What is sales readiness?
Sales readiness involves providing sales reps with the skills and knowledge needed for sales conversations at every stage of the buyer’s journey and assessing whether reps are able to apply such knowledge and skills effectively. While sales training provides information on topics such as product features, sales strategy, or selling skills and assesses whether sales reps have consumed such information, sales readiness goes a step further by regularly evaluating and fine-tuning how sales reps integrate such information within actual sales conversations. Simply put, sales readiness involves the entire process of making sure that sales reps are ready to go out and start selling.
Sales readiness in the new normal
In 2020, hundreds of sales organizations rapidly and abruptly shifted to virtual sales training methods primarily due to the force of circumstances. In 2021, however, remote work has no longer been an unwelcome interruption to business but now has become the new normal.
According to Gartner, for instance, CSOs expect 58% of the sales force to remain operating virtually as against 24% pre-pandemic. Further, over a third of CSOs are permanently transitioning some or all of field reps to virtual sales, and another third is considering doing so.[i] Unfortunately, Gartner Research also shows that 57% of CSOs feel their sales teams are underprepared or only partially prepared to deliver the same level of value in virtual engagements as against in-person engagements.[ii] This implies that organizations need a major shift in how they structure their sales readiness initiatives in the new normal.
Why sales readiness matters
Sales readiness is a practical methodology that delivers direct benefits to sales performance and revenue. After all, sales readiness is focused on building the most effective processes to ensure productivity growth in the business's primary revenue-generating machinery—its's sales force. Sales readiness initiatives benefit both individual sales reps and the sales leadership.
Sales readiness initiatives help reps to be impactful and engaging in every form of interaction with customers. This not only involves training them on all the different tools, skills, and approaches they should use but also giving them regular opportunities to practice their skills, receive unbiased feedback on factors for improvement, and learn from their peers. When carried out effectively, sales readiness reduces ramp time, improves effectiveness and productivity, increases win rates, improves sales reps’ abilities to upsell and cross-sell, streamlines sales interactions, and improves customer engagement.
Sales readiness also serves as a vital source of data and insights into rep performance and development. With periodic assessments, readiness initiatives provide a wealth of information on skill development in relation to specific roles and responsibilities. This allows sales leadership to quickly and objectively determine which reps are ready to go before customers and which reps need more training, as well as the particular training paths needed to get each rep sales ready. So, whether it be onboarding new recruits or introducing a new product or service to your existing sales team, sales readiness ensures that sales reps have the required know-how needed to consistently engage prospects, communicate value through every sales interaction, and close deals.
Artificial intelligence and smart sales readiness
Research shows that digital transformation in the area of sales has been accelerating rapidly since 2019, with artificial intelligence being the second-most valuable technology following videoconferencing.[iii] As with other sales development methodologies, sales readiness also benefits significantly from AI.
Given that sales readiness needs to go beyond mere course completion and content consumption and create measurable behavioral changes in sales reps, readiness initiatives can't be passive, one-size-fits-all efforts. Instead, they must be optimized and customized to ensure that each sales rep receives their maximum impact. This means that sales readiness must be made smarter with artificial intelligence.
An AI-enabled sales readiness platform can bring together a wide range of structured and unstructured data to provide a comprehensive analysis of rep performance with clear, actionable insights. Moreover, such a platform can carry out such analysis at scale and in real-time in ways that sales leaders cannot. Based on such data, an AI-enabled platform can bring in a high degree of customization, allowing training, practice, and coaching to be tailored to the role requirements, skill gaps, and learning preferences of each rep.
Difference between sales training and sales readiness
Sales training and sales readiness are sometimes used interchangeably. However, this misses a vital difference between the two methodologies. Sales training focuses only on a theoretical grasp of the knowledge and skills involved in sales, thereby providing for passive content consumption. On the other hand, sales readiness focuses not only on whether reps have studied the training material but also on whether they are able to fluently and masterfully integrate skills and knowledge into their sales conversations.
This requires that sales reps have access to frequent and structured opportunities to practice their skills and hone their responses to a variety of sales scenarios. It also implies implementing an effective system of periodic assessment and specific, immediate, and objective feedback that lets reps know where they are succeeding and how they could improve. Such a form of learning that involves learning by doing, also referred to as experiential learning, backed by effective feedback, allows reps to engage with customers agilely across different contexts rather than stick to rote-learned scripts that leave customers dissatisfied.
How to achieve sales readiness
Sales readiness involves providing sales reps with effective sales techniques and strategies and necessary tools and content to engage buyers, along with consistent monitoring, assessment, and feedback. Achieving sales readiness can, therefore, be broken up into a series of components:
Playbooks and metrics based on organizational strategies:
- To build sales readiness, organizations must first define what sales success looks like in relation to their vision and growth plan, customer expectations and pain points, and sales strategies. Such a roadmap of how sales reps must engage with customers, along with the metrics to measure the effectiveness of such engagement, is necessary to identify how reps could be trained and coached to succeed.
Continuous onboarding and training:
- When learning is provided in sporadic and unstructured ways, sales reps tend to forget most of what they’ve learned in a matter of weeks and fail to properly update their selling skills and knowledge.[iv] Effective skill development can only occur when reps are provided with consistent and easily digestible training content that is frequently reinforced for greater retention.
- Gartner's research shows that building customers' confidence in their buying decision increases the likelihood of high-value purchases by 2.6 times.[v] With the rise of digital sales, building such trust and confidence requires high-quality content that can help buyers answer essential questions and objections and arrive at a purchase decision. This requires reps to have access to timely and relevant content appropriate for different buyer segments and buyer personas, and different stages of the buyer journey.
Assessment and analytics:
- Sales readiness initiatives are incomplete without a comprehensive set of assessments and analytics to measure the effectiveness of the initiative and the growth of individual reps. Assessments can take the form of quizzes and reinforcement tests to measure conceptual grasp as well as roleplays, practice pitches, and demos to measure practical skill application. Further, analytics in the form of rep feedback and responses to training, reps’ behavior during sales interactions, and business outcomes from sales conversations should be measured to gain a comprehensive view of the sales readiness program effectiveness.
Regular and structured feedback and coaching:
- Regular, unbiased, and structured feedback is necessary for skill development. Coaching allows for personalized, situation-specific corrections and optimizations to be provided based on direct observations of actual or simulated sales interactions. Thus, a recent study by CSOInsights found that a structured coaching effort dynamically aligned with enablement efforts can result in as much as a 32.1% improvement in win rates over random coaching efforts.[vi]
- Effective sales readiness requires a relevant and customized mix of training content in different media, a range of user insights on key parameters, and several automated processes that are difficult or time-consuming for humans to manually carry out. For these reasons, technology plays a key role in sales readiness. An effective sales readiness platform should offer capabilities for a variety of training modalities, user-friendly simulation, remote coaching, pitch analysis, and data analytics to gain actionable insights into the performance of sales reps.
How sales readiness and sales enablement work together
Just as sales readiness should not be confused with sales training, it should not be confused with sales enablement either. While readiness focuses on the actual execution of the sales process by sales reps, enablement focuses on optimizing all of the conditions necessary for sales reps to go out and sell. Thus, sales enablement focuses on providing sales reps with relevant content as well as flexible methods to present such content, real-time insights into how buyers are being engaged in the sales conversation, and analytics into seller performance in the sales conversation.
While distinct, sales readiness and sales enablement work to reinforce each other and result in successful sales conversations. After all, sellers are most successful when they have access to high-quality content that can convince buyers of their purchase decisions, insights into what buyers most need and how it should be presented, as well as knowledge and skills necessary to build strong conversations with buyers and persuade them of the effectiveness of a product or solution. Thus, sales readiness and sales enablement go together to ensure that sales reps have training, insights, and resources to ensure that buyers have a superlative purchase experience.
5 principles for restructuring your sales readiness program
Here are five principles for restructuring your sales readiness program to ensure that your reps are ready to go out and start selling in this changed environment:
Update strategy and playbooks for omnichannel selling:
As McKinsey's research shows, omnichannel buyer journeys are here to stay, with buyers preferring a combination of in-person, remote, and digital self-serve interactions with sellers in equal measure.[vii] The report notes that omnichannel is not simply a trend, nor a pandemic workaround, but a critically important fixture for B2B sales globally.
Sales organizations cannot respond to this decisive shift by simply implementing existing strategies via digital channels. Instead, companies must fundamentally rethink questions such as how to avoid channel conflict, provide the human touch in remote interactions, and offer customers a tangible product experience in the absence of physical demos and walkthroughs. Only when these new sales playbooks are written can reps be adequately trained and readied to sell in the new normal.
Make learning more contextual:
One of the key advantages of virtual sales training processes is the ability to integrate training with the sales workflow. Such contextual sales guidance ensures that sales reps are motivated to consume sales training content that is highly relevant to the most immediate sales tasks. Information is provided as short, interactive, and easily digestible pieces of content focused on specific learning outcomes that the learner can easily consume. Such a process of microlearning also helps organizations deliver the necessary domain and skills knowledge to sales teams remotely at a time when sales kick-offs and product launches are unavailable as in-person sales training events.
Use gamification and collaboration channels to replace the office environment:
Lacking the immersive office environment, remote sales teams are likely to face challenges with regard to motivation and innovation. Gamifying sales readiness with techniques such as badges, challenges, and leaderboards encourages the innately competitive nature of sales reps and pushes them to engage more enthusiastically with sales training and other activities. At the same time, it's also important to provide forums or virtual channels in which reps can engage actively with other team members. This allows them to learn collaboratively from each other, drawing on the collective experience of the sales team.
Support experiential learning:
Reps can’t learn everything they need simply by reading or watching demo videos. Some of the most crucial skills can only be gathered through experiential learning, which is learning through actual practice. This is because not all forms of learning are equal. For example, research tells us that we retain a bare 5% of the information when we listen to a lecture. Even with audio-visual methods and live demonstrations, retention never rises beyond 30%. However, an impressive 75% of knowledge is retained when we learn by doing.[viii] This vast difference is because active participation increases the learner's level of reflection and cognitive processing.
Use AI and analytics to provide evidence-driven training and coaching:
AI-enabled sales readiness platforms can track sales training progress beyond mere consumption metrics. In particular, such platforms can analyze at scale the quality of practice pitches based on factors such as topic coverage, delivery, mood, and keyword usage, and, thereby, identify which sales reps are ready to pitch to prospects and which reps require more coaching and training. This overcomes the most common factors faced by managers that lead to coaching failures: lack of time, manager bias, and poor identification of areas of improvement. Furthermore, these platforms can be integrated with CRM software to monitor real-world sales performance, identify pipeline leaks, and optimize sales training and coaching processes.
In a digital-first world, sales organizations can’t wait for sporadic in-person sales training events to update reps’ knowledge and optimize sales skills. Sales readiness can’t wait for the next quarter or the following year. It must begin now and become a core capability of every sales organization. For rolling out an effective sales readiness program, organizations need to update their sales playbook for omnichannel selling, customize sales training for different sales personas, make learning more contextual, support experiential learning, and use AI to provide analytics at scale.
How Nytro can help in building effective sales readiness
A modern sales readiness platform like Nytro makes recording and distributing demos and roleplays on video easier than ever. Sales organizations can start by creating short, highly context-specific examples of the crucial skills required in cold calling, elevator pitches, objection-handling, and so on; then, get reps to record and share their own practice pitches to get coaching on how to enhance those skills before speaking to customers. As an AI-enabled platform, Nytro can help analyze practice pitches on various factors and provide immediate and unbiased feedback on skill gaps and areas for improvement that reps can act on immediately. The best pitches can also serve as content assets for training new cohorts of sales reps. Pitch analysis is one of the cornerstones of an effective sales readiness program, and ongoing pitch analyses by managers using the Nytro platform ensure that sales reps are sales-ready at all times in an ever-changing market environment.