3 Steps to Maximize Your Sales Training Investment
The secret to maximizing sales training is simple. Plan strategically, reinforce consistently, ensure buy-in. Simple, but not easy. In this article, we will outline how organizations can maximize their sales training to increase performance, prevent failure, and maximize their sales training investment.
Plan Sales Training Strategically
Strategic is one of those business buzzwords like synergy, disruptive, and transformative. It sounds great in the conference room, but it’s difficult to execute in the real-world. The definition of strategic is relating to the identification of long-term or overall aims and interests and the means of achieving them. Planning strategically for sales training means figuring out the long-term sales goals and planning how to achieve them.
If you ask a sales leader what their long-term goal of sales training is, the answer might be to increase sales. However, there are a variety of ways a business can increase sales, and each method requires a different skill set. For example, is the plan to increase sales by gaining new market share and increasing the number of accounts, or are we going to focus on increasing profit margins and selling more to our current clients? To maximize your sales training investment, it requires upfront planning. Executing sales training strategically means you first need to identify your sales objectives and then determine what new skills are needed to deliver the desired results.
According to Harvard Business School, one of the easiest ways to improve your strategic thinking skills is to ask tough questions. These questions could be asked about current sales challenges that you want to solve, like how to onboard new sales reps faster. Additionally, they can include sales opportunities you want to exploit, like increasing the market share of a new product. Creating a list of all possible sales initiatives and then prioritizing the list will help you identify the critical projects for your sales training. With the critical projects selected, you can identify the sales skills needed to accomplish each initiative. Other questions that can be asked while in the planning stage include:
- What initiatives are most critical?
- Who should be trained?
- What skills are critical?
- Will our team need new skills or enhanced skills?
By prioritizing possible sales training initiatives and breaking down the skills needed for each objective, sales leaders can clarify the vision for the sales training. With a clear vision, a sales training plan can be developed to help you build toward your main goal. With the strategic plan in place, you will have highly actionable sales objectives instead of vague and ambiguous sales targets like increased sales.
There is a widespread statistic that estimates 87% of new learning is forgotten within 90 days. The term used is the “forgetting curve,” which outlines the decline of memory retention over time. If you are a sales leader tasked with maximizing your sales training investment, having a proven way to circumvent the forgetting curve is essential.
The biggest contributor to the forgetting curve is the belief that a miracle will transpire in the classroom. The assumption is that somehow, in one session, we can train all participants once and profits will increase quarter after quarter afterwards. Unfortunately, for most of us, the brain does not work that way. It only stores the most critical information in short-term memory and actively forgets the rest. Until the information is stored in long-term memory, new learning is quickly forgotten.
The science behind this is based on research by John Sweller, who developed the Cognitive Load Theory. In essence, it states that new information can be presented in a manner that encourages learner activities that optimize intellectual performance. Once the brain has processed the new information sufficiently, it is passed into long-term memory.
In practical terms, the goal of sales training is to turn new skills into lasting behaviors. The best way to accomplish this is with a proven interval reinforcement methodology. Micro-learning spaced over time is an effective way to move new information into long-term memory. This may seem like a common-sense approach, but too often, sales training consists of a large data dump on the participants which results in the new information being quickly forgotten. Consistent repetition matters when a sales rep is trying to learn a new skill. Yet, for sales managers who lack training in adult learning, it can feel as if time is being wasted on topics previously covered.
At Janek, we understand how critical it is to turn new skills into long-lasting behaviors. To really make sales training stick, you’ll need to implement an effective sales training reinforcement strategy with practical tools all sellers will use. We offer a program called Xpert, designed to engage participants in fun, scenario-based sales challenges to improve selling skills, reinforce product knowledge, and sharpen your competitive edge.
Top Down Buy-In
To make sales training successful and maximize the return on your training investment, CEOs and company leaders must support it. An organization is a reflection of its leadership, and if leaders are only giving lip service to sales training, a negative trickle-down can affect the sales force. How a sales team views executive leadership’s commitment to their success impacts every area of the sales organization.
Culture flows from the top down, and if leadership is not behind the sales training initiative 100%, chances for improved performance are less than optimal. Just like repetition is the key to learning a new skill, repetition is the key to creating a culture of sales improvement. When leadership shows up to a sales training session and talks to the team personally, it’ll demonstrate that their actions are in alignment with the organization’s vision. In other words, if the company decides to make sales training a priority, leadership must lead by example. When leadership supports sales training initiatives by asking questions, encouraging participation, and recognizing participants for their effort, they promote a positive sales culture.
CEOs and executive leaders must make tough decisions about where to invest their time to build the company. When they actively promote the value of sales training across the organization, the sales team feels valued and invested in. When they make time for sales training, this creates momentum for the sales reps to remain engaged because they recognize that they have the support and attention from the top down.
The easy thing for executive leaders to do is approve the sales training and show no interest in the process. It only requires one bad leader to negatively impact the sales culture. Corporate barriers that are constructed around sales training include:
- Salespeople are not recognized for their achievements.
- Time constraints and scheduling limits for sales training.
- Inability to tie sales training to sales performance.
When a company takes the time to clarify the vision for sales training, schedule regular reinforcement, and try to gain companywide buy-in for the training initiative, the investment in sales training is maximized. Sales training alone may improve performance slightly, but combined with vision, reinforcement, and buy-in, sales training can improve performance massively. Launching a sales training initiative can feel like a giant task if you have never done it before. But if you follow the guidance above, you can ensure your sales training will have a positive impact on your future operations.
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