Can sales training programmes really deliver on business objectives?

Samanatha Caine has sales training advice for  the TJ community.

Business growth strategies often centre around the sales function. The requirement to continually develop that resource is quickly recognised by the majority of businesses, yet so many lack the clarity that will enable them to achieve such a development.

Many organisations will apply a one-size-fits-all solution based on generic content that does not directly address the needs of the individual, the products or services that they sell, or the objectives that they need to achieve. 

Without an approach tailored towards each of those elements, the end result is a programme that delivers on paper but yet fails to address the specific skills gaps of both the individual and the wider organisation.

Truly effective sales trainings programmes must link development activity directly to business and sales objectives and it must be made clear to every member of the training group what the sales function is trying to achieve prior to the training.

While organisations often believe that short term training programmes are more cost effective for their sales function, the reality is that a multi-phase approach with many elements has the biggest impact on sustained behavioural change.

To reinforce this, the following process has been developed to ensure that sales training programmes are aligned to business objectives and will actively contribute to the achievement of the sales strategy.

Step 1: Defining outcomes

Using the business objectives as the driver, it’s essential to establish training objectives that will provide participants with the skills, tools or process development that they need in order to achieve them. Often it’s useful to complete a gap analysis so that organisations are clear where the focus areas need to be. 

At the start of any programme, the trainer should communicate the objectives to the group in order to provide context to their training experience and so that progress against them can be measured both during and after. 

Sales training objectives are likely to cover one or more of the following:

  • Behaviours required – these are the things sales people need to be able to do their job well. Typically in a sales environment, they would be things like, the ability to communicate value to the customer, the ability to negotiate well and protect margin or the ability to increase the scope of a particular sales opportunity. 

It is the role of the training designer to identify which soft skills need to be developed in order to address these areas (questioning skills, negotiation tactics, communication skills etc.)

  • Sales tools required – these are the tools that sales people need to be able to use in order to do their job well and likely include things like the ability to use the in house CRM system, pricing program or sales brochures etc.

It’s often the case, that when trying to address a skills gap, organisations will focus on developing more tools for sales people to use (because they are tangible and easier to quantify), rather than really exploring the soft skills competency gaps that exist.  That’s not to say that sales tools aren’t useful, it’s just that on their own, they are rarely the fundamental answer to the problem.

  • Processes required – this is about the steps that sales people need to work through in order to do a particular task.  In the sales function, there is often a defined sales process, giving people direction for what to do when. 

The sales team will need to have a clear understanding of those processes and how they should be using the relevant behaviours and tools within the context of the sales process.

Step 2: Aligning the blocks

Once the programme objectives are clear, analysing the existing capabilities within the team against the behaviours, tools and process improvements required is the next step in creating a training programme that truly delivers on the business objectives.

When the gaps have been identified, the blocks that build the training programme can be defined and content and activities can be selected. All content and activities should be tailored to reflect the business itself: that means following the actual sales process, using real customer scenarios and tailoring activities and discussions so that they reflect the way it really is back at work. 

Step 3: Formulating a team approach

Taking a team approach by co-training sales team members and sales managers in the same learning group will further strengthen the organisation’s ability to embed the learning – after all it is sales managers who are responsible for the performance of their team and they are accountable for making sure that their people have the competencies, tools and processes to so their job.

When sales managers attend sales training with their team, they are better placed to coach their team in the covered skills thereafter and by working together in such a way, the overall cohesiveness of the team is enhanced.

The final part of the puzzle in making sure that sales training programmes deliver against business objectives and have a long term positive impact on the sales people that participate in them, is to take a blended approach to the development process. 

While organisations often believe that short term training programmes are more cost effective for their sales function, the reality is that a multi-phase approach with many elements has the biggest impact on sustained behavioural change.  Along with a program that includes face to face elements, self-study and elearning.   

Sales managers must be given the skills to support and coach the team outside of the formal training sessions. For example, if communicating value more effectively in the sales process is an objective of the training programme, the sales manager must understand that value in order to effectively coach the sales team.

In turn, coaching becomes the core driver for the sales team’s progress towards achieving its objectives through sustained long-term learning. 


About the author

Samantha Caine is the client services director at Business Linked Teams.


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