You’ve probably heard the saying, “Nothing happens until someone sells something.” Sales training leaders would tell you a lot happens to get to that point. So, what do successful sales training leaders do to help their salesforce sell more?

We asked two sales training leaders to share their thoughts on three important questions that impact sales training:

  1. What’s the most difficult part of being responsible for sales training and how do you address it?
  2. How do you build credibility with your sales force?
  3. How does your sales experience help you when developing sales training?

 

Daniel M. Puls

International Training and Development Manager

3M

  1. What’s the most difficult part of being responsible for sales training and how do you address it?

There are going to be people in an organization that have perceptions that can impede execution of effective sales training. Changing perceptions can make the responsibility of training sales professionals a challenge. For example, I found it interesting that a significant number of people in our organization assume a correlation exists between tenure of sales professionals and their knowledge and skill sets. The use of information gathered from assessments made by trained sales coaches and from knowledge checks (quizzes) prior to providing training will answer the question, “do they know what we expect them to know?” We shouldn’t be surprised if the assessments and data indicate that some sales professionals with years of experience exhibit gaps in their knowledge and skill sets.

Using information based on observations made by trained sales coaches, historical sales results and the use of knowledge checks will provide data used to determine the types of training necessary to help bring motivated sales professionals to the next level. All of us understand that each sales professional in an organization will have strengths and gaps in their product and application knowledge and skill sets. Leveraging data as a part of a gap analysis makes certain the sales professional has been properly placed in the right training programs that will enhance their knowledge or skills. Once the training program is completed, the use of post-training knowledge checks and other assessment tools will identify potential remaining gaps to be addressed through additional training or by individual tutoring.

Information and data from assessments by sales coaches and knowledge checks can prove to be a window to the root cause for any consistent gaps identified across a sales organization. We strive for continuous improvement of our training process and use the information and data collected to determine where there may have been insufficient amount of training, inadequate training content, or where we’re covering too much material in the time available.

In summary, use information and data collected to provide people in your organization insight into the state of the sales organization and then recommend specific actions to be taken to take the sales professionals to the next level. I’m a firm believer in using information and data to determine if and where there are gaps. As a certified Six Sigma Black Belt I highly suggest the use of data to support the necessity for training programs and making changes to how we train sales professionals. Justifying investments in resources and time for training can be made simpler when you have data on the sales organization which is directly tied to the growth initiatives for your business.

  1. How do you build credibility with your sales force?

I have not had the opportunity to meet most of the participants in our sales training workshops prior to the day the training workshop begins. The nature of my position is training sales professionals in over 70 countries outside of the US. Developing credibility with the sales professionals happens in the training workshops and continues through the post-training follow-up.

Most of the credibility I develop during the workshop comes from examples of actual successes and failures that I’ve learned from others in different parts of the world. I believe that there is greater value to learn through the experiences of past participants and the experiences of other sales professionals participating in the workshop. I’m not saying that my personal experiences are not of value, and in some cases I do share them. I feel a sales professional hearing about what a member of their peer group has learned or experienced is of greater value. Talking about actual experiences is a good way to start the discussion of thoughts on what the sales professional could have done more of, differently, or better in a given situation. Including third- party examples with personal experiences from the participants and the trainer is an effective way to initiate discussion and active learning.

Getting participants to share experiences, discuss issues, and exchange thoughts or feedback is why I choose to refer to training classes as “workshops.” We learn through sharing experiences, thoughts, and ideas. After all, you are a piece of everyone that has touched your life in a positive way. Never change, rather simply add the positive attributes to your behaviors and make them a part of who you are. In a training workshop, I would estimate that 40% of the learning comes from what I to share with the group and 60% comes from what is learned through the interactions and experiences shared by others. When it comes to product and application knowledge-based training, those ratios will be quite different.

The focus on active learning and retaining the most knowledge is very much a key component to establishing credibility as a sales trainer. As all of us know, active learning keeps all participants involved by contributing to the learning process. We’ve all learned that people retain 20% of what they hear, 50% of what they hear and see and 70% of what they hear, see and do. The sales trainer will be measured and remembered for what they did more than what they said. As you build credibility by getting participants engaged in active learning where they are hearing, seeing and doing, bring some fun into the learning experience. If there are mistakes to be made or “dumb” things to be said, let that happen during training. It’s okay. Then after learning and practicing what was learned, go out and “win” with customers.

The use of small groups creates a collaborative relationship for learning amongst participants. You are creating an atmosphere for the participants to rediscover the importance of collaboration as a team to achieve success. As the learning workshop participants collaborate to develop answers to questions you pose to them or develop a strategy based on a case study you challenge them with, you are subtly reminding them that delighting a customer and making a sale is a team sport. The customer purchases your product based on its value and the value that you and your company deliver to them. That includes the value of marketing, customer service, technical knowledge, logistics, finance, health, and safety and perhaps several other disciplines from within your organization. At times, sales can feel like a lonely job. The reality is there is a team of people working with the sales professional all with one primary focus: delighting the customer and activating them to make a buying decision. As you have learning workshop participants work in small groups, remind them of the importance of working as a team and the value each member plays in delighting customers.

  1. How does your sales experience help you when developing sales training?

As I think back on my sales experiences, I think about all the different customers I have met over the years. I think about their mood and their attitude toward me when I first met them. And I think about how it changed with time. We’re all familiar with some version of the “6 Buyer Personas.” I’m referring to the decisive, collaborative, relationship, skeptical, analytical, and innovator buyer personas we’ve all likely experienced in our careers. Sales professionals attending a learning and development workshop will also have a persona as they join the group.

Shaping the mood and attitude of the sales professionals attending a workshop to create an energy toward learning is one sales experience I use as I lead the development of training workshops. Knowing there will likely be different moods and attitudes of participants calls for addressing the issue upfront with the workshop participants. It sets the stage for active learning just as a band opens with a high-energy song to lead off a set.

It’s common to have in a workshop EXPERTS that believe they already have a great amount of knowledge and skills therefore perceive that there is nothing more for them to learn and perhaps they should be leading the workshop. There will likely be VACATIONERS in the group. They relish the opportunity just to be away from their normal daily responsibilities. You may also have PRISONERS in a workshop which are the participants that were told by their supervisor to attend and would rather not be there.

LEARNERS participate in workshops to help them discover things that they should do more of, differently or better. They learn behaviors that they can apply to help them with challenging sales situations and perhaps reduce the sales cycle time. And that is how even the best sales professionals become even more successful. I ask all the workshop participants to take an oath to be a LEARNER. Even as the trainer I will learn from the experiences shared by the participants in the workshop.

What is the learning objective? And what should be the course content? Obviously, these are interrelated questions. The sales trainer needs to have a clear understanding of the business objectives in order align them with the course content. A regular rhythm for communications with the business leaders to maintain the alignment of training with the business objectives is critical. Sharing course content with the business leaders and their business team to make certain critical points are being accurately addressed is also very important.

I like to relate the regular review of training, aligning it with the objectives for the business with doing effective pre-call planning and post-call analysis. Like in sales, there is an objective to every sales call. The content of that sales call needs to be planned so that it supports reaching the objective of the call. The post-call analysis is an opportunity to see what the path looks like going forward. Execution of the plan activates the customer to take an action. Even if that action is to meet again to further explore how you, your product, and your company can help the customer in reaching their goals or desired outcome.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my post and found a nugget of information that will be useful to you.

 

Robin Stien

Director, Commercial Learning and Development

Ventura Foods

  1. What’s the most difficult part of being responsible for sales training, and, how do you address it?

The most difficult part of being responsible for sales training is measuring its effectiveness.  There are so many variables that factor into overall sales performance that it can be difficult to correlate training to broad business goals such as volume or margin growth. We’re working to address it by partnering with the business team to identify more specific KPIs. For example, when launching a new sales process, one of our measures will likely be the number of new customers acquired. It is specific, measurable, and relevant. I think it’s important to align with key stakeholders on metrics before you begin designing a training or process, and make sure they tie directly to your training’s objectives. We can also address it by identifying behavior-based measures that are observable by employees’ managers — e.g. what types of questions did an employee ask during a sales call before providing a solution?

  1. How do you build credibility with your sales force?

As a new employee to the organization, I spent my first 6 months or more on the job listening and learning. I went on sales calls and interviewed more than 20 sales people across all of our sales channels. By asking questions and truly listening, I believe I demonstrated that I value our sales force’s experiences and different points of view. My experience is that once the team knows you respect them and their work, they are more open to change. I strive to be an authentic and kind person, and I believe these characteristics also build credibility regardless of the audience.

  1. How does your sales experience help you when developing sales training?

Having sales experience builds credibility, helps ensure content and examples are relevant to the audience, and allows me to facilitate more in-depth discussions during training sessions.  Because I’ve had similar experiences, such as delivering a difficult message to a customer or preparing for a high-stakes negotiation, I can empathize with the challenges that many of our sales people are facing. However, it’s very important to remember that my role is to facilitate the participants’ learning, not to be a storyteller. I believe a good sales trainer should be a “guide on the side,” and not a “sage on the stage.”

 

Please comment below with any thoughts or reactions to this post. It’s a great chance to continue the discussion. If you hold a position in a sales enablement organization and would like to join our Sales Training Excellence Circle, please let us know.

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