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Sales Training Best Practices: What World-Class Organizations Do

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Written by Dave Shaby
Chief Operating Officer, RAIN Group

In most organizations, it’s easy to make the case that millions, hundreds of millions, or even billions of dollars in financial gain can be had through sales improvement. You can affect growth. You can affect competitiveness. You can affect stock price. These are common items on leadership top priority lists.

Get sales right and you can be significantly more competitive and successful.

But this success is rarely attained.

Why?

Because achieving these results takes change: systematic, architected behavior change.

Unfortunately, too many organizations approach sales training as a brief, discrete event, and doesn't drive change.

If you want to achieve these kinds of results, training need to be constructed with the end in mind, and created with enough rigor so that it sticks, gets applied, and drives change.

Sales Training Best Practices

In The Complete Guide to Sales Training Success, we share how the best sales training programs, those designed to achieve results, are different across these seven dimensions:

Critical Success Factor Typical Sales Training World-Class Sales Training
Approach to sales training Flavor of the month, jumbled Focused, organized, logical, long-term view
Staying power Learning forgotten, not applied Learned, internalized, applied
New hire ramp-up Slow, inefficient process to get new hires to full capacity Fast, effective, repeatable 
Delivery method and components Limited Live and online blended learning, multiple modalities, testing, and certification
Customization If done, lots of effort, little use Maximum use for sales enablement
Sales approach (method) Aging, limited, jumbled mix Research-based, current, field-tested, comprehensive
Effectiveness  Not remembered, not connected to daily work Internalized, integrated with sales performance environment, behaviors applied on-the-job

 

Here are a few thoughts to help you succeed with each critical success factor.

Approach to Sales Training

Typical Sales Training: Most sales training is approached with a car wash mentality: you’re in, you’re out, and you’re ready to sell. Too often we hear sales leaders say, “Our sellers need to be better negotiators…or consultative sellers…or prospectors…or solution crafters.” Training is chosen on a whim. At worst, it’s the latest flavor of the month and a jumbled mess of different methodologies with an unclear (or constantly changing) strategy. 

World-class Sales Training: When you think about world-class training, you need to change your vision from short term to long term. Instead of thinking, “We need to train on one or two skills this year.” Think about the skills you want people to have over several years.

World-class organizations create a sales competency model and training curriculum to drive skill development. Once a seller masters a skill in one area and consistently applies the skill, they build upon this knowledge and move on to the next logical skill. 

Training is focused, organized, and logical with a long-term view.

Staying Power

Typical: According to the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve, 77% of learning is forgotten in six days. People know this; thus, reinforcement has become a standard for almost all training—sales, leadership, and others.

However, while retention and skills provide a short-term bump in ROI and results over the first few months, those who were trained in the skill leave over time, new hires aren’t trained on the skill, sellers aren’t accountable for applying the skills, and they don’t learn the next skill.

Learning is forgotten and not applied over the long term.

World-class: Through sales management and great sales coaching, sellers are held accountable for applying the skills. Training is consistently reinforced, not over months, but over years through job aids, playbooks, and further learning and development that builds overtime.

Learning is internalized, applied, and drives long-term results and ROI.

New Hire Ramp-Up

Typical: It takes an average of three months for a seller to be ready to interact with buyers, nine months for them to be competent to perform, and 15 months for new sellers to become top performers. This is a long time and a big investment for sales organizations to get sellers to full productivity.

Most new hire ramp-up is a slow, inefficient process to get new hires to full capacity.

World-class: We’ve seen organizations cut their new hire ramp-up time in half by having a new seller curriculum. They learn exactly what they need to know and do to be successful in sales in a particular organization.

New hire ramp-up becomes efficient, repeatable, effective, and fast.

Delivery Method and Components

Typical: Many organizations focus on one or two-day live, instructor-led training events. This approach might work for learning basic tasks, but selling is not a basic task. Not only is there is a large body of sophisticated skills and knowledge to master, but sales training often involves changing the behavior of adults who are set in their ways.

World-class: Leading organizations view sales training as an ongoing process. They develop a sales education system that includes live and online blended learning, multiple modalities, coaching, testing, and certification. They not only build sales team capabilities, but also design training that enables sellers to apply those capabilities to transform the way they sell.

Customization

Typical: Much customization work for training isn’t readily applicable to sellers' jobs and/or gets lost or forgotten after the training, so it’s not used or applicable. If you don’t customize examples, tools, and reinforcement activities to match the context of your organization and market, sellers won’t accept it.

World-class: If you want to effectively customize your training, don’t just focus on classroom-based case studies. Build job-aids, tools, and playbooks—assets your team can use on-the-job while selling.

Leading organizations customize the training and tools to maximize use for sales enablement.

Sales Approach (Method)

Typical: In the 90s and early 2000s, methods taught sellers to pitch less and take a consultative approach to selling. In the 2010s, some organizations started to recognize that sellers who educate buyers with new ideas win more often. However, we still see a large number of sales organizations whose sellers go in and pitch, pitch, pitch.

Many sales methods are aging, limited, and don’t speak to what today's buyers want.

World-class: Leading organizations are on the forefront and employ sales methods that are research-based, current, field-tested, and comprehensive. They develop sellers who are multi-skilled change agents.

Effectiveness

Typical: With all the ways typical sales training falls short, it’s no wonder trainings aren't remembered, connected to daily work, or effective.

World-class: Leading organizations develop world-class training that’s internalized and integrated with the sales performance environment. They approach sales training as behavior change so new behaviors are applied on-the-job and effectiveness soars.

Although transforming your approach to sales training won’t happen overnight, getting there is certainly worth the effort. According to data from the Aberdeen Group Study, It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint: Best-In-Class B2B Sales Training for an Ever-Changing Market, companies that deploy formal sales training programs lead non-adopters in:

  • Overall team attainment of sales quotes (78% vs. 63%)
  • Customer retention (71% vs. 66%)
  • The percentage of sales attaining quota (64% vs. 42%)

It’s up to you to decide if you want to make your sales training world-class, and you can do so by following these best practices.

The Complete Guide to Sales Training Success

Topics: Sales Training