Companies face huge challenges when it comes to sales training. Employees aren’t engaged, don’t retain what they learn, and just plain don’t like attending trainings.
It’s no wonder sales training has such a bad reputation.
But these problems can be overcome. And overcoming them can give your company a huge sales boost: effective, continuous training can boost sales per employee by up to 50%. Your company can achieve these numbers. You just need to make a few changes to your sales training.
Read on to find out how you can address the most common challenges faced by sales trainers and overcome them to reach new heights in your sales.
Challenge #1: Engagement
Sales trainers consistently list low engagement as one of their biggest challenges.
ATD found that salespeople know that “their main job is to sell, [so] they feel justified in answering customer calls and messages” during training. The content itself is often to blame, as well. In 2014, half of surveyed sales training professionals thought their content wasn’t engaging enough.
No wonder trainees don’t pay attention.
If you’re going to run a successful sales training, engagement needs to be your first priority. Everyone in the training needs to be motivated to pay attention. That’s the responsibility of the trainer and the organization.
But how do you get your sales trainees engaged?
First and foremost, your training needs to be highly relevant. Just over a third of sales leaders know which improvements they’re looking to get out of a training. You need to know exactly what you’re looking for and how the training will help your sales team get there.
Generalized sales training programs that don’t have anything to do with your company aren’t going to grab salespeople’s attention, because they’ve heard it all before. They need something new, and they need to see immediately that it’s going to help them in their jobs.
Second, sales trainings need to be highly actionable. Jeff Winters of Sapper Consulting improved his company’s sales training by making it more challenging—and increased new sales by 70%.
Instead of feeding sales reps answers when they get stuck in a role-playing call, trainers wait out the difficulty and force trainees to get themselves out of it. Reps practice the entire sales cycle, and each step is made more difficult than it will likely be in real life.
You can bet those trainees are engaged. If they’re not, they’re going to be in a very uncomfortable situation.
Third, employees need to understand the importance of training. This is related to company culture, but there are things you can do to show that you place a high value on engaged training.
Winters, for example, joins his employees in the trainings and takes part in the activities. When employees see a CEO in a sales training, they know that management places a high value on that training.
Finally use new delivery methods to increase engagement. Learning management systems let you share videos, text, slideshows, and other sales training materials however your company finds it convenient.
And you can follow those materials up with quizzes or other assessment measures to make sure that people are learning. The interactive and constant availability of these platforms makes for a more engaging learning experience. (They also promote continuous learning, another challenge that we’ll come to.)
All of these methods have one thing in common: clear communication. You need to communicate to your trainees what they’re going to learn, why it’s useful to them, and how you’re going to assess their learning at the end of the training. When that level of communication with effective delivery techniques, you have a winning sales training.
Challenge #2: Scheduling
You could have the most effective training in the world. But if you can’t get people to attend the training, it’s not going to do you any good.
One of the most common problems faced by sales trainers is coordinating schedules for in-person training. That immediately begs the question—do you even need in-person training?
Of course, the answer is yes. At least partially.
But learning platforms are making online sales training not only easier to coordinate and run, but more effective as well. Offering on-demand training online lets salespeople continue their learning at any time that’s convenient (we’ll talk about continuous learning and how to foster the right mindset in a moment).
Consider using a mobile learning platform that lets sales reps learn about company messaging and products on the go. And it will help those reps develop the knowledge they need to sell effectively—as well as the confidence to use it.
You’ll still need at least occasional in-person trainings. But when you have fewer of them, they should be easier to coordinate. And even with those fewer trainings, your sales force can be better trained and more effective.
Challenge #3: Retention
Up to 87% of new skills after lost within a month of training. If they’re not used almost immediately after the training, they could be gone within a week.
You can run trainings all day, but if no one is retaining the information, it won’t do you any good.
Effective sales training techniques require trainees to put their new skills into action. And while they could do that on their own, they’re more likely to retain and use information when the training itself is geared toward retention.
Sales Benchmark Index shared their results with new skill adoption after training:
- 11% with training
- 27% with training and demonstrations
- 63% with training, demonstrations, and practice
- 87% with training, demonstrations, practice, and coaching
Retention starts with engaging, relevant content that trainees can immediately apply to their jobs. Engaged learners are more likely to internalize the content of the training and put it into action. Clear objectives and links from the training to practical objectives will help, too
Using multiple training exercises (demonstrations and practice) helps, too. Adding visual and interactive elements to your training is a great way to increase both engagement and retention. Just adding visuals to your training content can boost retention by 700%.
And, of course, coaching makes a big difference. There might be no better way to boost retention and improve the sales performance of your team than with coaching. Not every sales team has the staff and resources to engage in a full-scale coaching program, but even peer coaching can be a big help.
All of this follow-up means that sales training has to be a continuous process. And that boosts retention too. The more often a person recalls the information they learned—and the more often they put it into practice—the better they’ll remember it.
Challenge #4: Continuous Training
We’ve just seen that continuous and follow-up trainings are important for retention. But a continual training progression is also important for proper differentiated instruction as well. Beginner salespeople don’t need the same kinds of training as experienced veterans. And throwing them all together in the same training isn’t the best way to teach them.
That’s why learning tracks are so valuable. You might have an onboarding training that helps new salespeople get up to speed, and follow it up with an industry-specific sales training. After that might come a product-specific training and another course on relationship-building.
Establishing a clear progression of sales training materials helps trainees build on what they’ve learned. This increases engagement, as trainers aren’t talking about unfamiliar things. It increases retention, as earlier ideas are brought up again and reinforced.
It creates real skill growth. Isn’t that what you want out of your trainings?
Continuous training reinforces the most important factors in effective sales training. Add bite-sized learning—high-frequency, short learning sessions—allows for continuous exposure to important ideas without overwhelming sales trainees with hours of training on a daily basis.
Instead of quarterly intensive trainings, or even monthly informal learning sessions, sales reps are able to learn on a schedule that works for them. And with the increasing mobility of learning platforms, they can go through a lesson on their own computer or even their phone whenever they have time.
Of course, just because these facilities are available doesn’t mean that trainees will use them. That’s where measurement comes in.
Challenge #5: Measurement
Do you know that your sales trainings are working? How effective are they? What kind of return on investment are you seeing? Stakeholders and managers expect answers to these questions.
If you’re not monitoring salespeople’s engagement with and retention, you won’t be able to prove the value of training.
That’s where measurement comes into play. Sales training has a reputation for being difficult to effectively measure. There are many factors that play into sales effectiveness, so long-term evaluation of effects is difficult.
Modern learning tools, however, contain tools that help trainers and managers see how well trainees have learned the material.
Analytics show how individual trainees are progressing through the course. Quizzes measure their information retention. And when combined with sales and financial measures, they can show just how effective your trainings are.
Fully evaluating the effectiveness of trainings is difficult, and it takes a great deal of planning. But learning management systems are making it easier to get insights into how sales reps are interacting with and benefitting from trainings.
Challenge #6: Stigma
There’s no way around it: sales training has a bad reputation. It’s known for being boring, wasting valuable time, and costing a lot of money (in 2016, organizations were spending an average of almost $1,500 on training per salesperson).
With that kind of thinking, employees aren’t going to engage or retain information. You can tell your employees that your sales training is different. But there’s no substitute for showing them.
Even if you think your training methodology is okay, people coming into it with a negative mindset aren’t going to learn well. If your sales training program gets a bad rap, it’s time to make some changes.
This is one reason to consider changing to a new format. Instead of seminar-style trainings, make a switch to more interactive ones. Instead of standard trainings of any format, use online microlearning. Institute a coaching program. Change from your previous learning platform to one with features that better match your trainings.
Any of these methods will show to your employees that you’re serious about making a change. Combined with clear communication about the concepts we discussed in Challenge #1, you’ll be able to convince your employees that your trainings are worth attending and paying attention to.
Continue to Adapt Your Sales Training Techniques
Like any other method of training—or any business process at all, really—you’ll need to continually monitor and adapt your sales trainings. Try new techniques. Employ new technologies. Get feedback from participants on how you can improve.
By maximizing engagement and using the right tools to continually provide training opportunities, your salespeople will become more effective. They’ll close more sales. They’ll work faster. They’ll make you more money. And they’ll help make your company a success.
Don’t wait to get started. Take a hard look at your sales training today. Find out what’s working and what’s not. Find a single place to make an improvement—one event or tool that could be upgraded or changed to make your trainings more effective.
Make that change. And keep making changes until your sales trainings are legendary.
(If you’re looking for sales training tips for the retail sector, be sure to check out our definitive guide to retail sales training, too!)