The sales profession looks much, much different than it did even 20 years ago. But when you look at your sales training strategy, has it kept up with the times?
Today’s sellers must deal with the high expectations of B2B buyers. Businesses are more complex and increasingly make purchase decisions by committee. Disruptive technology, M&A and product innovations are forcing entire markets to change overnight.
These realities mean your salespeople need more knowledge and skills in order to show up prepared for every buyer engagement. Yet many organizations have allowed their sales training to grow stale by relying on old-school tactics, like on-site bootcamps and long-winded presentations that cause information overload. Perhaps it’s no wonder that 20% of salespeople say their training needs a complete overhaul, according to CSO Insights.
Here are 7 sales training ideas you can use to spice up your strategy in 2019.
Sales Training Ideas for 2019
- Make assessments part of your sales training
- Examine win/loss reports
- Leverage peer learning
- Put sales reps in their buyer's shoes
- Highlight industry trends and news
- Deliver sales training with millennials in mind
- Practice responding to objections
1. Make Assessments Part of Your Sales Training
Sales organizations often cross their fingers and hope sellers who complete their training courses are ready for the field. In doing so, they risk unprepared reps flopping in front of buyers, costing the company deals, hurting brand reputation and seller confidence, and wasting time for all parties.
Sales enablement leaders should focus not just on learning consumption (“Did my reps finish their courses?”), but also assessment (“Can they perform key sales activities?”) to encourage better training engagement, knowledge retention and sales readiness.
“When reps understand that they will be assessed for mastery of a new skill or knowledge, you get a better commitment to learning and improved rep effectiveness,” says Jim Ninivaggi, Brainshark’s Chief Readiness Officer.
You can implement training assessments in a few different ways:
- Knowledge-checks, such as quizzes and tests, ensure that reps have mastered key concepts
- Simulation, which can range from role plays to practicing elevator pitches with a video coaching tool, tells you whether reps are ready
- Observation, such as a manager ride-alongs, shows that reps can apply learning in the field
2. Examine Win/Loss Reports
Although there are several ways to encourage knowledge sharing in your organization, you can make reports on key wins and losses available to reps as just-in-time learning assets and incorporate them into training curriculums, as you can tie any takeaways directly to positive (or negative) sales outcomes.
For example, if a high-performing rep just closed a highly-competitive deal, highlight the new customer’s challenges, what steps were taken to secure their commitment, which value points most resonated with them, and why your solution was chosen over alternatives. (Sales readiness technology can make this process a lot easier by allowing reps to share wins on video and share it with peers.)
Deal losses can be just as valuable in preparing sales reps for tough situations. Maybe pricing objections threw a wrench in an otherwise smooth sales process, in which case you can review best practices. Maybe there were missed opportunities to position your product against a competitor’s, giving you an opportunity to incorporate the loss report into competitive intelligence training.
Whatever the case, ensuring that sales reps have reviewed your key wins and losses allows them to apply actionable tips to future sales cycles.
3. Leverage Peer Learning
According to ATD, 91% of sales reps believe peer learning will help them succeed, and with good reason. Peer learning done well allows training leaders to harness the “tribal knowledge” of veteran salespeople – before they leave the organization – and transform it into training material for sellers of all ages and experience levels. Your ‘B’ and ‘C’ players especially can benefit by learning from the practices of your star salespeople and seeing what “good” looks like in action.
These best practices can also be used to create useful sales training content. One way to make that happen is using video coaching technology, which allows reps to record videos detailing best practices, tips and tricks or win stories. For instance, you could ask the sales force, “What is one technique you use to move a stalled deal forward?” The best video responses to that question can be converted into formal learning content and also made available for future reference.
4. Put Sales Reps in Their Buyer’s Shoes
Training programs tend to focus heavily on product details and messaging, often at the expense of explaining the needs and challenges of the buyers. Perhaps that’s why 77% of buyers believe salespeople don’t understand their business, according to Accenture.
Make the buyer’s journey a more prominent part of your sales training in 2019 – both for new hire onboarding and learning reinforcement for the existing sales force. You can do this by ensuring that buyer persona details, including key business challenges, success metrics and pain points, are part of your training curriculum (and then assessing your reps’ mastery of them).
Keeping in mind the reality that most buyers are only engaging salespeople after they've done background research, you'll also want to outline useful approaches for engaging buyers at each distinct step of the buyer's journey. Is the prospect committed to considering alternatives to the status quo? Then share persuasion techniques that can help buyers move into a decision cycle. Is the prospect settled on your solution and trying to justify the purchase to other decision-makers? Outline approaches for accelerating time to a buying decision.
In addition, you can pair sales training with coaching exercises that require reps to think like buyers on their feet. For example, if you sell security software, ask reps what points the director of IT security might use to get the CIO on board with a new solution, and how they would be best presented? What issues matter most not only to the security lead, but also to the CIO?
"The closer your sellers can get to understanding your buyers, the better they can be at understanding their needs and the decision-making process," Ninivaggi says.
5. Highlight Industry Trends and News
Your salespeople may not be reading 30-page research reports on the state of B2B selling, or your target markets. But a 600-word blog post covering timely social selling tips, on the other hand, is a perfect addition to your training strategy.
However you deliver continuous education to the sales force, incorporating outside perspectives into your training is important, because it reminds your salespeople that the profession is still changing all the time and encourages them to stay up-to-date.
For instance, using a sales readiness tool like Brainshark, you could embed relevant research and news articles about target industries into training courses as required courses or attachments, to ensure reps review them to complete their training. You could then add a knowledge-check assessment that quizzes the salespeople on key findings.
6. Deliver Sales Training with Millennials in Mind
About 10,000 Baby-Boomers retire every day, and by 2025, millennials will make up 75% of the global workforce. So it almost goes without saying that your sales training program needs to meet the learning needs of a changing workforce.
Most millennials prefer informal, bite-sized, microlearning content that can be accessed on-demand, wherever and whenever it might be needed. Research from the Journal of Applied Psychology shows that microlearning can improve engagement with – and retention of – your training content.
Career steps are also deeply important to millennials; they want to learn skills that will help them in a future role. A program that prepares sales reps for the next logical step in their careers would be especially valuable to millennials and younger generations. For example, many sales development reps move into quota-carrying roles, like account executive or account manager, but the skills required to be a successful SDR don’t perfectly align with the traits of a high-performing AE or AM. Identify those gaps and deliver training that helps close them.
7. Practice Responding to Objections
Buyer objections are a part of life for all salespeople, and reps who aren’t prepared to handle common objections will have a tough time closing deals. Ensuring that salespeople have mastered key skills out of the gate will prevent them from “practicing” on your buyers. But how should you address objections in your sales training?
“The biggest mistake I see organizations make when it comes to managing sales objections is that they lump objections into one big category,” says Ninivaggi. “And they handle objections as obstacles.”
Create training courses that break down the fundamentals of handling different types of objections. This includes misunderstandings (“I heard your software doesn’t integrate with our marketing platform”), skepticism (“will your solution work for a small business?”), drawbacks (“we like your solution but it’s missing a feature we want”) and indifference (“we don’t need something like that”).
Recalling the importance of assessment, you should also require that sales reps master their objection responses – either through an in-person role play or using a video practice tool like Brainshark – in order to reinforce the message of your training content.
Sales training is only part of a successful sales enablement program. Today's reps need a sales readiness strategy that prepares them for every buyer interaction.
Download our e-book to learn more about the 4 pillars of sales readiness!