Maximizing Sales Performance: 6 Core Principles of Top Sales Training Programs
Sales training is hard. You're challenged, over and over again, to create fresh content for programs that educate, engage, and influence behaviors. And what works in one scenario might not work for another because every organization and product is unique.
Still, the pressure to show improved sales performance is high. If reps don't perform, 25% are either fired or quit every year. That's almost double the turnover rate for most organizations. Is bad sales training a part of the problem?
Through the years, we've seen our share of sales training that fails to deliver. But it doesn't have to be that way. That's why we decided to share the "secret sauce" the world's top sales training programs have in common. A framework you won't find readily anywhere else.
All the best sales training programs begin with a strategy. In other words, it has to be more than checking off a box on your sales team’s to-do list. Your product, audience and market environment is constantly evolving – and you need to “plug into” that.
Start with the end in mind by asking the right questions and using the answers to develop your strategy.
- How does the training tie back to your business goals? For example, are you introducing a new product, entering a new market, growing your existing accounts, etc.?
- What are your knowledge and skill gaps? Do your reps need better product/competitor knowledge? Do they struggle with lead follow up and overcoming objections? Do your managers need help coaching reps?
- What behaviors do you need to change? What do your reps need to start, stop, or continue to improve performance?
- Have we adopted virtual selling best practices? Selling in-person vs selling virtually require different skills and behaviors.
- How will you define and measure success? How can you make data collection/reporting a priority? Define the process and be clear about the goal. And don't forget to reinforce and advertise your results.
Once you have a strategy in place, you can start building a plan to get to your goals. Be sure to get everyone from leadership to field personnel on board and excited about your approach.
Let’s face it, content matters. Ever tuned out after the first 5 words of...anything?
John Cleese said it best...
Sure, the word “engagement” gets thrown around, but what does it mean, after all? Can you measure engagement? What’s the benefit?
Based on our experience, the top sales training programs are highly engaging...even:
- “Knock your socks off”
(our clients' words, not ours)
So, how do you get reviews like this? Use these two tips to make your training "sticky," meaning reps will actually want to complete it (maybe even more than once).
Make it contextual
That means it has to be RELEVANT. Reps need to know how to apply what they are learning to their job and day-to-day life.
- Present common scenarios or situations.
- Use real language that reps and customers actually use.
- Show or mimic real people and locations
Remember, generic examples and broad, sweeping generalizations are impossible to put into practice. Your training should help reps:
- Identify: “I’ve met that customer. I have these conversations.”
- Care: there’s an emotional connection when something looks and feels like you
- Know: exactly what to do or say in the same or similar situation.
Make it conversational
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we're so focused on delivering all the right content in a few sessions that we go all "teachy."
It’s like in Peanuts, when the teacher talks, it’s just a bunch of “womp womp womp.”
Keep it simple and use human speak, like:
- Everyday words and phrases
- Short sentences (to sales reps, time is money)
Bonus tip: Lighten up. Adults love it when we make fun of ourselves and our culture.
The good news is you don't have to start with a blank canvas. Spend a little time conducting a content audit. Decide what you can continue to use as-is, what’s missing, what needs a little refreshing, and what needs to be scrapped and recreated.
You also need a platform that’s sticky. And mobile-friendly isn’t enough. It should be virtually impossible to resist. Think bug light attraction.
You could create the world’s best sales training program, but if your reps can’t find it, access it, or don’t use it your efforts were wasted.
This may mean investing in newer technology. If that’s the case, look for these things.
Collaborative and social learning tools
Reps have tons of expertise and experiences worth sharing. Empower them to be in the driver’s seat, to pro-actively lead/contribute to their learning and growth. Let them share best practices, ask questions, and get feedback in real-time.
Informal learning like this doesn’t replace formal learning. It enhances it. In fact, in the 6th Annual Learning in the Workplace study, 93% of employees ranked “on-the-job experience” as essential to how they learn, followed closely by social learning at 90%.
Give employees a way to continue their learning outside of the classroom or course. Don’t fear social learning tools like these.
Sales reps are competitive so gamification ties into their desire to compete, win, and get recognition.
Many platforms have basic gamification built-in, like earning points, leaderboards, badges, and levels.
To take gamification to the next level, look for a platform that allows reps to redeem their hard-earned points for real-world incentives like company swag or other rewards.
Frontline communication tools
Reps are typically on the go, which means they may not have access to things like the company Intranet at all times.
And their inboxes are already overflowing. But including critical communications like new product launches, promos, and other company updates into your training platform gives them a one-stop-shop to find everything they need to get their jobs done.
If you think a single platform built for training, collaboration, communication, and gamification sounds like a unicorn, think again.
Spoke, our social LMS, combines all these tools into an engaging platform that's intuitive, practical and actually gets used.
The one-and-done “sales kickoff” isn’t enough. But, unfortunately, sales training reinforcement has become more of a buzzword than a best practice. Everyone recognizes its value – but also bemoan the time, focus and cost.
It's not just an after-thought, it's not even top of mind. What these organizations fail to realize, however, is that the best training reinforcement can be achieved in the normal course of business. You must build in and protect time for reps and managers to practice what they’re learning.
Worried about where you'll find the time?
Work with what you already have! Start small with your existing learning platform. Use those social/collaboration tools as a way to have reps practice putting product features/product positioning in their own words.
Everyone’s got a phone. Have reps video themselves practicing something, post it online, and ask for constructive feedback. Maybe a contest? Star rankings?
Or try quick role-playing games in morning huddles/sales meetings. Always ask for suggestions and feedback. Sales reps can be extremely resourceful!
All the top sales training programs include training reinforcement to some degree.
What gets measured gets improved. Ever heard that before? It’s because it’s true.
Shine a bright light on every aspect of your program. What went well? What needs improvement? Some of the results may be anecdotal, or conversations, or community posts in your social learning platform.
No matter where the data comes from, data collection can’t be an afterthought. Capture and learn from all of it.
Go beyond basic metrics like training completion.
- Observe rep behaviors, customer experience ratings/scores (voice of customer), NPS (net promoter score), retention and churn, average deal size, etc.
- Partner with L&D/marketing/etc. to get data and correlate data to training.
- Review questions/comments/feedback left in your training platform’s chats and channels.
- Try to read between the lines. This is where your emotional intelligence skills come in handy.
Share the results with key stakeholders and work together to make improvements.
The last thing the world’s top sales training programs have in common is engaged leadership. If your leaders aren’t involved in a big way, you’ll struggle to get buy-in from the rest of your sales team.
Would Apple launch a new product without making a big deal about it? No way. Like Apple, channel your inner Steve Jobs. Build hype. Get people excited. Including your leadership team.
From start to finish, you own the program, so marketing your agenda and generating enthusiasm in upper management is huge.
- Gain buy-in continuously from management and leadership.
- Stay involved, from discovery to training review calls to pilot launches.
- Be able to answer questions, both about the content and the logistics (When will it launch? How will we be evaluated on it?)
- Share a “sneak peek” photo of the video shoot. Even better, invite all-star reps/managers to go on set and watch the magic happen.
- Create some “sizzle” with a trailer video.
- Actively solicit feedback. As results come in, share those with the team. What gets measured and shared, gets celebrated (and repeated).
The sooner you get leadership involved, the better your chances of success.
top sales training programs Don't Build Themselves
If you’re resource-constrained, or don’t have the in-house capabilities you need to create a world-class sales training program, don’t be afraid to look outside your four walls to find a partner.
Look for a partner with a proven track record and the ability to dive deep into your company and understand your culture, products and services, and even your competitors. A custom sales training program may be exactly what you need.
Wherever you are in your training evolution, we can meet you there. We'd love to hear from you on anything you've read, questions you have, or to explore our offerings. Let us know how we can help.
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