For training professionals, there’s an age-old quandary: How do adult learners like to learn? How do you ensure they acquire new skills? And how do you make behavior change stick once they’re back in their daily routine? This is equally true of sales training for business-to-business (B2B) sales professionals.
Best practices include practical skill-building, job role relevance, managerial training and reinforcement. Here are some real-world examples of how each of these best practices builds upon each other and creates an ideal environment for learners to learn, not only in the classroom but in application in their day-to-day role.
1. Incorporate Practical Skills-Building.
It’s challenging to find trainers who go beyond delivering inspirational stories and sharing their knowledge. Unfortunately, most trainers focus the majority of their time talking about what to do, not how to do it.
Several years ago, a vice president of sales at a Fortune 500 company invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in training his sales organization. While his intentions were good, the salespeople returned to the office without knowing how to implement anything they had learned. The training company’s response to the lack of engagement was a proposal for half a million dollars in additional consulting services to implement the training. In the end, the client decided to cut its losses. Within a year, both the sales training company and the vice president were out. The participants were left with nothing but a workbook to show for their huge time investment.
Skills-building is where the rubber meets the road. You get the most out of training initiatives when courses (e-learning or instructor-led) employ the “tell, show, do, review” instructional model; when participants engage with one another; and when learners can practice skills and make mistakes in a safe environment. When participants leave a training program with confidence, they are likely to develop competence.
2. Make Training Relevant to the Role.
Too often, training is not specific to a sales team or tailored to the required skills that learners need in their particular roles.
Here’s an example: The head of human relations for a manufacturing firm sets up an extensive curriculum for the company’s managers. The topics include safety, anti-harassment and data security. Although the managers participate in the training, they grumble that they are doing so only to “check the box” for compliance’s sake.
This type of training can reinforce consistent behavior and get everyone on the same page regarding your company’s policies. But if you really want to win the hearts and minds of the participants, you have to make the training relevant to a person’s job. In the case of sales training, align the course outcomes to support sales initiatives. Then, align the activities to the competencies (i.e., skills) you want them to develop.
We know that for adult learning to be successful, the training and outcomes must be connected to their reality.
3. Train Your Managers.
Managers, fully trained and competent in the skills they are demanding of their teams, are your best bet for making training stick. That correlation is the tip of the iceberg. In a 2018 SiriusDecisions survey, 87 percent of high-performing sales reps said perceived direct manager competency is a top decision driver when they consider a new job. We all know how difficult it is to find the right person for the right role. This research demonstrates how important sales manager competence is in attracting new sales talent.
What do sales reps want from their managers? According to the same study, they want feedback on customer interactions, collaboration on account strategy or stalled deals, and knowledge transfer through observation. Furthermore, more than 76 percent of millennial managers indicated that ongoing sales-specific manager development was a top consideration when joining an organization.
If managers are not on board to support, reinforce and expect the behaviors taught in a training program, the reps are likely to revert to old habits. Managers who successfully support the implementation of new initiatives must not only be trained in the programs that the reps are trained in, but they must also achieve a level of mastery that exceeds that of the reps.
4. Reinforce, Reinforce, Reinforce.
Because training consultants and firms often realize economies of scale by offering the same type of training to every client, we still see a preponderance of “one-and-done” training. In an era where too many events and ideas compete for employees’ attention, that type of cookie-cutter learning often fails to rally collective adoption among the team.
Reinforcement happens through actual practice and application. It can be programmed or ad hoc. Consistent reinforcement also includes revisiting key concepts and how to apply them. And reinforcement occurs when sales reps are coached by their manager.
An important managerial principle is to “inspect what you expect.” When managers watch how reps complete their most important tasks, such as going on a sales call or sending a follow-up letter, they are able to guide them, in real time, on the leading indicators of success – the behaviors. Solid reinforcement plans include recognition and celebration of early success and adoption.
How Do Adults Like to Learn?
Adults like to learn through on-the-job training, in-the-field observation and collaboration with peers. Adults also like to learn by experience and by leveraging best practices from their peers. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in; learning must be fun, relevant, practical and incremental to get the most out of your training initiatives.