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Key Elements Of Effective Sales Training


When you tell your sales team, they are going to sales training; you may see some eye rolls, hear some long sighs, and feel the room’s demeanor shift. Salespeople don't care much for sales training, but there are ways to make training more effective and improve the odds of having a positive impact on your revenue and profits.

Focus on One Skill

You can't learn everything there is about sales in just a few hours of training. So, you may want to ask yourself what "skill are you training for?" You first need to analyze your team and decide what the goal of the training should be. It could be on prospecting, discovery, presentation skills, selling to large accounts, negotiating, time management, territory management, etc. You can get training on many skills, but you must pick one that your team needs to strengthen.

A good rule of thumb is if your company doesn't have a methodology, process, or platform, you'll want to start there with your training. According to Act, "companies with formally documented sales processes observed 18% revenue growth compared to their counterparts with no such procedures."  There are many good options out there for this type of training and our recommendations will vary based on your industry, your type of sale and your size of size. Give us a call if you want to learn more.

Expectations for Sales Training

To ensure your team gets the most out of their sales training, you should set an expectation for the outcome. If you decide your training should be on Discovery, then let your team know after the training you'll be looking for them to ask deeper questions that really get at the needs of the customer, the impact your solution could have on the customer, and buying criteria. If you are focusing on selling to larger accounts, set a goal around how many account plans you are looking for or how many people/divisions/locations they should be in touch with per account.

The minute you set an expectation, your team will be more likely to pay attention during the sales training. Your salespeople will know you'll be following up with them and they will be more likely to meet whatever expectations you set.

Sales Leader as the Expert

Now that you've picked the specific skill and set the expectation, you’ll want to get more involved. Your team should see you as a resource on all things sales. According to Hubspot, “more than 50% of salespeople rely on their peers to get tips for improving. 44% look to their leaders, 35% to team training resources, and 24% to media.” With so many salespeople looking to their leaders, you should be actively involved with the training as much as possible.

In most sales training settings, you, the sales leader, are sitting there alongside your team, learning the same things they are. Then, even though you just learned it yourself, you are supposed to be the expert and the coach. That is unrealistic. As an alternative, work with the training program to see if you can help develop content (or least get familiar with it before the actual training) and maybe even lead some of the topics or discussions. Working with the program allows you to build trust, credibility, and more authority among your sales team members.

Drop the Classroom Style

According to, Highspot 73% of organizations use classroom training as their primary way to train salespeople. Yet most people can't stand being talked at for hours on end. People, especially salespeople, like to talk. Make sure the training has plenty of group activities where they get to try out the concepts they are learning and practice in a safe environment. This also allows you as the leader to determine whether they are grasping those concepts. Try role-playing. I know, people hate it. But after every training that we have done, we ask what the most valuable part was. The answer? You guessed it – role-playing. Even if you decide on online training you’ll want to make sure there are break out rooms so people can “test drive” the things they are learning. At a minimum, include questions your team can engage with on chat, polls, and allow a few of your salespeople to tell a story.

Reinforce What They learned

There are a lot of good sales training programs out there. But, according to ES Research, "between 85% and 90% of sales training has no lasting impact after 120 days. Yet, organizations are still spending billions of dollars on sales training each year. That translates to billions of dollars wasted on limited sales performance impact. So why isn't it sticking, you may ask? The short answer is lack of reinforcement. You need to be able to hold your team accountable to what they learned and help them apply their new skill. Adults don’t like to change behavior. You need to help them flex their new muscles.

Step 1: Watch and learn

Watch your salespeople on a call. Most salespeople are awful at self-reporting how things are going. They could have the worst call in the world and they will tell you it was awesome. You need to take the time to watch them in action and give them feedback. Take notes about how well they are using the new process or skill and also areas where they fell back to old habits so you can discuss it with them after the call or meeting.

Step 2: Personalize your praise

Be as specific as possible and let them know precisely what they did right to know which behaviors earned them the recognition and which to repeat. Don’t just use generic terms like “Nice job.” Instead relate their call to the training they had. “What did you learn from the prospect when you asked those questions from training? Yes, they helped you uncover more opportunities. That was done very nicely”

Step 3: Positive feedback

Rather than letting your salespeople know what they did incorrectly at every turn, try to offer them encouragement, inspiration, and motivation. If you need more guidance here, check out the blog on "Positive Feeback." We always say “Catch them doing the right thing.”  Reinforce when they execute on the training in every chance you get.

Step 4: Reward immediately

To reshape behavior, you must reinforce the desired action immediately after it occurs. You can recognize with a shout-out during a group meeting or let them talk about how they used the training and how it helped in a team meeting. Recognition goes a long way with salespeople.

Take the Time

Habits don’t change overnight. The first few times people try to apply the training or new skills they learned, it will probably feel uncomfortable. That’s normal. The danger here is that if you don’t reinforce what you want, they will quickly go back to what is comfortable and your training dollars are wasted. The more you want your sales team to get out of the sales training, the more you have to reinforce and help them develop their new skills. Add those new learning into their day-to-day operations. Jump on a call or go on a ride-along so you can observe and provide feedback. It's up to you as the sales leader to ensure the sales training stuck and was effective.

To make sales training effective and truly get a positive impact on revenue and profits, you need to decide on a specific skill set. Then you need to set an explicit goal or outcome. Position yourself as the expert you are. Lastly, you'll want to reinforce and reshape behavior.  

About Gary Braun

Gary is a founder and co-owner of Pivotal Advisors. He has worked for 20+ years as a salesperson and sales leader. Gary has been a guest speaker for many groups such as Vistage, Allied Executives, CEO Roundtable, Sales Management Association, and more. If you want to find out more about Gary check out his profile here.
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