Expert pastry chefs spend hours training and apprenticing to become the best at their craft. Their expertise comes not just from simply reading hundreds of recipes, but through experience. This is achieved through practicals, coaching and feedback. Training your sales team should be much the same.

Simply handing our team a playbook or giving them videos to watch will not be sufficient. The way we train should look less like a lecture hall and more like a kitchen — messy but productive, with excellent treats awaiting us as a result.

Develop an Instruct-Model-Practice-Perform Approach

When developing sales training, move beyond slideshows or one-way knowledge-dumping and incorporate multiple approaches. Coordinate in advance with team members who you are confident can correctly model the skill. Then, provide an opportunity for the rest of the team to practice with each other. You can also incorporate meeting recordings for modeling real examples of successfully demonstrating a skill or technique.

Training virtually? Offer breakout rooms or provide time frames for team members to jump into small group meeting spaces to practice. Check in through chat and give them reminders when it’s time to wrap up. If you create those breakout rooms or secondary meetings in advance, you’ll be able to bounce between them to observe.

Consider wrapping up your training with a “performance” — a chance for your team to show what they’ve learned and to receive feedback. It’s always helpful if you inform your team prior that they will be expected to demonstrate at the end of the training. Not only does it remove the surprise, but it also increases engagement, as they know they will be expected to replicate the skills.

Use Mistakes as Building Blocks

During practicals in patisserie, instructors will often stop the class when a mistake is made to educate on why it happened, how to fix it and how to avoid making the same mistake in the future. The same should be true for training and development. During the practice/perform elements of training, look for opportunities to correct and instruct, not only to prevent bad habits being developed but also to offer guidance for how to turn things around if you make a misstep.

Say, for example, you’re training on sales techniques and how to close a deal. One of your reps is a little too forceful in asking for the commitment, which would likely result in the client stepping back. Examine what was said, how the sales manager can adjust their language and then allow them to correct their mistake.

Don’t Neglect Practice

Imagine a pastry student learning how to create chocolate sculptures but then never being given time to develop that skill through practice. Disaster! Too often, training stops when the training ends. Plan to continue skill building through additional opportunities to practice after the initial training session. These can be informal, such as one-on-one practice between colleagues, or more formalized trainings, like group role playing with you present. The important piece is to plan them — be intentional about scheduling these ahead of time and getting them on your team calendar immediately following training.

If you utilize a learning management system (LMS), creating self-paced lessons to compliment your training can also be an effective means to practice techniques and skills. Many LMSs offer interactive or gamified elements, such as assessments and role play opportunities.

Rubrics = Recipes for Success

Before they start inventing their own culinary creations, pastry chefs first study and practice using tried and true recipes. Then, they are tested on not only their knowledge of the recipes but also the application of baking those items. Rubrics provide structured guidance for your team, informing them of expectations and how to meet or potentially exceed them. They serve both as a guide, much like a recipe, and a benchmark for success.

Consider drafting a rubric for your team for ongoing self-assessment. Identify the key skills they should be mastering and then break down that skill achievement into levels: beginner, developing, proficient and mastery. Below is an example of one criterion for a rubric on navigating a sales call.

Skill Beginner Developing Proficient Mastery
Handling Objections Able to identify some objections but does not provide solutions. Able to identify all objections and provides some solutions. Identifies objections and provides solutions with some supporting resources. Identifies objections, supporting resources (case studies, references, etc.), and gains customer’s agreement.

Have team members review their performance or the performance of others during those practice sessions to provide structured feedback. Incorporate your rubrics into ongoing discussions regarding promotions, raises or performance reviews to provide consistency and structure as well.

The hallmarks of a good pastry chef are organization, precision, multitasking and creativity, and these are the same qualities we want to see in our sales teams. No chef learns by simply watching or reading — they learn through repeated practice, opportunities to fail and learn, and coaching from their mentors. We should approach our sales training in a similar manner. When we do, we’ll be able to have our cake and eat it too.

an illustrated chef is next to a list of the "instruct, model, practice, perform" tips.