Preparing your salespeople for success is a tall order. They must be experts in their portfolio of products and services and demonstrate credible knowledge in their customer’s industry. They also need to be prepared to work with buyers who are more sophisticated and informed than ever. Today’s buyers won’t settle for basic product information and generic sales pitches; they’re looking for a partner in the sales process — someone who knows their business and understands their needs.

Helping your sales team create those meaningful buyer engagements starts with building a successful training program that gives them the skills and resources they need. Whether you’re delivering training in person or virtually, your program should include three key components and follow the five building stages below.

Start With an Executive-level Program

The definition of your sales enablement program will drive its key objectives and outcomes as well as the specific training roadmap. Many people will have opinions on what salespeople should know and which skills they should use, but the most important stakeholders are first-level sales managers and sales executives. They need to manage the talent acquisition and development to achieve their sales targets. Managers will know firsthand which knowledge and skills their ramping and ramped reps need to be able to achieve their goals, which will involve continuous assessment, coaching and development throughout the year.

In addition, conditions will change, driven by the release of new capabilities by segment or geography and by the marketing team’s advertising and campaign strategy to raise awareness and drive demand. These roadmaps should align to the training roadmap, with goals tied to sales effectiveness.

3 Key Components of an Effective Sales Training Program

1. Interactive Training

Live training presentations (the infamous “talking head”) are the most common form of training, because they can be created quickly, enable last-minute changes, do not require a rehearsal and focus on lecture over activity. While interaction is key to learning, it is difficult to design and requires skilled professionals to deliver.

Still, your training program should include plenty of interactive sessions that require salespeople to connect with each other and the instructor. Brainstorming, sharing experiences and discussing solutions to a challenge are all good options. Situational exercises and role-plays are especially effective ways to help the team learn and connect. For example, consider asking each participant to make a sales pitch to the group and then inviting the rest of the team to offer feedback.

2. Interdepartmental Connections

Successful selling is a team effort involving sales, marketing and product teams. Including all three departments in sales training creates a holistic experience and fosters stronger connections among the teams, which will pay off down the road. Ask the marketing team to share collateral, new content and sales ideas, and invite the product team to offer insight on products and services, special features, and new product developments.

3. The Customer Perspective

It’s a great idea to invite customers to participate in your training program. Surprised? Don’t be. Customers know the buyer experience better than anyone else. Inviting them to participate in training sessions gives the sales team a unique and valuable perspective. Customers can talk about their buying experiences, how they use your product or service, and the challenges they face.

5 Steps to Build an Effective Sales Training Program

Once you have those three key components in place, use the following five steps to build your training program as part of your overall sales enablement strategy:

1. Define Objectives and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

Your training program should support specific sales objectives, such as boosting quotas, speeding up the sales cycle or achieving more wins. Start by clarifying what those objectives are; then, create materials and training sessions that support each one. Using KPIs and other performance measures as guideposts throughout the training process will help you evaluate your progress.

2. Identify Performance Gaps

Regularly assessing weaknesses in performance at the team and individual levels provides important clues about where to focus training. If you see that the entire team has trouble promoting a specific service or that some individuals repeatedly fall short of meeting their quota, you can create training modules and materials to close those gaps.

3. Make Training Materials Accessible

Training is an ongoing part of a salesperson’s job, not something that only happens during onboarding or new product launches. Set the expectation that training is a central part of each salesperson’s work; then, make sure materials are easily accessible and frequently updated. Sales enablement software is particularly useful for supporting these processes.

4. Boost Retention

You invest time and resources in training and then … your salespeople forget what you taught them. To prevent this issue from happening, when you create training, add processes that boost retention, such as:

    • Updating materials regularly and sharing them with the sales team.
    • Requiring managers to meet with salespeople frequently to assess their knowledge.
    • Coaching to help keep team members’ skills and knowledge fresh.

5. Ask for Feedback

A successful training program isn’t static. You need to know if the training is working and how you can refine it, and the best way to find that information is to ask for feedback from salespeople and sales leaders. Consider using anonymous surveys to gather honest reactions, and do it regularly. Use the input to refine your processes, create new content and keep your training program on a successful path.