Any salesperson will tell you that what they do is part science and part art — part hard skills (the actual knowledge of the product and the market) and part soft skills (the interpersonal aspect of sales).
Today’s sales training paradigms take a divide-and-conquer approach to developing the hybrid of soft/hard skills that drive direct sales interactions: First we impart hard knowledge, then we hone the “read the room’s soft skills.”
However, in today’s hyper-competitive, fast-moving sales cycles, the divide between hard and soft skills training for sales has become an impediment rather than an enabler. Time is the most precious asset sales organizations have. And the lengthy learning curve imposed by the hard/soft skills divide in training is costing companies in a big way — from missed sales opportunities owing to sub-optimal individual sales approaches, to missed market opportunities owing to global sales organization deficiencies.
Sales Training Impacts Revenues – For Good and Bad
In most sales organizations, knowledge onboarding — learning the nuts and bolts of product features and functionality, the market context, the competitive advantages, etc. — is the first step for sales trainees. This is usually accomplished through a combination of online self-study and face-to-face training with product managers or other company tech resources.
Once they’ve mastered the hard skills, trainees start working closely either with dedicated sales trainers or experienced salespeople to practice the conversations that prepare them for deployment to the real or virtual sales trenches.
The problem is that this process takes time. And it’s expensive.
Sales trainers tend to be outsourced and often lack in-depth, company-specific market, technology and product understanding. They can teach the soft skills so crucial to sales success, but can’t necessarily prepare trainees for actual face-to-face prospect interactions that demand polished hard/soft skill acuity.
On the flip side, high-level, experienced salespeople are one of the company’s most valuable assets. Using them for training is simply not cost-effective (and certainly not popular). Their time is better used on generating revenue for the company (and, let’s face it, commissions for themselves) today, rather than on helping the next generation of sales trainees learn how to generate future revenues.
This frequently leaves sales trainees under-skilled and under-prepared for sales interactions, even as they’re sent out into the (real or virtual) field. It’s no surprise that this impacts their efficacy and ultimately the revenue they can generate.
A Different Way
To get sales trainees up to speed and deployed faster, we need to give them what they need and only what they need, exactly when they need it — with no gap or lag between hard and soft skills training. They need to receive the one-on-one attention it takes to merge hard and soft skills into a single playbook, practicing until pitches become habit — but without sapping scarce sales organization resources.
Sales organizations need to leverage accumulated sales and customer data to impart to trainees more efficiently what they need to know, what they need to show and what they need to say, all in a structured and consistent way that ensures faster ramp-up and shows better results. This needs to be deeply embedded into existing processes and workflows — putting an end to the ad hoc training mindset.
Of course, all this needs to be data-driven and technology-centric. We’re living in the age of sales and marketing automation — and every sales team walks the tightrope between leveraging human talent and leveraging technology. We accept that automated tools can enrich enterprise sales funnels with data-driven consistency that delivers quantifiable results, and sales training should be no different.
The Bottom Line
When time to market is crucial and sales resources are in short supply, it’s critical to get more and better-trained salespeople in front of more prospects faster and more cost-effectively. By eliminating the gap between hard and soft skills training, we can avoid missed sales opportunities and lower the burden on sales organizations.