It’s no secret that to regularly meet—let alone exceed—forecasted sales goals can be a challenge. Even for the seasoned sales pro, many obstacles can get in the way. And, at any moment, any one of these obstacles can change—for better or worse.
“We live in a very frail ecosystem in sales,” says Jim Dickie, a research fellow at CSO Insights, a Division of MHI Global. In such an ecosystem, “there can be changes in the economic climate, changes in the competitive landscape, changes in our customers’ marketplace, or changes that we inflict,” like the introduction of a new product line, or expansions to existing product lines.
And since sales organizations are constantly plagued with such unpredictability, leaders must ensure they’re constantly training their sales teams to adapt. “Otherwise, they’re going to start to see declining sales performance,” Dickie says.
Early indicators that your organization is heading down this path include longer sales cycles and lower win rates. Organizations that don’t commit to sales training have lower margins because reps fail to build solid business cases and tend to rely instead on discounting tactics.
While sales training is important, putting in place successful sales training initiatives is no small feat. Salespeople, like people in general, often forget the information they learn and, eventually, revert to old practices. “People forget 87 percent of what they learned within 30 days of leaving a classroom,” says Andrea Grodnitzky, chief learning officer at Richardson, a sales training and coaching firm. “That is terrifying for anyone investing in sales training.”
To make things less intimidating, we’ve assembled some tips to keep in mind as you consider your next sales training initiative.
1. ALIGN KPIs WITH INDIVIDUAL GOALS
According to Grodnitzky, companies succeed at training when they’ve worked internally to figure out where they are and where they’d like to be. They’ve determined what key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics they’d like to track and how to tie them to strategic goals. “They’re also pretty clear about the behaviors they want to change,” Grodnitzky says.
If they haven’t already, sales leaders must get very familiar with the changing demands of their industry and company. A firm that is selling complex software to other businesses might have different requirements and expectations from a pharmaceutical company selling to doctors. Likewise, it might have various types of sales teams, all with distinct duties. One group might be dedicated to inside sales, another team to outside sales. A company might have employees that are expected to engage in relationship-building techniques over a long period of time, as well as to go after bigger deals that require different strategies than smaller deals.
“Sales training is not one size fits all,” Dickie notes. “We don’t want the inside sales guy to undergo the same sales training as the global account manager. They have totally different jobs.”
2. CONSIDER A TRAINING SERVICE PROVIDER
An organization may not have to enlist an outside vendor to design a custom sales training program, but Dickie says this is typically the most effective strategy. “About half the companies we survey try to build their own training programs, Dickie says, but “that’s not a good use of time or effort.”
“A lot of training can be done in house,” Nick Toman, global sales practice leader at CEB, and coauthor of The Challenger Customer, says. “And there are advantages to it. You know your team the best, you speak their language.” There is also the element of trust inherent in knowing that the people training the organization are rooting for the initiative to succeed.
But, he notes, “there are trade-offs companies need to think through, and there are hidden costs to DIYing it.” For instance, roll-outs take longer, as companies working internally must train teams that extend across regions and business units, which often prevents them from scaling up within their desired time frame. Developing and leveraging their own learning materials, as well as ongoing support resources, takes time as well.
Furthermore, Toman adds, it’s more difficult for an organization to objectively troubleshoot its particular situation from the inside, without a broader frame of reference. Outside vendors have typically worked with other companies in the industry and can assess the most common challenges.
When researching a training provider, look for one that best aligns with your organization’s goals, Dickie says. “If you’ve got multiple different selling styles within your company, you want to work with a vendor that’s got different types of coursework” to accommodate those styles, he says.
Organizations should typically have three to four specific (realistic and manageable) goals in mind and know what they want to achieve beforehand. This way, Dickie says, “they can sit down with a vendor and say: ‘Here are the three issues I’m trying to address, and don’t tell me about your training, but tell me how it relates to those three issues. Can you help me fix these problems or not?’”
This will also enable companies to establish a baseline that they can refer to later to determine if the training has made a difference.