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20 Effective Training Elements to Look Out for in a Sales Program (and what to avoid at all cost!)

By Peter Heredia Managing Director

Peter has been involved with sales for over 2 decades, dealing with multiple industries and diverse sales team cultures. He knows how to get the best out of any sales team and has the experience and results to back it up.

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What Makes Up An Effective Sales Team Training?

1. The program MUST be interactive.

If a salesperson attends a slide show and is told what they should be doing, the chances of them taking any of it on board are extremely unlikely. We need to remember that most salespeople have “been there and done that”, selling can be a lonely job and salespeople build up many habits (good or bad) so expecting them to change overnight isn’t realistic. However, if they are part of the learning process and their own ideas are built upon, there is much more chance of them applying what they have learned and therefore demonstrating the change you are after.

2. The facilitator must be an experienced sales person and leader.

This is key to any program as when you complete any interactive workshop the sales individuals may have many questions and queries. There is no better form of facilitation that to relate to the learning subject through a story of experience. Sales Training, more than any other training relies more on the experience and knowledge of the facilitator than the program materials used. The facilitator also gains a lot of respect by introducing their experience right at the start, ensuring the audience is on board from the beginning and their credentials won’t be questioned.

3. Follow up is Critical.

Never run a program and feel that you can then just sit back and everything will be implemented. It won’t happen. You can have as much engagement as you like, and every commitment under the sun, however when it comes down to it for a sales person to adopt change they need to know they are being held accountable. They can have every will in the world to act on what they learned, but when they have been away from the office they may have every intention of implementing next week but next week becomes next month and in the end, nothing happens. Ideally, when you agree on the follow up, you ensure it is the salespeople’s own idea that the review happens as this will make reviews much less challenging.

4. Tools need to be created in the program.

Along with the follow up, there needs to be tools put in place to help bridge the gap from where they are today and where they need to be. For example, if they learn a questioning technique, it is important that they develop a form they can use to assist them in following the technique when they are in front of the client. If this doesn’t happen they will find it tough to retain all of the information and therefore not put it in to practice. Remember with a lot of sales training the learning really accelerates once they start applying what they have learned so assisting them with sales tools is extremely important.

5. The facilitator needs to have knowledge of the attendees and their industry.

You can’t simply get up in front of a sales team and start telling them what they should be doing differently without really understanding what level they are at, what kind of industry they are in and how selling works in that industry. To sit with a few attendees before the program and asking them a few open questions really gives you a good understanding of their ability and how you will run the program. Sales is very similar in most cases, but industries do often have a different approach and to be able to adapt this to the attendees can be very important.

6. The program content shouldn’t be off the shelf,

but in line with the company’s objectives and identified skills gaps. You have to understand what they want to achieve and the content you can include that will have the biggest impact on the business. Lots of companies have different challenges out there and the same size does not fit all. Work backward by understanding what is required and then build the program around the objectives. The attendees are also much more engaged that you have taken the time to meet them before the program as well and in some cases, it is more relaxing from the beginning.

7. One session should not be more than 2 days.

Taking the sales team out of the workplace is tough as it is, making the sessions more than 2 days will be tough for them to keep concentration. Remembering sales people are a type of person that really needs to keep active and they might find a 3 day plus program too long. In addition, too much content will be difficult to apply. The only consideration here would be any geographical issues that would mean you have to capitalize on your time together.

8. You get better results if learning is over an extended period (bite size).

The best learning approach is bite-sized chunks that are linked from one session to the next with skills and activity being applied as you go. Having follow up sessions and reviewing the progress encourages that further learning will take place, therefore delivering more impact and better results. The team also know that they have to apply what they have learned as the review will be happening on a set date. It is great to see the progress the team makes during this time frame between sessions.

9. Case Studies should always be linked to the learning and the industry.

Every salesperson can learn the techniques if you use an example from another industry. However, as we have already discussed, keeping a salesperson engaged or to allow them to think this workshop is to for them, you need them to think it is about their business. It is easy for a salesperson to lose interest and as soon as you mention another industry this may well happen. If the facilitator spends a brief time getting to know their business and advantages over their competition, it is not too difficult to create case studies that are linked to the learning and the company.

10. There should be no more than 12 to a group if you are going to have an interactive session.

Sales people are often outspoken and many have ideas that would like to contribute so even 12 could be pushing it. Again, the more you have the more chance you could lose one or two of them along the way. If you start having groups of 16 – 18 it becomes more like a seminar with a slide show and the learning opportunity plummets. If you have a program with lots of case studies and learning exercises you need to manage them accordingly and it won’t be possible if the class size is too large.

11. Leaders must attend.

In so many cases the leaders like to send their team on a program for them to learn something new. However, unless the leader has been on exactly the same program and knows the content inside out, they MUST attend. If not the leader won’t know what was digested, what is going to be implemented and understand first-hand the struggles that some of the team experienced. I can’t imagine any tasks that are more important in a leader’s role than to see their team members learn and develop. They will become an extended support to the development after the program. However, if they don’t attend this won’t happen and a huge amount of learning will be lost.

12. Not too many topics at one go.

I still read on-line the content of a two or three-day training program and think how on earth is a sales person going to take all of the topics onboard in such a short space of time. Yes, when you read the flyer it looks fantastic. Any leader would think – “Wow, this will be great if my guys learn all of this”. However, you must consider how practical this really is. When you have sales people that have been doing the job for years go on a new training program, firstly learn everything they are TOLD (with so many subjects you can only TELL your audience what to do), the make the change from the way they have been doing things. It is not likely. So, then I’m told well if they manage to implement one or two key areas it will be worthwhile. I agree, so why don’t we understand what those key areas are and then build the workshop around those them. You will then make sure that everybody makes the improvements in those areas rather than have a load of content that is wasted and may well camouflage the key take outs

13. Workbooks need to be structured in a format for their ideas to be entered.

A workbook is not meant to be simply a copy of the slides but what the title means, a book to work in’. Every sales person is different and the workshop should not be making all the attendees robotic. There should be structure and techniques and we should trust the sales people that they can apply these using their own approach. Individual take outs might be slightly different, and this may be reflected in the way they capture the information.

14. Run the workshop off-site.

I think this is quite an obvious one but we still often see companies trying to use their boardroom or meeting facility for the program. Sales people are busy and love their phones and lap tops. It is enough trying to keep them away from them and keep focused when in a location away from their desks. However, if you are in their own office, the breaks become ‘catch up with work time’ and then people are distracted, come back from intervals late, and you have more chance of losing an attendee. Yes, it is an extra cost to book a hotel or other facility, but it is worth it if you are taking the learning seriously.

15. No Mobile phones.

This is a big one for sales people. Often the way they receive good news is by phone or email, and both can be seen on their Android or iPhone. Therefore, any lapse in concentration they will look for their phone. So, we can’t allow them to even have their phone on silent, we can’t allow them to even have it on the desk. Also, if it flashes or buzzes and people look down at it, they have not just lost those few seconds but it may take them a while to get back focused on the subject they were on. In some cases, they may never get back to where they were. I do see the most professional sales people handle this brilliantly. They are organized before they attend (maybe have their phone forwarded or a message on it) and then they briefly check for urgent messages during the break. This kind of approach often shows they are just as good at managing their business.

16. Make it fun.

It is essential that the sales people enjoy the time away from the office. If they are having fun they learn a lot more. Ensure at the start, within the first hour, there is some kind of ice breaker that everybody finds humorous. It puts the day on the perfect footing. Then when you complete program exercises, make them fun and get everybody to interact. Build a rapport with the attendees so you can pull their leg at times. You will always have a joker that will help you. Avoid anything boring like too many slides and too much taking. Try to manage the person that always wants attention and is putting the others to sleep. Keep the whole session upbeat and it will be embraced and therefore more will be taken on board.

17. Bond with the attendees during breaks.

This is an interesting one and many might disagree. However, I attended a program once where at lunchtime the facilitator had his own table made up for one which was in view of all the attendees. It just looked strange and was tough for people to build rapport with him. I don’t mean that when you interact you are talking about the program or work, just try and have a social interaction with the attendees and they will warm to you much more during the program. Sales people enjoy this type of interaction.

18. Ensure the right attendees are attending.

This can often be a big mistake by the company that is arranging the training but really the facilitator should somehow manage this. Once you have understood what the company is looking for, the key objectives and where the team are today, we should know who is going to link with the content you are delivering. Often companies just want to throw everybody in to the group but it doesn’t work and you don’t want to leave anybody behind which may be important. This is even more important when you are trying to make the program interactive.

19. Get timings right and start on time.

This is a tough one when you are in the Middle East but the timings need to be right. There are also many good lessons learned for the members that are late and again you can link this to the real life with customers’ expectations. Firstly, though the facilitator needs to ensure the timings are realistic for those attending. I mean if they never start work before 9.30 normally, it may not be practical to have an 8.30 start. Once the start time is in place you will need to do everything possible (messages the day before, reminders etc) so that you start on time.

20. No more than 2 hours a session without a break.

Salespeople don’t have the best concentration ability in the world and this is going to be key if you want to keep everybody on board during the program. It is easy for the salesperson to drift so ensure the timings are in line with this expectation. Also, if it starts going over two hours and it wasn’t planned it could be even more of an issue as many may begin to stray and start thinking about their coffee or food.

Conclusion

If you really want to develop your sales team, I would absolutely avoid ‘ticking a box’ that says training has been completed. Do not go with a supplier that will pick a course off the shelf and has the ‘one size fits all’ approach.

It’s like anything if you want something doing properly, invest some time in getting the right program and ensure it will have the impact you are looking for. It may involve the sales leaders as well to help ensure that any new learnings are sustained and become part of the company’s culture.

Sales are too important to cut corners. If you get this right, the impact on the business will be huge.

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