Does Experience Trump the Need for Sales Training?

When the notion of sales training comes up, the mental picture that springs to mind for many of us is a corporate “classroom” filled with wide-eyed newbies sponging up all the knowledge they can get. The presumption is that the old pros of the company have industry smarts that place them above further training, so why waste budget dollars on them?

Before the bottom line gets the better of you and your train of thought leaves the station, pull the emergency cord. Over the past decade or so the rules of the sales game have changed dramatically. We’re in the age of social selling, CRMs, smart phones, and—most importantly—customers who’ve likely used the internet to research what they want before you get into a room with them and (oops!) tell them what they already know. You’ve got savvy customers now. All reps, regardless of seniority, need to get up to speed on how to sell to them, or we’ll be standing at the depot covered in the swirling track dust of a runaway train.

Keeping Mindset in Mind
Say leadership is onboard with the idea that training is good for all. They’ve still got another obstacle to face down: The veteran sales rep’s knee-jerk to professional development; to them, training might seem like a major waste of time. If they’ve been in this biz for a while, they’ve sat there with a legal pad and a free pastry before, trying not to yawn from boredom. The old-school training might really have been boring, redundant, and with little practical application. Perhaps it failed to engage and inspire. Dry as dust training sessions have jaded the vets, who lump all future training into the category of “I’m too old for this sugared donut.”

What’s worse, they have become comfortable with the way they conduct business and don’t see any reason to gum up the works with new sales “behavior” that might boot them out of their comfort zone.

During the sales training consultation phase, before any training benchmarks have been established, address these types of concerns—it’s analogous to knowing how to counter customer objections before they come up.

Everyone Needs to Get Onboard
Prior to the locomotive of your sales training campaign chugging along the tracks, make sure everyone made it to onto the train. Get buy-in from all the folks in your organization, like participants, sales managers, directors … on up to the leadership level. The C-Suite especially needs to be creating buzz and excitement, framing the training as an investment in the salesforce, not as “We know you hate this, but … eat your peas!” Ultimately, good training not only benefits the salesforce, it’s healthy for the entire company—for streamlining processes, for morale, for the bottom line.

Don’t Level the Playing Field
You may notice the old guard of the salesforce stowing emotional baggage above their train seats. Newbies have nowhere to go but up, but the veteran sales reps might be worrying about their reputations, especially when it comes to roleplaying in front of everyone. With all those work years behind them, they don’t want to be seen as weak, or like they’re back in professional kindergarten with a Star Wars thermos.

It’s essential to create a training environment where everyone feels safe—challenged, but safe. Cultivate an atmosphere that empowers and encourages your vets to practice alone, or with their peers. When it comes to the senior members of the team, a welcoming, thoughtful approach to who they are will help you inspire them to want to do the training and to see it as time well spent.

Take it a step further and loop in your seasoned sales reps prior to launching the training initiative. Use their knowledge and experience base to your advantage in both the planning and execution of the training.

Bookend Your Training
Good solid sales training doesn’t begin or end in the classroom. Well before you put together the PowerPoint presentation and order the power bars, work out your goals and success metrics, along with clear targets for what you want your reps to get out of the training. What will be the major takeaways? When it’s all over, by what means will you measure the success of your sessions?

The takeaway we hope you’ll get from this blog post is that, due to major changes in market conditions and today’s well-informed customers, all the members of your sales team need to be “on the same team.” In other words, strive for consistency across the entire salesforce when it comes to customer interactions, driving process, and conducting business. Establishing clear messaging and protocol will have the added benefit of giving sales managers a baseline to work from when it comes to coaching. Putting into practical use the increased skills and knowledge that came out of the sales training will further drive the organization down the right track. Think of training as one part of the whole of what you do. And think of your sales reps as your brand ambassadors; fresh out of school or seasoned, they are all the face of the company.