Thinking of Sales Training? Read This

By Heather Baldwin

When you’re up to your ears in the minutiae of running a sales organization and trying to make sure you hit your near-term numbers it’s easy to put sales training on the back burner, or worse, decide to book a local training organization after their convincing pitch in the hopes they’ll be able to lift your team’s performance. There’s no question the right sales training can do wonders for an organization, but most organizations aren’t getting the right training, aren’t using what they learned once training is over or aren’t measuring the results. If you want your training to pay off in the long term, follow these four sales training best practices from Thomas Morrill, lead principal of the global sales effectiveness practice at Boston-based PRTM, a global management consulting firm (www.prtm.com).

1. Sales training must be selected and delivered based on a specific skill gap in the organization. In other words, don’t buy training just because the training company gave you a good pitch, says Morrill. Once each quarter go out and analyze where the skills gaps are. How? When you ride along on a sales call, take a look at your reps’ basic skills. Can they evaluate a customer’s needs? Give a strong sales presentation? Close a sale? Also look at time and territory management skills. Can your reps manage a pipeline? How well do they manage their time? From this kind of review you’ll start identifying some common skill areas that need attention. Then you can seek out the best training to match those needs.

2. Work with your vendor or internal training group to set performance metrics. If you’re going to spend money on an outside vendor, says Morrill, you should demand metrics that will show you’ve improved as a result of the training provided. If that means the company needs to come in and conduct an internal survey prior to the training so they have a baseline against which to assess improvement, grant the necessary access. Don’t take the company’s word that the target metrics will be achieved. Ask for concrete examples of other organizations like yours with which the trainer has worked and achieved the kind of results being promised. Then call those organizations.

3. Put a mechanism in place to hold people accountable for the training’s execution. Almost everyone in the sales profession has at least one large sales training binder that hasn’t been touched since they attended the program. To ensure that doesn’t happen to you, have a plan in place to use the training beyond the classroom. For example, if you do training on closing skills, you should be rating the effectiveness of your people on negotiating and closing. If you taught a pipeline management course, during pipeline reviews everyone should be talking in the language they learned during the course. And if the trainers offer the option to conduct an audit 90 days after training, take them up on it. The extra cost will be worth it, says Morrill.

4. Assess the ROI based on the metrics you laid out before training. Morrill recommends going back after 90 days to look at the metrics you established before the training and see if they were met. Of course, the product or service you sell will determine what you can evaluate. If you sell cars, says Morrill, you’ll probably know within a day or two if the training worked because your sales numbers should climb immediately. On the other hand, if you sell a product that costs $5 million and takes 12 to 14 months to sell, you’ll need to establish some interim metrics. Keep in mind the metrics aren’t always going to be about sales numbers. If your reps had problems with time management and they now spend 45% of their time selling instead of 30% – and nothing else changed – then the training worked.