Good salespeople are made, not born, but it can be difficult to come across sales training ideas that actually drive results.
The Association for Talent Development’s 2021 State of Sales Training whitepaper noted that a majority of organizations use multiple approaches for sales training, such as a combination of classroom training, virtual instructor-led training, self-paced e-learning, and on-the-job learning experiences.
With many options to choose from, designing the right program for a particular salesforce must take into account audience profile, departmental objectives, and the organization’s core values.
10 sales training ideas
The 2021 ATD survey revealed that the average organization invested $2,020 per salesperson for sales training during the last 12 months. And 70% of those organizations intend to maintain or increase their spending on sales training in the current year.
In order to get the largest return on investment for sales training, it’s important to be well versed in the wide range of solutions that have proven successful for a variety of organizations. The collection of sales training ideas in this article includes:
- Popular sales training topics, such as successful negotiation and persuasion
- Low-tech ideas as well as virtual training techniques
- Different modes of instruction and training environments for all types of learners
This list of sales training ideas is not intended to be comprehensive, but rather to serve as a starting point for learning and development professionals to explore.
Form a mentoring program
A mentoring program that pairs junior sales reps with experienced and successful sales leads is an effective way to reinforce learning. Coaching was cited by 84% of respondents to ATD’s State of Sales Training survey as the form of on-the-job learning most commonly used, and much of that coaching occurs within the framework of a mentoring relationship.
But effective mentoring doesn’t simply happen; it happens by design. This means mentorship relationships should not be made arbitrarily. The better the match, the greater the potential for both mentor and mentee to benefit.
Additionally, the following must be defined when planning a mentoring program as part of an organization’s overall sales training effort:
- The duration of the mentoring relationship
- Scheduling guidelines
- Appropriate agenda items
- A strategy for evaluating mentoring outcomes
- An exit strategy
A mentoring relationship typically lasts six to nine months, and mentoring pairs meet on a weekly basis. At the beginning of each session, they agree upon goals and expectations for the interaction. At the end, they check in about what was accomplished, and agree on any steps to be taken prior to the next session. In between, mentoring activities can include skills practice, discussions of sales challenges, Q&A about products/services, giving and receiving feedback, and more.
In some cases, mentoring is designated as a job responsibility of sales team leaders, and their mentoring activities and accomplishments are considered during performance appraisals. When mentoring is done well, the mentee becomes a more knowledgeable and effective member of the sales team, and the mentor develops leadership skills that support career advancement.
Offer objection clinics
One of the most beneficial sales training ideas is to offer objection clinics, which have long been a mainstay in many industries. They can be embedded into courses or stand alone as facilitated sessions dedicated to exploring common objections that can derail the sales process if not managed well. The objections addressed in a particular session can reflect the concerns of sales leadership or be contributed by participants.
A variety of methods can be used to identify effective ways to address specific objections, such as discussion, role-playing, brainstorming, and so on. Objection clinics also provide an opportunity to share best practices and celebrate successes, which can enhance learning, build confidence, and increase engagement.
Include negotiation training
Sales reps often must negotiate their way to a “yes,” and this is where negotiation training can come in handy. Negotiation training can take several different formats, and video lessons are one.
In this clip from a Big Think+ lesson, Chris Voss — former FBI negotiator and author of Never Split the Difference — shares a tactic for saying “no” in a negotiation while allowing the other party to believe they have the upper hand.
Invite external experts
It can be difficult for sales reps to find time to stay abreast of the latest developments in their industry. Consider bringing in external experts to lead special learning events featuring new industry developments that could impact the organization’s sales strategy. Authoritative subject matter experts are often perceived as more credible than internal experts, justifiably or not.
Master classes are one way this can be facilitated. Learning from someone who has “been there and done that” and is perceived as highly successful can be very motivating for a sales department. Perhaps the most significant outcome for learners is the ability to see themselves achieving the same level of success one day.
The expert can lead sessions on specific topics such as pre-call planning, getting past gatekeepers to reach decision-makers, or establishing credibility with buyers. The emphasis is on experts sharing personal best practices and answering learners’ questions. Master classes can be held in person or virtually, but must allow for interaction between learners and experts.
Walk a mile in their shoes
ATD found that nearly 90% of the organizations surveyed use a sales process or sales methodology to support sales training. In most cases, that sales process parallels the “buyer’s journey,” from the recognition of a pain point to the buying decision. Yet, as another study showed, 77% of buyers believe that salespeople don’t understand their challenges.
Of all the sales training ideas one could choose from, it’s highly beneficial to find a solution that encourages learners to walk a mile in the buyer’s shoes, figuratively. The goal is to develop a sensitivity to the buyer’s experience and the ability to discern where the buyer currently is in their journey toward a buying decision. Role plays based on actual sales situations give learners the opportunity to identify buyer-side concerns that could become roadblocks, then propose, implement, and evaluate solutions.
Teach the art of persuasion
The ability to influence and persuade others is essential to sales success. Robert Cialdini, author of Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade, defines pre-suasion as: “the process of arranging for recipients to be receptive to your message before they encounter it.” Cialdini shares six universal principles of influence:
- Reciprocity: We prefer to give back to those who have given to us.
- Liking: We prefer to say “yes” to those we know, like, and share commonalities with.
- Authority: We’re more open to ideas and recommendations that are supported by legitimate experts.
- Social proof: We will do what others around us are doing because it reduces uncertainty.
- Scarcity: We are more likely to want a product that we perceive to be unavailable, or available in limited quantity.
- Commitment and consistency: We are more likely to agree to something that is consistent with something we have already said or done publicly.
Cialdini advises that building a sales message around one or more of these principles increases the likelihood of a sales conversation resulting in a “yes.” Citing research showing that exposure to imagery of a given behavior increases the viewer’s adoption of that behavior, he also suggests that salespeople choose a pre-suasion cue that is motivating and keep it in their field of view.
Take training outside of the sales team
Sales reps aren’t the only ones who need to understand the buyer’s journey and the corresponding stages of the sales process. In one way or another, every member of an organization contributes to the sales process at some point. The better everyone understands the buyer’s journey, the more equipped they are to carry out their own responsibilities in support of it.
Many organizations experience the lack of communication and coordination that is characteristic of functional silos. Even in relatively small organizations, there may be a lack of understanding about how the work done in one functional area impacts another function. Training all employees in the sales process enables everyone to see beyond their particular silo to the bigger picture and the part they play in it.
Understanding the connections and interdependencies among the various parts can lead to efficiency improvements that better support the sales process and ultimately increase sales. It’s typical for organizations that provide sales process training to all employees to do so in heterogeneous groups that commingle sales reps with individuals in non-sales roles such as marketing and customer service.
Establish a peer coaching program
Peer coaching is one of the most commonly suggested sales training ideas. Similar to mentoring, peer coaching is a way for learning and development to occur outside of a traditional training environment. A peer coaching relationship consists of colleagues on the same level in terms of experience and position who are committed to helping each other by sharing insights, feedback, and best practices.
According to ATD, 91% of sales reps believe learning from their peers will help them succeed. The benefits that individuals and organizations are experiencing as a result of peer coaching would seem to validate that opinion.
For instance, participants in peer coaching gain an outside perspective of their own performance and receive accountability, better equipping them to succeed as individuals. They’re also able to access a support network to help them solve problems and achieve goals.
Take advantage of microlearning
Microlearning occurs through short pieces of content that can be accessed easily, often on mobile devices, which makes it ideal for on-the-job learning. ATD surveyed talent development professionals and found that 40% of respondents worked for organizations currently using microlearning techniques. The researchers concluded that the most effective length for microlearning segments is two to five minutes.
Short videos or podcasts on a narrow topic are common vehicles for microlearning. Although it may be tempting to repurpose existing content into small chunks, microlearning content should be designed specifically for that purpose, with each piece tightly constructed and focused only on “need to know” information.
For example, Big Think+ offers a library of sales microlessons led by experts such as Barbara Corcoran of ABC’s Shark Tank and Liv Boeree, international poker champion, on topics like recruiting and maintaining top sales talent, and how to read body language.
Consider diverse learning styles
Differentiated learning is an instructional approach based on the inherent differences in the way people learn. Some learn best in classroom situations, typically those who are visual and auditory learners. Then there are textual, nonverbal, tactile, and kinesthetic learners who absorb information best through other channels.
Suppose that an organization selling a physical product wants to accommodate the preferences of sales reps who learn in different ways. Tactile and kinesthetic learners will need to touch the product and see for themselves how it works. Textual learners would benefit the most from reading a user’s manual. Visual learners might learn best by watching video-based sales training courses online.
While it isn’t feasible to conduct every learning event in every possible modality, it is possible to offer options of different media and learning activities, mixing things up enough to accommodate at least the most common learning styles: visual, auditory, and tactile.
The obvious benefit for organizations that take advantage of the sales training ideas above is the increased revenue generated by knowledgeable, effective salespeople. The less obvious, but substantial, benefits include the ability to retain top talent in a competitive job market. Salespeople who take advantage of all the training opportunities available to them typically earn more and advance higher within their organizations.
Today’s job seekers are looking for growth opportunities, and a robust sales training program that incorporates continuous learning can make an organization an employer of choice.