Clients’ habits have changed in the last 20 years. Trust is hard-earned, products are available everywhere and clients are more empowered than ever. According to many specialists, the organizations that will survive will be those with a client-centric approach. Salespeople don’t control the sale cycle anymore; the client does. That’s why it’s more important than ever to look at the sales training we are offering. Do they evolve to follow the reality of the new customers sales reps need to attract? The real challenge today for sales training teams is to create programs that have a tangible impact on productivity. Our clients – the learners – are easily bored, are attached to their phone and want to be at the center of everything we do.
Cognitive overload is a silent killer and one of the main causes when sales training is ineffective. Many times, it consists of a great sales rep who wants to share his or her wisdom and starts to provide training. It may be well-intended, but it’s not training; it’s a conference. Learning requires content that’s organized into digestible bites to allow people to convert and integrate the knowledge. Of course, storytelling is a great tool, but the tool does not do the job by itself. Salespeople love to hear success stories from their peers and tips about their journeys, but that is not enough to impact productivity. If we spend the day telling instead of training, learners will quickly fall into a cognitive coma. Like customers, when learners are at the center of everything we do, they stay with us.
Sales techniques, strategies and concepts are similar, no matter what you sell. That’s why we can fall into the trap of overload. “If it’s that simple to explain and to understand,” we ask, “then why are we training on it?” We add more and more content to feel relevant, hoping repetition will finally make it stick. The challenge for learners is not to understand; the challenge (and I mean the challenge) is to apply it and, ultimately, make it a habit.
To gain true efficiency in sales training, we need to shift from an inefficient approach that causes cognitive overload to one that is engaging and increases productivity. These three strategies will benefit your learners and your organization by increasing knowledge transfer:
1. More Training Specialists in Sales Teams
Just like any other field of learning, instructional designers must work their magic in the sales team. Sales experts continue to do what they do well and share their experience, but it should take place through a design process that evaluates and measures progress toward the instructional objective.
2. Engaging the Salesperson’s Brain
Present the concept quickly; make it fun; and give learners some space to develop, explore in a safe environment and personally integrate the concept. A salesperson’s brain is not different from any other brain; it has to be engaged in order to learn. People, especially salespeople, like to share and help others. They don’t need us to tell them what to do; they need us to guide them as unique individuals.
3. Collaborating on Content and Delivery
As training specialists, we must work closely with our subject matter experts not only on the content but on the delivery. Selling and training are two different sets of skills. Instructional objectives are designed to develop skills and evaluate them with specific, on-the-job criteria, meaning that each learner may apply those skills differently according to his or her personality. Sales training is about using the SME’s “how-to” to guide someone else in building his or her own “how-to.” Take the time in your design process to practice the delivery, supporting the trainers in their transformation toward a new delivery mode. Find out learners’ “what’s in it for me” factor, and name it.
Changing from a trainer-centric approach to a learner-centric approach is not an easy task, but the shift must happen quickly to offer powerful sales training programs. We must give our sales reps the space and freedom to express their individuality. Deep down, they know what’s best for them; they just need a hand to guide them. One simple tip to avoid that cognitive coma: Stay as far as possible from “I need to tell them,” and stick to “they need to apply.”