“Sales Training doesn’t work.” I’ve heard it over and over again. Yet sales enablement is a huge factor in revenue operations, and gaining traction quickly beyond the enterprise space. And a huge part of sales enablement is sales training. Where do strong sales learning outcomes come from? How do you apply sales training in a way that makes a difference on the front lines? In a way that changes behaviors, closing rates, and most importantly, drives revenue?
There are a few key parts to making your sales training effective for the long-term: training content, styles, training in appropriate sizes and skills, and creating reinforcement programming that keeps the trained skills fresh and developing over time.
Selecting and Sizing Your Skills Training
Selecting a skill to train on seems like a no-brainer to some – train all the skills over time, and you’ll hit on something for everyone. That’s an effective strategy some of the time. And most of your sales managers are likely up to the challenge of reinforcing basic skills in one to one coaching. But what if you have a strategic need right now? Selling against a new competitor, creating sales that last over the long haul, or creating more effective discovery scripts to land more demos and proposals might be necessary with some immediacy. And your sales managers will need as much help and support as your AEs and SDRs.
When you have a strategic need, the key training need is to transfer the knowledge into actions on the job. It’s harder to “right size” your strategic training than when you’re training on a continuum of skills. Why? Because it’s hard to know how many reps have a gap in pre-requisite knowledge. How basic a level to you start from, and how deeply into the weeds do you go?
Know Your Pre-Requisites
To optimize retention, create a pre-requisite list of what your reps need to know to excel in your new skill, and check with managers to make sure everyone is coming in to class at an effective knowledge level. Then, if there are skills gaps identified in the pre-req stage, begin your training with those skills as a “review.” After that move to your key content. Importantly, all your reps are now starting from a level of understanding.
When you’re designing your curriculum, start with how this specific learning will positively affect the team. If the reps don’t know the reason for the training, their interest will be low. How will it make their work faster, easier, or more profitable? Will it be more enjoyable? Will it make them more employable or more likely to be promoted?
After that, share the expected sales learning outcomes. What, specifically, will they know how to do? When will they be asked to do it? How often? With what resources and oversight? Will there be job aides and coaching support? What will “done right” look like? How will it feel?
Size of Training
Next, manage your new content for number of key concepts, types of engagement with the training, and duration of training. If the load is big, break into multiple sessions. Your learners will have much stronger outcomes.
The number of key concepts in any single session should not exceed three. There is only so much new information a person can integrate into a process at once while still executing the rest of the process well. It’s called cognitive load. (Learn more here.) Three key concepts can easily be remembered and processed by most adults while performing a task or process. Those concepts can have small sub-headings, but resist the urge to pack it all into one session if you have more than three main topics.
The types of engagement your learners will have with your training should be varied. People learn and retain information in multiple ways. Subsequently, they will use it in multiple ways, too. Presenting in a mix of verbal, visual, and role playing ways aids in retention, and stronger sales learning outcomes. Gamification, worksheets, skits, slide decks, humor, and more can effectively be incorporated into the learning to keep learners engaged.
Any training on a single subject that exceeds two hours is very challenging for a rep to digest. Reps can only make sales when they’re with clients, and quota waits for no one. As class stretches on, anxiety builds, which is distracting. While there is no ideal class length, many studies show adults excel in shorter classes. Classes as short as 4 minutes (micro learning) to up to 45 minutes seem to be the sweet spot. Keep your direct education time to 90 minutes or less, and leave plenty of scheduled time for activities and questions. Remember, you’ll always be forgiven for a class that runs a little short, but you will rarely be forgiven for running over time.
Throughout your training, and especially at the end of the session, have participants demonstrate that they have absorbed the new information. Oral and written quizzes (make them fun!), worksheets, and games help learners gain confidence in their understanding. Not everyone with a question will ask it, so it’s important to perform knowledge checks as you go along. These will provide you the opportunity to review information that wasn’t well absorbed before moving on.
Additionally, learners have higher confidence in learning that was self-discovered. In other words, lead your learners to water, and let them figure it out themselves. More activities and conversations where your learners can participate allows for more of the moments where they draw the correct conclusion. This will allow them to retain the information longer, and make them more likely to apply the learning to their work.
Throw a Good After Party
Once your training is over, the learning has only just begun. If the work isn’t reinforced, tested, applied, and practiced, it’s unlikely to move the needle in a positive direction. We can’t apply what we don’t remember, and sales reps are bombarded with vital client information every day. Your training becomes a passing thought. How do you put the right reinforcement structures in place?
According to Aberdeen, fewer than half (44%) of companies formally follow-up initial sales training with reinforcement. Meanwhile, the companies that do reinforce training see 20% more sellers achieve sales quotas.
With a single training class, after a short-term improvement, sellers forget new skills, and revert to old habits.
According to the Forgetting Curve, up to 77% of learning is forgotten within 6 days. Those are very poor sales learning outcomes! Reinforcement can reset the forgetting curve. When a participant is exposed to an idea one time, there’s less than 10% retention by day 7. However, learners exposed to an idea 4 or more times with short intervals in between often can achieve greater than 90% retention.
Putting Skills to Use in The Workplace
You can achieve the results you need by keeping skills fresh through several options. Combine several of these activities for maximum retention.
- Morning sales huddles provide a great opportunity to recap key skills. Offer an interactive experience that allow sellers to ask questions during huddles. It will allow them to receive guidance on real-life situations, reinforce key concepts, and learn from the stories and questions of team members.
- Micro videos and lessons can be made available on-the-job. When the team needs to reinforce key topics and support complementary learning, they can access it themselves. Create libraries of tools that can be accessed from desktops and phones.
- Role playing activities allow sellers to dig deep into specific markets or processes. If a new skill only occurs in specific circumstances, you can repeat those circumstances as needed to work the skill. They can practice real situations, and keep previous training top-of-mind.
- Job aids and tools , such as checklists, notecards, playbooks, and talking points will help sellers develop a habit of using new information before it is fully memorized.
- SPIFs and bonuses can be won as rewards for utilizing new skills effectively on calls, or for completing a quiz successfully. Make it fun and rewarding to learn and put new skills to the test.
- One to one sales coaching is a key to effective reinforcement. Consequently, when coaches make it a normal part of their sessions to review new skills and seek feedback on how implementation is working, reps find greater success. Sellers need the opportunity to share real-world experience to fine tune their usage of the desired skills.
To sum up, you may wish for immediate change and improvement, but it’s unrealistic to expect your whole organization to learn and implement change at the same rate. Most behaviors at work become habit, and habits take time to change and evolve. (More on how to change a habit here.)
Don’t let your team get discouraged if success isn’t immediate. Contrary to popular belief, it takes far longer than the fabled 21 days to change a habit, or for a new habit to become automatic. According to researchers from University College London examined the new habits of 96 people over the space of 12 weeks, the average is actually 66 days. Sometimes it takes far longer! Plan your training carefully. Keep presenting the reinforcement, and you’ll find your success rates improve, and changes are maintained. Those are some great sales learning outcomes. And isn’t that why we train skills in the first place?