Designing an inside sales curriculum can be tricky. Inside salespeople typically aren’t in their role for years and years; successful reps often move to outside sales or other places in the organization, and unsuccessful reps usually qualify out quickly. When reps move out, the company must hire and train new people immediately. As a result, when you are managing an inside sales team, it feels like you’re in a constant state of training.
One difficulty with designing inside sales training is that everyone on the team is usually in a different stage of his or her inside sales journey. Some just joined, and others are on their way out; some are great at cold calling, and others excel at writing custom emails and conducting research. It usually feels like the most impactful training you can do early on is one-on-one coaching – which isn’t scalable, especially if the team isn’t large enough to have a dedicated inside sales manager.
If you are building a new inside sales training program, start by mapping out your first four weeks of training.
Build broad program components – components that everyone on the inside sales team needs to be able to do to be successful. In addition to standard onboarding topics, core focus areas include product/service training, giving the elevator pitch, how to use internal sales tools, fundamentals of calling and emailing, research, and understanding the ideal customer.
There’s a critical piece to consider here: Don’t just make assumptions about what it takes to be a successful inside salesperson at your company. Instead, gather data and make those decisions based on what you find out. Start by assessing the skills and behaviors that make your top performers successful, and think about how to reinforce these behaviors in your new sales reps. Survey existing and former high performers on which behaviors they believe are the most important to being successful in the role. Prioritize enforcing those specific behaviors as part of the onboarding process.
Conducting stakeholder interviews is also very helpful. Focus on the inside sales team, sales leadership, marketing leadership and (if possible) customers. By talking to internal teams, you’ll develop a better idea of what is critical for the role. Each group will have different ideas about which skills or behaviors should be prioritized.
Next, think timing. What are the most important things that reps need to know, and when? What has to be covered in week one, and what can wait until weeks three or four? From our experience, inside salespeople should start their calling, emailing and/or other outreach at some point between weeks two and four. This means you need to prioritize topics like training on outbound tools, email and call fundamentals, and understanding the elevator pitch earlier rather than later.
Like all training, you want a mix of modalities.
Integrate e-learning, PowerPoints, webinars, podcasts, one-on-one coaching and, most importantly, practical application. Don’t just tell the inside salesperson how to write a custom email; show them the fundamentals, and then have them work on 20 custom emails. Review the final product, and provide critical feedback.
Another critical factor with inside sales training is putting time parameters around training activities. If you tell a new inside sales rep to create 10 custom emails, he or she will likely spend half a day doing so. That’s not helpful or realistic for preparing them for their day-to-day work. A better training activity is to ask them to write 10 custom emails in 60 minutes. Quality training tends to make learners a little uncomfortable; that’s typically when they learn best.
Finally, make sure you have regular check-in meetings early on.
One of the biggest failure points with inside sales reps is when their sales manager turns them loose to start prospecting. It’s easy for an inside salesperson to get off track, and if no one is watching them closely, it can equate to a lot of wasted time and effort. This situation happens most often when the inside sales team is too small for an inside sales manager, and the vice president of sales or the CEO or owner is doing the training or is the direct manager.
Training inside salespeople is difficult. If you get it right, though, your inside sales team will be a major competitive differentiator and a talent pipeline for the organization.