29th Jan, 2020
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While practice may make a man perfect in a task, but training is essential to first learn that task. Sales training is the most obvious yet most under utilised tool when it comes to preparing the sales force.
Why underutilised? May be this will answer the question:
- As per a survey, 6% of employees rated their sales training programs in the category of “needs improvement”. (Source: CSO Insights Report)
- Salespeople dissatisfied with their sales training are likely to be 10% behind in closing deals in comparison to salespeople who rated their training programs as excellent. (Source: CSO Insights Report)
- Dissatisfaction leading to disengagement and hence, productivity loss at work which in turn causes a loss of $7 trillion annually. (Source: State of Global Workplace Report by Gallup)
- Annual turnover rate of 6% was observed amongst the staff who rated their sales skills training in the category of “needs improvement”. (Source: CSO Insights Report)
- 64% of new hires shared their intent to leave the job when proper training initiatives were not provisioned by employer. (Research by HiBob)
- 70% organisations admitted a negative financial impact of staff turnover. (Source: Study by Right Management)
- Rehiring costs are approx. 12% of a company’s expenses, rising to 40% for high turnover businesses. (Source: PwC report on Millennials at work reshaping the workplace)
But time spent in learning instead of selling – would it not reduce my revenue?
Spending on employee sales training is the most profitable investment any firm can do which will fetch more business in the future.
Not budgeting enough for training or treating it as a passive element of your sales strategy can be likened to risking your biggest asset. Is it worth it?
Sales quota attainments, profit percentages, new client acquisitions etc. have long been the headline hoarders when it comes to analysing a company’s performance. However, lately, the realisation is dawning amongst leaders that the foundational element beneath all these, i.e. people who make it all possible, have for long remained as a second priority.
Being the very start-point and endpoint of any sales that you accrue, your salespeople are your true assets and the core of your whole business.
It is the kind of asset which paves the way for your success, however, if not dealt properly, can also trigger your failure.
When something holds that much criticality, you can certainly not ignore the impact of trainings and other learning & development initiatives on their productivity and job-satisfaction quotient.
Training – A significant success factor in sales
Proper training for your sales staff – be it the on-ground workforce, inside sales executives or even your business development team, is a non-negotiable ask if you want to maintain competitive readiness and consistently augment opportunity generation in the face of changing industry dynamics.
In absence of required attention to trainings and other learning initiatives for employees, the outcome is productivity loss, attrition, missed targets and eventually – major revenue dip.
There have been multiple studies done across industry domains and geographies with all of them pointing in a singular direction – a significant (and positive) connection between training and important organizational outcomes such as job satisfaction, organizational loyalty, and performance up levelling.
An effective sales training is geared towards persistent hike in sales force performance with customer orientation. This is the bed-rock determinant of sales force engagement and gaining measurable impact. Successful execution of sales strategies demands that teams and people are well trained and supported for customer engagement at all phases of the customer lifecycle.
A quick wrap of the benefits of sales training:
- Increased sales with more reps achieving their quota
- Better customer service (And a good customer service again leads to increased sales)
- Equipping the salespeople for better cross-selling, up-selling and on-selling
- Lower turnover of sales staff
- Increased employee productivity
These are just few of the blanket benefits of training programmes. The short-term as well as the long-term impact of training is indispensable for any company and hence it is one of the core building blocks of success for any business.
Types of trainings
Today, training is not limited to its old school imagery of getting people in a large hall and getting an industry expert up on the podium to share some proven theoretical concepts or some third-party people coming and showcasing a visually appealing PowerPoint and distributing some flyers.
Just like the business of sales, sales training has also become highly personalised, specific, practical and scientific.
Based on the requirement of business as well of the workforce, competencies targeted by trainings can broadly be listed as:
- Sales acumen
- Technical & technology
- Product acumen
- Leadership & behavioural
- Motivation & team development
- Personal & professional development
Now, based on the type of aimed competency, trainings can largely be classified as:
- Skill-Based Training
- Behavioural Training
- Strategy Training
- Motivation Workshops
According to the delivery channel, trainings can be majorly categorised into the following types:
- Remote Training
- On-The-Job Training
- Classroom Training
- Self-Running Modules
- Concept-Content Training
- Activity-Based Training
- Gamified Training
- Group Workshop
It can further be subdivided into industry/domain specific training, such as Technology Sales Training or Sales Hiring Training, Inside Sales Training etc.
Where to begin?
Recognising and getting over excuses is the start point in this journey towards sales rep excellence.
The first step in order to get maximum output from training is to get over the excuses.
Some of them may sound cliched but many businesses are guilty are of making them at some point or the other:
- Company’s got Budget Pressures
- Both the company and sales reps have Time Paucity
- Sales reps are skilled enough, they Don’t Need training
- Sales industry has unique scenarios, skill trainings Won’t Work
- Sales reps are Not Interested in training
Once you overcome this roadblock, the second step is to assess the precise need for the training.
In this step, you evaluate the gap between current and desired state of achievement. This ‘Needs Assessment’ considers the current skill set, knowledge base of employees as well as the organisational objective and other probable external or internal limitations.
This step will also include sitting with your employees and understanding their problems or expectations, and then conjoining it with data and your business objectives and expectations.
What kind of training requirements are there in my line of business?
The training need assessment is an important step as it defines the impact’s weightage and actionable periphery.
Different industry domains would be having their own distinctive challenges and overall need-analysis. For example, let us look at certain challenges as per the industries:
IT/ Telecom: Inside sales approach, understanding of product positioning, knowledge of cloud etc.
FMCG/D: Reaching to large number of widespread on-ground sales force, management of third-party payrolls
BFSI: Enabling the intermediaries and customer facing teams to promote the product
Energy: Market penetration, maintenance of consistent performance, upscaling of employees etc.
ECom/ Digital: Engaging tier 2/3 partners and/or vendors
Education: Upgrading employee skills, normalising digital transformation
Similarly, all the businesses can have their unique set of challenges and business objectives to meet. Sometimes these challenges are discovered through client feedback, company vision revisit, or performance assessment. Zeroing down on your exclusive challenges will help reap the maximum out of the training.
Training in-house or by third-party vendor?
Once you’ve identified your exclusive functions which needs training, you may choose to take up the task in-house or get an expert partner onboard.
While the former option would mean some budget saving but in business, the strategy should be to look for long term benefits instead of being penny wise and pound foolish. Here are some benefits of having an external firm for your sales training requirements:
An unbiased outside view
A third party means an external pair of eyes and hence, an unbiased review of the current situation as well as the insights about the market. An expert firm in the domain would be equipped to do a thorough research and analysis around your organisational needs and your current situation, accordingly, will devise a training roadmap.
Domain specific expertise
Just like your expertise lie in your line of business, the companies which offer sales training solutions, are also domain expert in that field, i.e. training. Armed with subject matter experts and professional sales coaches, they are proficient in the task of training adults in line with the current market scenario. They also provide reinforcement strategies to ensure the long-term retention of the learnings acquired during training.
Train the trainer option
If later you want to bring the training expertise in-house, some third-party training vendors can also train your candidates for the role and license them for the job.
More seriousness on both ends
It’s a basic human psychology to take external things with more sincerity, even if that measure is by an ounce. Getting external trainers onboard ensures that both the parties – the training vendor as well as the batch of employees under training are serious about delivering to the expectation of the training program.
Now starts the action
Then after comes the application stage, the approach to which can be divided into three major buckets – pre-training, execution and post-training.
Let’s deep dive into each of these:
In-depth need-assessment – With diagnostic analytics, trainee profile and performance benchmarking etc. are prepared.
Engine setup – People (trainers, backend team), process (content, plan, calendar), and technology tools to be used, are also finalized upon.
Delivery – Done via selected methodology (classroom, on-the-job, virtual etc.)
Delivery assessment – Through quizzes, role plays, mock sessions, SWOT, mystery audits etc. the performance is continuously analyzed.
Reinforcement – Gap analysis is followed by refresher or issue resolution sessions etc.
Measurement – Productivity, sales impact, trainee profile development score etc. are calculated.
Trainer enablement – Trainer assessment, SWOT, skill development, re-alignment etc. are also critical.
Evolution– Program performance review, objective vs outcome mapping, next step planning
These statistics prove the effectiveness
Firms where salespeople get consistent coaching see 73% quota attainment. (Source: CSO Insights Report)
Sales teams implementing post-training reinforcement see 20% more reps achieving quota. (Source: Aberdeen Research)
65% of employees say the quality of training and learning opportunities positively influences their engagement. (Study by Association for Talent Development)
51% of the people who receive effective sales trainings reported closing more than 50% of the sales opportunities they encounter. (Research by Sales Readiness Group & Training Industry)
72% people who received effective sales trainings reported higher job satisfaction in comparison to their peers. (Research by Sales Readiness Group & Training Industry)
Highly effective sales training reduces ramp-up time by up to 7 weeks. (Research by Sales Readiness Group & Training Industry)
Latest trends in the sales training sector
Sales is now far-away from its traditional avatar, and likewise, the training aspect has also evolved. The traditional methods have grown into sophisticated, scientific and quicker pathways while delivering the same or even more modernised content.
For example, to counter the major challenges around budget and time constraints, on-the-job trainings through online channels or mobile apps have surfaced as the apt solution.
With the idea of making them low-budget high-impact trainings, tools such as gamification, virtual classrooms, E-Learning modules, IPAD modules, webinars etc. have become the preferred modes of training.
The content and approach have also adapted as per the modern learner who holds his/her strong learning preferences, leverages automation and swears by technology tools to fast-track his/her chores.
A quick look at a few trends which have become synonymous with the new-age sales training:
- Increased leverage of augmented and virtual reality to expose reps to ‘real-world’ simulation
- With the rise of digitalisation and demand for on-the-go outreach, multimodal training approach, especially mobile-learning modules see a rise
- Usage of bite-sized information chunks as part of contextual micro-learning
- Cross-team budding-up to enhance collaborative working style, is now being adopted by many companies
- Post-training reinforcements have become natural progressions to trainings, for strengthening retention quotient
- Usage of success stories instead of theoretical concepts is becoming a norm
- Incentivising performance mapping using an ideal case scenario
Along with these, there are many other reforms which technology have brought in, such as leverage of analytics for call-assessment, effectiveness tracking, etc.
Best practices in sales training
While you address your training needs in-house or leverage industry experts (the latter is advised, to be able to get an outsider-expert view and a focused approach as shared above in the article), there are certain ‘should-do’s’ which can help you extract the most out of the time, budget and resources you spend for training your sales reps.
Especially in sales, where time equals money, you should try to make every moment of your sales rep spent in training (and not selling) count and the following best practices can help you achieve the same.
Convey the Criticality
Psychology of selling is rooted in the basic human nature of subconsciously prioritising things which seem important and value-adding.
If the company leadership conveys the significance and contribution of the training towards the larger end goal, trainees are bound to see themselves as critical cogs in grander game and will eventually take the training more seriously.
Count on Customisation
Not all sales rep would be doing the job in the same manner, for example, an inside sales executive would need a specific approach while a field agent may need a different outreach training.
While theoretical trainings are passé, reps need to see that trainings are practical, and their prior experiences have been taken into account. Inclusion of case studies, actual scenarios and leverage of tools like storytelling etc. have been found useful.
This part of the original 3-pronged approach may seem a general element of training, however, a thought-through reinforcement plan will make every dime of your training budget count. As per a research by Huthwaite Inc., salespeople lose around 87% of the information they acquired through training within one month if it is not reinforced in the workplace.9
Any permanent change needs the change in habit, behaviour and personality, which isn’t easy but not impossible as well. When these three changes, the results automatically change. A solid reinforcement plan ensures an accountability at the end of sales reps to learn or to improvise.
Not measuring the impact and ROI of the training on actual sales turnover defeats the entire purpose of training. The critique has to be detailed, scientific and data-backed.
The analysis absorption for fine-tuning or significantly transforming the training program, should then be the next step.
Even when you have a training partner doing the job for you, it is always a beneficial practice to leverage your in-house subject matter experts for internal trainings and knowledge-sharing sessions.
Mentoring schemes, coaching conventions etc. are great way to mobilise internal talents and promote cross-team learning exchange.
Diversify the Scope
Move beyond the skill enhancement and functional utilities trainings and invest into some overall personality builder programs which can help your reps become better at selling, not the product but the outcome of it.
A successful salesperson is a critical thinker, compelling storyteller, persuasive conversationalists, pro at leveraging video tools and is acquainted with the power of referrals. With requisite trainings, you should try and ensure that these skills are also imparted and honed.
Right training is such a growth strategy which no competitor can steal from you. It is like building your asset base instead of letting complacency make even your A-listers, a liability.
Last year, corporations worldwide spent approximately $366.2B* on training initiatives – an exponentially rising figure since the last 10 years. (*Data sourced from Top Training Company studies along with inputs from U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis)
With increased industry-wide realisation of the value of sales training, the global boost in investments in the domain seems justified and the players who are serious about sustaining and thriving in these competitive times, are not treating trainings as a second business priority anymore.