The old adage, “anything worth doing is worth doing right,” is perhaps never truer than with sales training. This is reflected by considerable budget: last year, $15 billion were spent on sales training in the US alone, and on average, organizations spend $2,326 per seller on sales training each year. Given the significant investment of capital, time and effort necessitated by sales training, sales leaders expect significant returns after training is complete.
The truth is, one of sales leaders’ biggest complaints about sales training is that sellers are not sufficiently changing their behavior post-training, and as a result, training seems like nothing more than squandered budget. These sales leaders likely went through a rigorous buying cycle for sales training, evaluating the pedigree of the content taught and ensuring the training delivery was right for their team. Yet, after training ends, their sellers still revert to old behaviors. The vast majority of the time, it’s because sales training initiatives are lacking in one of these three key areas:
Before, during and after sales training, it is critical for you to determine what a successful outcome will look like, and what activity metrics will be tracked.
When determining what to measure, avoid confusion and ambiguity and be as specific as possible. Instead of stating that the goal of the training is simply to “increase prospecting skills”, “reduce discounting” or “increase revenue”, come up with specific measures of success such as:
With the right goal in mind, the next step is to consider the activities that will get your team to the goal, and the cadence of measuring it. Determining what specific activity metrics or milestones sellers need to hit plotted against your ideal timeline helps to ensure that the team is on track. If not, you can catch it early enough by reviewing their activities and course correct.
In addition, measuring the right things and reviewing those measures periodically helps sales leaders determine if their sellers are actually adopting new behaviors. Sales training is just like learning anything else: it’s one thing to be able to define and describe a skill; executing it is another step entirely. By focusing on the right activity metrics, you can ensure that your sellers are actually applying what they learned and not just going through the motions.
The next step to ensuring that your sales training program sticks is to ensure that you have a reinforcement plan, and the plan is adapted to your internal processes. Don’t mistake simply having access to the material or workbooks as reinforcement. Proper reinforcement includes reinforcement specific activities and a plan that is customized for your team and organization.
When creating a reinforcement plan, develop a calendar of reinforcement and coaching events. The calendar should consist of weekly or bi-weekly topics to review that were covered in the sales training. For the reinforcement or coaching activity to be the most impactful, the activity should only focus on one technique or skill at a time.
The activities set in the reinforcement plan should include a variety of different types. This could be individual reinforcement activities, team activities, 1:1 activities or peer-to-peer activities. Including a plethora of different types of activities not only accommodates different learning styles, but it will also allow your team to discuss, share, and grasp the techniques in different ways.
Having reinforcement-specific materials and a plan for when and how reinforcement will occur give your sales training initiative a fighting chance of making a long-term impact.
Practice is part of reinforcement; however, practice is so critical to ensuring that sales training sticks that it warrants separate emphasis. Practice is important because it is the closest thing your sellers can do to implement the skills they learned in training without speaking to actual prospects.
Practice can occur during a scheduled session, in the form of role plays and various other methods, or can be unscheduled. The important elements of practicing are to have your sellers’ practice one technique or skill at a time before moving on to the next one. It is also important that your sellers verbalize what they are practicing.
By having your sellers’ practice what they learned and including it in your reinforcement plan will help ensure that your sales training sticks.
Despite a few edge cases, training your sales team is an effective way to improve their performance and skillset. For your sales training programs to stick, you must ensure that you are measuring the right things, implementing a customized reinforcement program, and supporting your sellers as they practice new skills.