What is Sales Training?
Sales training is the process of enabling sales reps with the skills and techniques required to identify sales opportunities, pitch effectively to prospects, and close a sale. In other words, it teaches reps how to use sales tools, follow structured sales processes, and interact more effectively with customers to better perform their role and correct any deficiencies in sales performance. Sales training helps reps grow their skillsets and technical competencies to perform their tasks proficiently. However, while building key skills and capabilities is an essential factor in improving sales teams' performance, increasing reps' motivation levels and holding on to strong performers is vital to ensuring that such gains are sustained over time. Sales training plays an important role here, too, as empowered sales reps feel more confident and capable in their jobs and are more likely to experience greater job satisfaction, thereby exhibiting higher levels of motivation and retention.
Sales training’s impact on organizations
There’s no question that sales training makes sales teams better at selling. After all, studies show that buyers have a strong preference for sellers who demonstrate a sound knowledge of the product and business landscape, as well as the buyer’s specific needs.[i] Building such knowledge requires effective training. However, research shows that the benefits extend much further. According to one comparison of high-growth and negative-growth companies, training is also a key differentiator for employee satisfaction, motivation, and retention, as well as enterprise agility and company culture.[ii] When sales reps gain greater knowledge and fluency of sales processes, skills, and strategies, and experience more success at their jobs, they become more motivated, satisfied, adaptive, and committed to the company’s goals alongside their own.
Why sales training is important
In recent years, the world of sales has changed dramatically due to rising customer expectations and the emergence of new technologies and modes of sales interactions. According to Salesforce research, 85% of business buyers say that the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services. Further, 54% of customers expect companies to expand customer engagement methods, offering diverse methods of digital interactions, such as social media, mobile chat, and so on.[iii] However, research also shows that sales reps are slow to catch up with such shifts, with 59% of salespeople unlikely to change their process once they figure out what works for them.[iv]
Hence, sales training is vital to ensure that sales reps keep current with the latest methods, strategies, and technologies. Some of the key benefits provided by sales training include:
- Improving sales performance by enabling reps to close sales on a more consistent basis. Research by the RAIN Group, for instance, found that organizations with the best sales training ratings reported an average win rate of 58%, as against an average of 47% for the others.[v]
- Ensuring better alignment with organizational goals by building consistent processes and strategies for all members of sales teams to follow.
- Improving efficiency and reducing costs by equipping reps with the knowledge to use automation and enablement technologies.
- Promoting motivation, job satisfaction, and retention by creating opportunities for growth for sales reps.
Types of sales training programs
Gaining the full benefits of sales training programs requires choosing the type of training most suited to an organization’s needs. Sales training programs can usually be grouped according to the types of sales professionals they are intended to serve. In such a classification, there are four common types of training programs:
- Inside sales training, which provides training on how to prospect, engage customers, demonstrate products, and close sales via remote channels, such as phone, email, or online.
- Field sales training, which focuses on discovering and gaining access to key customer decision-makers for in-person meetings, skills for conducting face-to-face negotiations, and territory management to improve productivity, among other skills.
- Service sales training, which focuses on customer service and building customer loyalty. Such training helps reps to build stronger and more valuable relationships with customers through enhanced service interactions.
- Sales management training, which helps sales managers become more effective leaders by building their abilities to coach sales reps and undertake associated oversight activities such as pipeline management.
Sales training programs can also be distinguished based on the kind of training content they provide. Some key content types include:
- Basic sales skills such as cold calling, email outreach, active listening, asking qualifying questions, objection handling, presentation skills, negotiating skills, product demonstrations and walkthroughs, and using CRM and other sales software.
- Vendor differentiation tactics and techniques to position a company or product as the best option in the market relative to competing offerings.
- Demand creation skills to influence buyer perceptions of their pain points, the costs of continuing with the status quo, and the advantages of resolving those pain points by using a company’s product or solution.
- Personal motivation training to help sales reps develop the personal qualities and strengths that allow them to go out and perform their best regularly and consistently, including developing a growth mindset, problem-solving, empathy, and building resilience to failure.
Sales training ideas
Beyond broadly choosing appropriate types of training, sales leadership must also focus attention on the specific methodology, including the types of training ideas or exercises incorporated. Clarity on the ideas to be included helps align a training program with the goals to be achieved. Some best sales training ideas include:
Elevator pitch training
- Getting a foot in the door with only a few minutes to excite customers’ interests is a fundamental sales skill. This requires reps to be able to deliver a concise, simple, and powerful elevator pitch that encourages customers to seek follow-up consultations. Sales training programs should help sales teams develop a consistent core pitch, as well as train individual reps on how to customize the core pitch to their own personal abilities and different customers’ unique needs and motivations.
- With sales interaction shifting to more consultative, value-building directions, selling through curiosity is a highly popular sales methodology. Curiosity selling involves creating a dialogue with clients by asking creative questions designed to elicit customers’ unique perspectives on their business problems, elicit ideas, and encourage critical thinking on such problems. Such a dialogue helps discover exactly how a product or solution should be positioned in order to deliver maximum value to the customer. To instill this method in sales reps, training must include components on how to develop and ask questions that lead customers in the right direction while also conveying genuine interest in solving their problems.
Objection handling and rejection scenario training
- No matter how persuasive a sales rep is, many customers will inevitably find objections or reasons to reject purchasing a product. While some of these objections may be unique to a company, many often follow regular patterns. Hence, training programs should provide an understanding of common and not-so-common objections, conduct workshops of possible responses or solutions, and include roleplays to practice fluency in handling them.
Roleplays, product demonstrations, and walkthroughs
- Sales is a highly practical pursuit. Training programs cannot, therefore, stop at merely imparting theoretical knowledge of how the sales conversation should be conducted. Instead, training programs should incorporate a high number of practical exercises, including roleplays of different scenarios and the most effective ways to demonstrate a product.
Industry trends training
- Training programs that only focus on a company's own products and sales processes often end up being ineffective. In a world full of burgeoning options in most product and solution categories, it is important for sales reps to have a clear understanding of how to set apart a product from competing offerings. Hence, it is important to periodically train reps in the latest industry developments and shifts in the market landscape.
Deep dives into buyer journeys:
- B2B buyer journeys are long, complex, and non-linear. If sales reps do not have a clear understanding of where customers are and what they need at each stage of the journey, they are likely to lose customers along the way. Hence, training programs should incorporate an understanding of different types of buyers and how they go about arriving at purchase decisions.
Peer learning and mentorship
- Not all learning needs to be provided as formal instruction. Sales reps also stand to gain by getting access to the tribal knowledge developed by peers and veteran sales reps. Two simple ways to do so are to curate and share best practice pitches and demos and have new recruits listen in on calls and meetings by veteran reps.
The rise in virtual sales
As organizations rebound from a year of massive and unexpected flux, it is becoming clear that the world of sales has changed irrevocably and, arguably, grown tougher. Even as surveys report a significant increase in the proportion of remote or digital sales activities, more than 4 in 10 sales reps find selling virtually much harder than traditional sales processes.[vi] A major cause for this shortfall, the survey points out, is a lack of training on virtual sales, with a significant 62% not receiving training in remote selling.[vii] It’s not just training content that needs updating in the new normal but also training processes and technologies.
The importance of virtual sales training
The sudden and rapid rise in remote work in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has clearly emphasized the need for organizations to be able to provide training in a virtual and distributed manner. After all, gathering reps into classrooms or boot-camp-style in-person training exercises has been highly difficult since early in 2020. However, virtual training methods have been gaining ground even before the pandemic. A 2019 study by CSO Insights found that the percentage of respondents who planned to invest more in e-learning (59.8%), online simulations (51.3%), and online instructor-led sales training (45.8%) far outnumbered the percentage of respondents who planned to invest more in onsite classroom-based or instructor-led sales training (39.8%).[viii] This growth in popularity of virtual training has come about not only because of necessity but also because virtual training offers several advantages over traditional classroom training, allowing for more modular learning suited for better retention, more engaging content formats, more personalized learning paths, and more cost-effective implementation and scalable training methods.
What effective sales training looks like in 2022
The new normal represents both a crisis and an opportunity for organizations to update their sales training strategies. After all, with the growth of remote work, the opportunities for classroom-based sales training are in decline. However, organizations cannot respond to this shift by simply digitizing traditional sales training programs. Even before the pandemic, traditional sales training methods were recognized as sub-optimal, with less than half of sales reps rating the training they received as always or mostly effective.[ix]
Here are four shifts companies must make to ensure sales training is effective in 2022 and beyond:
From classroom to self-paced learning:
Traditional programs need to assemble together groups of sales reps in order to provide sales training at scale. Digital training content, however, can be delivered asynchronously according to the convenience of each rep. While there remains a place for instructor-led synchronous sales training for complex topics that require immediate feedback for learning to progress or where watching peers in action can contribute to improved learning, in most cases, it is more convenient and effective to help reps learn on their own schedules.
From sporadic to continuous training:
In-person training pulls reps away from their daily sales activities and requires significant planning and investment to pull off. Not surprisingly, studies have found that most organizations only provide sales training annually or quarterly.[x] Such sporadic sales training is ineffective because reps forget most of the content within a few weeks or months.[xi] Instead, reps need sales training that is continuous and frequently reinforced so that the knowledge and skills are at their fingertips. So, while macrolearning does have its place in providing foundational introductions to new domains of knowledge and skill, the process of continuous learning and reinforcement requires microlearning, which is structured to deliver bite-sized, modular pieces of content that the learner can easily consume. While the cadence of such continuous training varies according to topic complexity and sales reps’ capabilities, as a broad guidance, cognitive psychology researchers recommend that you review at least four or five times what you have first learned: right after the lesson, in the evening, one week later, and one month later. These repeated reviews help learners achieve a higher rate of retention.[xii]
From one-size-fits-all to personalized training: From passive to experiential learning:
Research shows that experiential learning or learning by doing vastly outstrips passive learning methods, such as reading, audio-visual presentations, and demonstrations, in terms of aiding knowledge retention.[xiv] To make training impactful, sales organizations should focus on cutting down on passive teaching methods and increasing the experiential portion. Research shows that this is a significant differentiator between leaders and laggard organizations. High-performing firms are three times more likely to use experiential learning for both frontline and executive-level employees than low-performing organizations.[xv] The ability for customer-facing reps to put into practice and perfect what they have learned before speaking to prospects is a critical component and a cornerstone of an effective sales training program.
The future of sales training is now
To achieve higher sales effectiveness in the current environment, organizations need to provide sales training that is personalized, self-paced, continuous, and experiential. The shift to modern, AI-enabled virtual sales training has rapidly accelerated as a response to the pandemic. With the right framework and technologies, organizations can empower their sales reps for the brave new world of digital and remote sales.
How Nytro can help in achieving higher sales training effectiveness
Sales training is not beneficial unless sales reps are able to go beyond theoretical knowledge of new approaches, strategies, and techniques to actually integrate it into their sales conversations with fluency and mastery. Such integration requires that sales reps develop practical and hands-on knowledge of the content and practices being imparted in sales training.
Nytro is a pitch intelligence platform that supports and enables experiential learning. It allows sales reps to practice and record their sales pitches for a variety of real-world sales scenarios, have their pitches analyzed at a granular level to discover what went right or wrong, and receive personalized feedback on which specific skills to improve and how. Such roleplays and practice pitches can be focused on specific pitching skills such as introduction, objection handling, call to action, and so on. Using AI and machine learning techniques, Nytro can analyze at scale the quality of practice pitches on a range of key factors, such as tone, topic coverage, keyword usage, clarity of speech, and speed of delivery, and, thereby, identify which sales reps are ready to pitch to prospects and which reps need more training. The AI-based algorithms that drive the platform ensure that the feedback provided is both immediate and unbiased. Nytro can be readily integrated into an organization’s existing LMS to quickly bring in the benefits of experiential learning into the sales training process.