When thinking about creating a new sales training program, there is almost an infinite number of considerations. Hot trends in adult learning models, teaching methods, delivery methods and multimedia can be confusing. Are you going to try microlearning for the millennials? Or instructional design for the behaviorists?

Designing an effective sales training program really boils down to one question: Does it create long-term change in the behavior of the salespeople, leading to positive results?

Whether you are creating your own training program or hiring an outsourced training company, you are going to be judged on those results. And changing adult behavior can be very difficult. The path to a new behavior is a long and winding road.

That road starts with an awareness of a new and better possibility. Then the participants must actually gain the required knowledge and skills. Next, they have to apply those skills for the first time in a real-life situation. Then they have to apply them frequently enough over a short period of time to create a habit, integrating the new behavior into their everyday routine. Finally, they practice the new behavior often enough that they become masters of the new technique and can teach it to others. The path from awareness to mastery can take years.

Now, let’s think about some of those options for your sales training. Do you think a two-day boot camp in Las Vegas will lead to that lasting change? Do you think listening to a sales coach on a two-hour webinar will make it happen? What about your current sales training program? Are there places for discovery, learning, practice and reinforcement?

Four Key Phases of Effective Sales Training Programs

1. Evaluation

To design an effective sales training program, you need to know three things: where your team is now, where you want it to be and how you are going to bridge the gap. To obtain that knowledge, start with an accurate assessment of your current reality.

The evaluation phase should include self-assessment by the participants; a 360-degree assessment by peers, managers, subordinates and clients; and an objective assessment by a third party or online evaluation tool. Once you have an accurate picture of your team, you can begin to benchmark it against top performers and ideal behaviors.

2. Impact Training

The next phase is quick-hitting impact training for immediate awareness and baseline knowledge. Typically, this phase is a boot camp-style training in which you can bring everyone onto the same page very quickly. Depending on your situation, it can be a virtual; live, instructor-led; or recorded online course.

The goals are the same regardless of format. You will want to make your team aware of what is expected of them and to build the foundations of knowledge that will help them learn and execute the new behavior. Impact training is great for short-term motivation, building consensus, and communicating best practices and processes. It normally takes place during the first 60 to 90 days of the training program.

3. Reinforcement

Impact training rarely creates lasting success without reinforcement. It is now time for your participants to apply the strategy and tactics discussed in the impact phase and challenge their current status quo. This phase is the most crucial; it’s where the participants must reach outside of their comfort zones to try something different and then apply it until it becomes a new habit.

The reinforcement phase also usually requires some live coaching, because participants will have questions and challenges as they implement skills for the first time. Reinforcement is the key to any training’s long-term impact. It is never-ending, because lasting results require lifelong learning, but a solid reinforcement plan should have curricula spanning 18 months to three years.

4. Accountability

The final component involves more coaching than training for participants to move from application to ownership and mastery. New sales habits are not easy to maintain. Sales managers, trainers and peer accountability partners play a crucial role in helping the participants stay on track.

Usually, two or more accountability partners yield the best results. If one partner goes on vacation, is preoccupied or changes positions, it is easy for accountability sessions to fall through the cracks. If you design a program with at least two partners for each person, there is a good chance the participant will stick to the plan.

These partners can meet in person or by phone or web conference; the important part is maintaining communication and good habits. The accountability phase should begin right after the impact training and have no end date.

Repeating the Cycle

The path to sales mastery never ends, and neither should your sales training. Once you have completed some version of all four phases, it will be time to start back at evaluation. Take a look at your progress, set new benchmarks, and critique what is working and what is not.

Then, hold another impact training session to reset expectations and remind the team of its common goals. Reinforcement and accountability must be ongoing. As you repeat these phases, remember to create a system of continuous improvement for your training and your people.

A research study nicknamed “Change or Die” followed people who were medically required to change a behavior like overeating, smoking and lack of exercise, or they would likely die very soon. The study found that within a year, only 10 percent of participants had maintained the change and their new lifestyle. About 90 percent went back to their old habits, even though doing so meant an increased probability of an earlier death.

Change is hard, and changing habits via a two-hour or even a two-day seminar is virtually impossible. Invest the time, money and resources to design an effective sales training process with evaluation, impact, reinforcement and accountability. It is the only way to create long-term change and guarantee that more salespeople will reach and exceed quota.

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