Many organizations invest a hefty portion of their budget in training the sales force. While it’s a worthwhile investment to improve your team’s performance, it’s critical that you take the necessary steps to maximize the return on your sales training dollars.
Without effective reinforcement, you risk implementing training that’s viewed as the “flavor of the month” — something that your team engages with but fails to apply to their ongoing routines. To create permanent behavior change and protect your sales training investment, be sure that you’re following your training with a high-quality reinforcement program.
Sales training introduces new techniques and skills. A sales training reinforcement program gives your sales reps the structure to implement, practice and strengthen those techniques and skills on the job — preferably with guidance from an expert sales coach.
Sales training reinforcement helps reps translate their training from the classroom to the real world and convert their new knowledge into well-honed skills, long-lasting habits and effective behaviors. To permanently shift the performance of your sales team and maximize your training investment, use the following six steps to design, implement and optimize a sales training reinforcement program.
1. Strategically Develop Your Reinforcement Structure
The forgetting curve shows us that learners typically forget new knowledge within days or weeks of training — unless they consciously review the material. Give your sales training the best chance to succeed by planning reinforcement ahead of time.
An ideal reinforcement structure includes regular opportunities for salespeople to review key concepts during sessions with their coaches, either virtually or in person. In addition, there should be opportunities for reps to practice skills with a customer or prospect, with access to the coach to answer questions and assist with any challenges that arise.
This active learning approach cements new skills and turns them into habits. Communicate to participants that the follow-up is a mandatory part of their training. In most cases, sales reps will enjoy post-training coaching, as it allows them to practice applying their new skills with real accounts — and to see firsthand the success that it brings.
2. Prioritize New Capabilities for Reinforcement
People typically learn best when they can focus on a few key items rather than trying to retain everything all at once. Organize your reinforcement program to focus on one or two key skills at a time so that reps can master them. You should also identify lower-tier capabilities to reinforce when learners have mastered the high-priority capabilities. This approach helps ensure that all of your salespeople continue to improve, regardless of their current level of performance.
Reinforcement technology can help you measure the progress your reps are making and provide insight into areas that coaches need to focus their attention on.
3. Enlist Expert Sales Coaches With Real Selling Experience
A good sales coach can make an enormous difference in the success of your sales training reinforcement program. The person coaching your sales team should not only be highly skilled at coaching but also have real industry experience to draw from. Your salespeople must trust their coach and his or her advice, and they’ll quickly be able to tell whether a trainer or coach has real selling experience or not.
To be most effective, sales coaches should meet the following requirements:
- Closely understand your sales strategy and business objectives.
- Understand adult learning best practices that increase knowledge retention and help salespeople take ownership of new skills.
- Be highly educated in the sales process you teach.
- Be familiar and comfortable with the sales enablement tools that will make reinforcement successful.
4. Train and Enable Your Frontline Managers
After you deliver your training and reinforcement programs, your sales managers will be the primary source of direction and leadership for your sales reps. Setting them up for success sets the entire team up for success, yet many organizations fail to adequately invest in this step.
Sales management training is critical to give your sales managers and leaders the coaching and reinforcement skills they need to be a resource and guide for your salespeople. Your managers need a practical coaching system and a framework for keeping the new selling skills alive inside your team, so be sure to provide them with the appropriate training and resources.
5. Establish and Maintain a Consistent Reinforcement Cadence
Behavior change doesn’t happen overnight. On average, it takes 66 days (approximately two months) for a new skill to become a habit. This means you must expect to reinforce new skills consistently for six to eight weeks — ideally beginning right after training — at a cadence that is appropriate for the material and your sales team’s existing capabilities and knowledge. Without a dedicated cadence, reinforcement tends to erode over time, leaving salespeople to rubber-band back to old habits.
Regular reinforcement check-ins and skill refreshers help make skills learned in training the “new normal” for your sales team. Your documented cadence should include:
- The frequency of reinforcement sessions. (Holding sessions on the same day each week improves attendance and accountability.)
- The length of reinforcement sessions (ideally no more than an hour, to prevent loss of interest).
- The material covered in reinforcement sessions.
- The structure of reinforcement sessions.
- The frequency and structure of individual coaching and other forms of reinforcement.
6. Measure and Track Success
A strong, strategic training and reinforcement system is one of the most effective ways to improve your sales organization’s performance in the long term. Reinforcement is key to maximizing the return on investment in training, and it’s important to measure and track success at various intervals along the way.
Effective sales enablement tools can give coaches and stakeholders insight into how each participant is progressing. This information reveals challenge areas that need more attention and helps to develop ongoing coaching plans for the future. In addition, consider measuring your ROI by evaluating critical success markers, including:
- Additional sales that reps attribute to training.
- Increase in sales volume as a result of training and reinforcement.
- Increase in average sales amount.
- Improved performance compared to quota.
- Changes in the length of sales cycles.
- Specific sales behaviors, activities and key performance indicators that yield the largest changes in results.
To maximize the return on your investment and give your sales enablement project the best chance of success, you should follow up with a quality coaching and reinforcement system. When choosing a training partner, look for one that provides best-in-class reinforcement tools and systems to help you build on the momentum of the training and solidify new behaviors. Doing so will maximize your ROI and make your short- and long-term goals easier to reach.