The 4 Ingredients of a Successful Sales Training Curriculum

Author: 
Sona Jepsen

Your first bicycle ride probably didn’t end in a picture-perfect dismount. More likely, you stumbled and ended up with a skinned knee. After some encouragement from adults, you got back on and eventually mastered the machine.

What made you try again after being embarrassed – even bruised? Was it pure determination? A desire to be like the "big kids"? Or could it be that you saw failure not as an end but as a beginning?
If only our sales teams had this kind of on-the-job parenting. Unfortunately, they’re expected to win, win, and win again. Failure is a dirty word in sales, destroying the motivation to grab a Band-Aid and start anew.

Instead of kicking sales personnel when they’re down, we need to effectively strategize how to train and guide them during those occasional, inevitable failures.

Training Your Sellers to Win Through Failure

Your sellers must realize that failure and rejection are a part of the sales cycle and needn’t be linked to their egos. Of course, times are tough. They’ve always been tough, especially for startups staring down massive obstacles. Sales teams face fierce competition thanks to the rapid adoption of technology and the ongoing process of globalization — not to mention savvy customers who bring up great objections.
Companies willing to put resources into consistent sales training — from initial onboarding through an employee's entire tenure — will reap the rewards.

Leaders at organizations of many sizes understand how valuable this can be. Oracle, for example, created a streamlined sales training system that can take years to complete. It’s a culture changer, ensuring field representatives aren’t forced into roles without proper instruction and guidance. At BucketFeet, monthly guest speaker gatherings offer informal settings for growth and enrichment.
Yet successful training does not rest solely on the shoulders of the corporation. Salespeople can be their own worst enemies or best allies.

Challenges Inherent in Sales Training

To be fair, sales personnel are facing serious obstacles. Their customers are often well informed and have deeply ingrained opinions before the first contact. This leads to sales professionals feeling less empowered to change minds.

To succeed in a world where Siri can answer any question, training needs to focus on keeping sales representatives one step ahead of customers. That way, reps can focus on solving problems instead of getting hung up in a series of endless arguments with (sometimes poorly) educated prospects.

Additionally, we need to show sales personnel the “What’s in it for me?” aspect of constant education. Over time, unending training becomes a way of life, acting as a guiding force in the sales culture that keeps everyone on track.

Sure, some sales representatives will have an aversion to learning new things — likely due to big egos and short attention spans. But that’s no reason not to hit them hard with relevant, ongoing, and strong training. Those who can change will do so when they realize their employer is 100 percent behind continuous training.

Education in Action

For sales teams to become cohesive units, they must have ongoing sales training programs with specific traits and focuses. Here are a few of the most important ingredients of any successful curriculum:

1. Sales-consumable information

Do you offer your sales team stacks of scripts and spreadsheets to measure and track results? This takes up time and doesn’t make sellers’ jobs any easier. Instead of thrusting unnecessary information at sales professionals, provide them with practical, repeatable, and consumable information they can access and execute with prospects and customers.

Create a mechanism that enables your sales team to drive an efficient pipeline, forecast accurately, and move opportunities through the sales process.

2. An explanation of the 'how'

Good leaders give sellers expectations; great sellers show them how to achieve those expectations. As a leader, your job is to ensure every strategy has a purpose, and every report or forecast review has a meaning. Don’t fall back on “we’ve always done it this way.”

It’s tempting to stand up in a training session and inspire sellers to hit an upcoming quota in record time. But unless you can provide them with an actionable process to follow, you’re sending them out on bikes with flat tires.

3. Self-education and knowledge spreading
Sales personnel deserve to know about their prospects, influencers, industry, market, and competition. How can they manage an 18-month or longer sales journey if they can’t craft powerful visions based on gathered and disseminated intelligence? A substantial B2B sales cycle requires smart conversations that keep prospects engaged during the process, which is a product of high-quality training.

4. Rewards for sharing expertise
It’s tempting to leave top performers alone. After all, they’re doing well. But this is a missed opportunity. Rather than evaluate top sales representatives on numbers alone, encourage and incentivize them to create best practices that can be shared with the whole organization. They’re your stars, and they undoubtedly have plenty of information to give if they’re remunerated appropriately.

Take a hard look at your salespeople. Are they a team or an assortment of individuals? Will they ride as a pack on their 10-speed bikes, or will they set off in different directions the first chance they get? If they’re not working toward similar goals, it’s time to rethink your training strategy. Sales is a never-ending race, and racers do best when they train with likeminded performers to achieve mutual objectives. Healthy competition is fine, but never forget that the real competition lies outside your front door.

Sona Jepsen is the global head of sales enablement at Fidelity National Information Services (FIS). Her team empowers FIS’s global sales teams with sales content, strategic insights, and world-class learning and development opportunities.