How to Make Sales Training Stick (Part I: Before Implementation)

By Dana Ray

This is part I of a two-part article about sales training. Read part II: How to Make Sales Training Stick (Part II: After Implementation).

Many managers find that sales-training programs fail to make a lasting, visible impact on sales figures. Diane Hessan, current president and CEO of Communispace Corporation and former executive vice president of Forum Corporation, one of the country’s leading sales-training companies, offers managers 10 tips on how to enhance and reinforce learned skills before, during, and after training.

1. Assess your salespeople. Try to accommodate every level of experience with a suitable training program. “Very experienced salespeople are beyond preparatory or apprenticeship training and need more mastery types of skills,” says Hessan. “To fill this need, let seasoned professionals teach the less-experienced people. Teaching selling concepts enhances one’s understanding of them, so letting experienced people train others satisfies two training needs at once.” Your salespeople’s contact with the customer should also determine the training you choose. Inside sales reps might have different training needs than field sales reps, for example.

2. Remember your customers and their businesses. Salespeople need to be able to understand the political dynamics of how a decision-making process works. “Many organizations these days are going through a tremendous amount of change, so salespeople must also know how to track and handle those changes by being very financially and business literate,” Hessan says. “In general, using customer expectations to determine training priorities makes a lot of sense.”

3. Define your selling style. Which strategies best sell your product or service? Which techniques do your salespeople perform most effectively? “Think through what your own distinctive way of selling’s going to be,” Hessan advises. “Understand your customers and how they want to be sold and how your organization is going to sell as a result.” Hessan recommends choosing a training program consistent with your organization’s profile and what your customers tell you is important.

4. Customize if possible. Customization is a cost-effective way to help salespeople apply training immediately. Sales training that reflects familiar selling situations encourages salespeople to take the training more seriously. And, Hessan notes, customization doesn’t have to be expensive. “The large proportion of sales-training companies out there have really lowered customization costs, so taking a great off-the-shelf program and customizing it can be of great value to your industry, your customer issues, or other special needs,” she says. A customized training program offers a fast return on your investment by providing personalized solutions that are more easily and quickly applied to a salesperson’s unique problems.

5. Compare different programs. “Have a salesperson you know and trust complete the program and assess its educational potential,” says Hessan. “Pay attention to how the program is sold. I think the best indicator of a good program is to observe how you’re sold, and if the salesperson models the skills that you’d like your salespeople to demonstrate, I’d say go for the program.”

Look for programs with a “powerful philosophical underpinning” that’s consistent with your own and feature a variety of learning mediums. “People learn differently,” she points out. “Some are visually stimulated, others enjoy role plays. A training program should offer lots of different ways for people to learn.”