic downturn.
What High-growth Companies Know About Sales Training
The ultimate purpose of sales training is to improve a range of outcomes for salespeople and the company. Our research demonstrates the positive impact that sales training has on a company’s profitability and growth — even beyond the sales discipline. Across the board, sales training is pivotal to revenue. It was linked to employee satisfaction, employee motivation, employee retention, sales results, company culture and enterprise agility. When comparing high-growth and negative-growth companies, we saw that sales training played a bigger role in all results for high-growth firms (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: Sales Training Plays a Significant Role in High-growth Companies
What do high-growth companies know about sales training that others don’t? Here are three approaches they use to grow their business in the face of unexpected events that your sales organization can use, too:
1. Be Agile and Ready to Adapt to Change Quickly
Salespeople who can take new workplace and selling situations in stride are a huge asset to their company. Companies that saw growth in 2020 were ready and able to respond to change to keep their sales teams operating smoothly and successfully. In fact, 55% of high-growth companies saw their sales training make a big impact on agility, compared to 5% of negative-growth companies.
The research also found that high-growth companies are better at managing change. They are more effective at achieving the goals of change initiatives, communicating change initiatives to their employees, identifying the changes necessary for success and finding the right metrics to gauge their successes after making those changes (see Figure 2).
Figure 2: High-growth Companies Are Better at Managing Change
2. Know How to Engage and Incentivize Salespeople
High-growth companies experience many of the same challenges as negative-growth companies when it comes to implementing sales training (see Figure 3). However, negative-growth companies stumbled in their sales training efforts last year, because they didn’t know whom to train and or how to motivate salespeople with their training. They also lacked a sense of urgency in training implementation and lacked short-term goals and milestones for sales performance.
To keep salespeople motivated, it’s important for their managers to schedule time separately with each team member to review short- and long-term sales training goals, track key milestones, agree on metrics, and measure sales performance. They must also review action plans and commitments to keep their team incentivized.
Figure 3: Companies Faced Similar Challenges When Implementing Sales Training
3. Pivot Sales Training in Response to Change
With selling moving to a virtual model, sales training and L&D programs must, too. Many firms had to make similar adjustments, such as changing how they interact with customers and implementing new training to help salespeople adapt to remote selling. However, high-growth companies made moves that differentiated them from negative-growth companies and enabled their success. For instance, they recognized the need to change their business model, adjusted sales expectations and viewed change as temporary rather than something that would permanently damage their business (see Figure 4).
These findings suggest that a firm’s willingness to be flexible and change business models — as well as the make other changes that fall out from that type of significant transformation — plays a critical role in staying afloat during rough seas.
Figure 4: High-growth Companies Pivot Their Sales Training in Response to Change
Effectively Training a Remote Sales Force
Our latest research survey with Training Industry explores how high-growth companies respond to crisis. While some companies experienced significant challenges and negative impacts last year, others excelled. Of course, business success during this crisis is due to multiple factors, including the industry, but there are specific areas of sales training that have helped some companies succeed.
You can equip your sales organization with effective sales training to position them for future success during an uncertain 2021 and into 2022. From engaging with customers in new ways to coaching and managing remotely, change has become the status quo. With a highly skilled and agile sales force, your company can embrace change and continue to seek new ways to deliver value to your customers.