Even with staff that are capable of self-starting the learning process, no sales organization can afford to take sales training for granted — and it doesn’t stop when onboarding ends. When training is built to correlate with the sales process and pipeline, it makes a direct impact on results. To keep this training-results-training feedback loop flowing, we need to make training an ever-present practice with a culture of learning that permeates the organization through and through.
Creating cultural change can seem daunting, but it is entirely achievable with the right tools and approach. Here’s what you need to keep in mind for each level of your staff so that sales training becomes an integral part of your company’s culture.
1. Sales Reps at Every Level
In some ways, your sales reps are the easiest staff to train. They are where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. Most sales organizations devote a lot of effort to onboarding or initial rep training yet fail to build in a coaching mechanism with reinforcements. Learners are exposed to new material but lack the support that turns messages into knowledge. This can lead to a weak learning culture that not only hurts sales, but also sales training: without the data to prove a training program’s impact on revenue, training programs tend to be underfunded. It’s a dangerous cycle that can be rectified by:
- Start during onboarding.
From the get-go, reps need to feel supported. They need to see and feel that everything they’re being taught is going to be reviewed, that they will receive valuable and consistent coaching, and that there is a system in place to help them constantly improve their skills and become more valuable as a sales rep.
- Build in reinforcement.
When creating a training program, make sure your continued coaching framework is sound and tight. When a rep learns a new module, they also need to understand how their knowledge of that module will be reinforced down the road. This lowers the pressure on the rep and offers them reassurance that your sales organization has got their back.
- Build in follow-up.
Sales reps like feedback but they may not be used to it. As they learn the material and get a better grasp on what they’re doing, build in staggered reinforcement. Delineate follow-up time frames — after 30 days, 60 days, etc. Stagger the material they need to recall for each of these milestones. Keep these follow-ups non-threatening by making them bite-sized — nothing longer than five to 10 minutes.
2. Managers: The Key to Establishing Training Culture
Managers want what’s best for the organization, of course. But they are constantly being pulled in all directions with admin work and their own key performance indicators (KPIs). This means they often can’t coach and reinforce as frequently as they should. Training is a lot of work, and the fact is that managers may not understand exactly what’s expected of them or how to make it happen. To alleviate these challenges:
Managerial buy-in needs to be earned. It’s crucial to explain to managers clearly what’s in it for them. How training programs are going to alleviate their pain, what they will need to do exactly, and how much of their valuable time on a daily/weekly/monthly basis it will take up.
- Coach the coach
Most managers need assistance on the road to creating a culture of coaching and training. Help managers create a process and structure for their coaching sessions with resources they can access quickly. For example, create scorecards aligned with the organization’s revenue goals, quick FAQs, or brief documents with help on messaging, best practices, etc.
- Build in rewards
Rewarding the right behavior is key to leading and coaching any team. When designing your training program, make sure to also build in the right rewards structure — and not only for the users, but also the managers. Managers, like sales reps, appreciate incentives. These can range from tangible bonuses or simply offering recognition. Regardless, you’ll have more buy-in if you incentivize your teams.
3. Executives: Crucial to Making it All Work
Data is the most important thing for executive leadership buy-in. If the data supports your initiatives and you can show that it helps execs achieve business outcomes, they’ll climb on board. Make sure to tie your data into KPIs that busy execs understand.
Beyond this, you can get creative with executive involvement. For real cultural change to happen, sales teams need to see company leaders taking part as well. Consider having the chief revenue officer or vice president of sales schedule one-on-one sessions with sellers about their coaching and learning experience, or gamifying coaching activities to make sure sales leaders are involved.
Bringing it All Together
Establishing a culture of training is a heavy undertaking. It begins with engaging a core group of stakeholders, who will help build out the program, analyze the data generated and solicit buy-in at the C-level. Once the program has been vetted and documented, the hardest part is behind you. But, remember that a change of culture is a slow process. To make the shift a permanent part of the organization, consistency, patience and participation are critical.