When companies experience sales challenges, they often view sales training as the solution. While training can impact sales performance, there are many challenges that go well beyond training. These include not hiring the right salespeople, an out-of-date or overpriced offering, or ineffective sales leadership.
In most cases, however, the specific challenges companies want to address are intrinsic to the sales team and involve behavior change. Unfortunately, getting sales professionals to change behaviors is notoriously difficult. After all, they are typically comfortable with their current approach, and behavior change requires learning, adopting and applying new skills.
To affect behavior change, it is important to develop and implement a sales team training program that addresses real-world sales challenges. Most sales professionals are highly motivated to perform, so explaining how it will benefit them is crucial (i.e., sales professionals are motivated by what is in it for them).
Here are four key factors to consider as you develop and implement your sales training program.
1. What sales problem(s) do you want to solve?
Asking open-ended questions of your senior sales leaders, just as you would on a sales call, can help you gain insights and understand problems training can address. These problems could include lack of new opportunities, excessive discounting or low win rates.
2. How can training address this problem?
Based on what you learn, it is important to think through whether sales training can actually address the problems you’ve identified. As an example, if you hear that your company’s offering is no longer competitive in the market, it is important to probe further to understand what they would want the sales team to do differently or better.
3. What behaviors need to change or improve?
What will the sales team do differently or better as a result of the training? By identifying the behaviors that need to improve, you can focus on specific skills that drive these behaviors. Here are a few examples:
|Sales Challenge||Selling Skills||Behavior|
|Weak sales pipeline||Prospecting for new business||Creating a prospective plan and cadence|
|Unfocused sales meetings||Pre-call planning||Establishing clear call objectives|
|Accessing multiple decision makers||Selling into complex organization||Account mapping and access strategies|
|Excessive discounting||Presenting value||Aligning the solution and quantifying value|
4. How will you measure success?
Initially, it is best to focus on behavior change since this directly relates to the adoption of sales reps’ newly learned skills. Is the training changing how the sales team is selling? Behavior change is best monitored through observation by frontline sales managers. As an example, is there a clear call objective established for each sales call, or did the salesperson clearly articulate the customer need prior to presenting a solution?
Over time, it is also appropriate to focus on key sales metrics that align with behavior change. These could include a) growth of the sales pipeline, b) improved win rates, and c) higher margins. Keep in mind that there are numerous factors (e.g., the economy, competitive offerings, organizational changes, etc.) that impact sales, so it is important to continue to monitor the underlying sales behaviors.
Select Training That Aligns with Your Objectives
As you evaluate training options, look for at least an 80 percent fit between the skills you want to address and the sales training curriculum. Some level of customization is always necessary to tailor the training to your specific sales roles and processes, but the core curriculum should include an in-depth focus on your targeted skill set.
For example, the problem that customers lack urgency could be the direct result of the sales team’s inability to present compelling solutions. As a result, customers aren’t convinced that your solution creates enough value to move forward. A training that is specifically designed to enhance your team’s ability to present compelling solutions will train participants to:
- Identify and understand customer needs.
- Create more persuasive benefit statements.
- Differentiate your solution from the competition.
- Quantify the value of your solution.
This level of specificity helps your salespeople, too. They know exactly what their objectives are and what skills and behaviors they will be expected to practice and demonstrate in real-world selling situations. By successfully engaging them in a well-designed training program, you can ensure that the training actually sticks.