If you’re investing in sales training, you want to be confident you’re going to see a return on your investment. Whether you’re delivering the training in-house, or employing the services of an outside training company, there are some key guidelines to follow, which will significantly increase your return. Below I’ve outlined my 5 tips for ensuring your sales training delivers results in both the short and long term.
- Start with the end in mind. Before you decide on any sales training intervention, you need to be absolutely clear on what it is you’re trying to achieve. Typically, there are two primary objectives for training – the first is to address a very specific skill (or set of skills) gap(s) and the second is to provide a broader, more general up-skilling of your sales people. To make your training really deliver results for you, I would always suggest focusing on the specific skills and processes gaps that exist within your sales team. A generic up-skilling programme will have some impact, but will never deliver the kind of return that a targeted, results-focused progamme will deliver. It’s a bit like sticking the proverbial band-aid over the wound that’s actually going to need antibiotics to heal. The plaster may cover up, and perhaps even slow down, the deterioration but, ultimately, the problem is still there and won’t improve until it’s been addressed in the correct way. It’s therefore critical that you identify these skills gaps before you make a decision on the nature of the training. Start by detailing the core competencies that your sales people need to deliver the results expected of them. Next, determine where, within these competencies, the areas for improvement lie (many sales training companies will offer a stand-alone diagnostic process to help you identify these, but this research can also be conducted internally). Once you have this information, your training can be tailored to address these specific areas. Ensure that you continually evaluate the success of the training, using these core competencies as your measures.
- Gain buy-in and alignment. Ensuring the goals of the sales team (and therefore also the goals of any sales training) align with organisational goals will not only significantly improve training outcomes, but additionally will help to gain the buy-in and support of key stakeholders within the business. However, this does not always happen. A classic example is the organisation who has a goal to increase margin and profitability, but who continues to support a sales culture that rewards its sales people for winning deals regardless of the cost, rather than creating and capturing margin. Gaining buy-in from the outset can not only be critical in securing the required training budget, but also offers the opportunity to gain valuable insight from other parts of the business to help shape what your training will actually look like.
- Use application-based learning. Malcolm Knowles, a pioneer in the study of adult learning identified 4 Principles of Adult Learning (Andragogy), which can help us to tailor training to ensure the most impactful outcomes: The first is that adult learners are most engaged when they are learning things that are relevant to them, where they can see exactly how the learning will directly impact them. Abstract theories and models, whilst arguably relevant, don’t often demonstrate the clear cause and effect relationship, which adult learners respond better to. Following on from this, adult learners are more engaged when they get to learn through experience: putting learning into practice, making mistakes and experiencing immediate, in-the-moment outcomes. Thirdly, adult learners learn best when the learning is centred around solving a specific problem, rather than just the transfer of knowledge/content. And finally, we know from Knowles that adult learners are particularly engaged when they are involved in the planning of the training. Therefore, gaining the involvement of your sales team at the outset can really improve learning outcomes. There are many ways of bringing ‘relevance’ into your sales training, for example, deal clinics (a war room approach to accelerating and improving outcomes of live deals), role-play, app-based conversation simulations, virtual reality, to name a few.
- Create clear expectations of your learners. Any training you implement is likely to be just one of many training course that your sales people have attended during their careers. Ask them what they learnt from previous training and they’re unlikely to be able to recall anything much at all. If you want this training to be different, to have the impact you’re looking for, both in the immediate and longer term, you need to ensure your sales people are clear on your expectations and put in place processes to encourage and support the learning after the training itself has ended (more on this in tip 5). Share with your sales people how important they are to the business and why you’re making this important investment in them and be clear what, in return, you expect from them. As in tip 1, above, set clear goals so your sales people can see where they are headed, as well as making sure they can see how this compares to where they are currently.
- Arm leaders with the skills to ‘take up the mantle’. I’ve saved the best ’til last; if you only follow one of these tips, make it this one! The reason so many organisations fail to get what they want and expect from their training interventions is because they fail to put processes in place that continue to reinforce the learning after the training period has finished. It is the role of the sales leader to support their sales people in their continual development and improvement and yet, surprisingly, many sales leaders ‘sit out’ of the training they provide for their sales people. Not only does this have the potential to damage the credibility the leader has with their team, but it leaves the leader in a weaker position when it comes to reinforcing the learning they want their sales people to adopt. So, in preparing to ‘take up the mantle’, sales leaders first need to immerse themselves in the training alongside their sales people. Secondly, and most importantly of all, sales leaders need the coaching skills to be able to coach their sales people going forward. Coaching is arguably the most important skill any leader should have because it is the most effective tool for; helping others to set and achieve goals, addressing under-performance, dealing with individual’s concerns and driving performance improvement. Research from the Sales Executive Council found that sales people who are coached for over three hours per month by their sales leaders, typically overachieve by 7% against target. Conversely, those who get two hours or less coaching a month, typically miss target by 10%. Do a quick calculation in your head of what this difference would mean for your bottom-line and the value of coaching becomes very quickly apparent.
If you’d like to speak to us about our sales training solutions and how we can help you to get the most from your investment, please get in touch through our contact page, or by giving us a call on 01778 382733.