Employee Training and Development
A Comprehensive Guide to Building Sales Training Programs
People who are good at making connections are often described as natural born salespersons, but the fact is investing in the development of a company’s salesforce will help provide a competitive advantage and improve profitability. Learn all about creating a successful sales training program below.
Successful sales training programs provide essential tools that help employees build stronger relationships with clients and close more deals. Employees tend to stay in positions where they feel successful, so this improved success may lead to improved employee satisfaction and loyalty.
One mistake businesses make when looking at sales training programs is investing in new or junior employees and ignoring more seasoned professionals. Seasoned veterans may be looking for support that will take them to the next level in their careers, or they may need support with ever evolving technology that comes second nature to the up-and-coming generation.
With that in mind, comprehensive sales training programs need to address the basics for the newbies and the finer points for those with years of experience. In addition, it needs to be flexible enough that team members can engage in it without cutting into the time they need to spend with customers and closing deals.
In this guide, we’ll explain everything there is to know about sales training programs including:
- The basics for those new to sales
- Relationship building, a key to creating customer loyalty
- Advanced skills to engage experienced employees
- Distance selling which has recently gained acceptance
- How soft skills complement sales skills
Start With The Basics
Many untrained salespeople focus on products or services, when they need to focus on benefits and solutions. By turning a product or service feature into a benefit, a salesperson puts themselves in the role of a problem solver and business partner. It’s up to the salesperson to answer the WIIFM (What’s In It For ME) questions a customer may present.
Effective sales training programs focus on helping sales teams define the benefits of products and services, so they can translate how those benefits address the unmet needs of the client, getting them one step closer to a purchase.
In sales, overcoming objections is the name of the game. Effective sales training programs need to offer a wide variety of topics to help the sales team think on their feet when facing an objection, such as:
- Doubt: Overcoming the “It sounds too good to be true” narrative
- Misunderstanding: How silence can be used in your favor
- Defeating Stalling: Asking the right questions
- Indifference: Refocusing to address an unmet need
- True Negative: Honesty is always the best policy
Dealing with Difficult Customers
If you ask most salespeople what they most enjoy about their jobs they’ll likely say: partnering with customers to solve their problems. But what happens when the customer is domineering - even a bit of a bully? Although these situations are uncomfortable, they’re also manageable.
Smart companies include dealing with difficult customers in their sales training programs because it allows employees to feel empowered when faced with a confrontation.
There are many reasons a customer may lose their cool. Perhaps they received a wrong order and it’s causing delays in production. They may be facing pressure from upper management to slash budgets. No matter the source of the problem, sales training programs can bolster the skills needed when facing an angry or confrontational client, including:
- Remaining calm
- Active listening
- Setting the tone
- Expressing empathy
- Working toward a solution
Hoping that a salesperson will never encounter a difficult customer or bully is not a strategy for success or employee happiness. By incorporating skills that will help them deal with tough customers into sales training programs, employers arm their team members so they won’t be caught off guard. Better yet it allows them to control, then diffuse the situation in a way that will salvage or even deepen the relationship.
Organization and Recordkeeping
An often overlooked but crucial topic in sales training programs is the importance of good record keeping. Failure to keep up with the details from sales calls can result in disaster - orders not received, the wrong items going out, or follow-up calls being missed.
When training around these skills, it’s important to offer guidance while maintaining flexibility. Salespeople should be given the flexibility to use a system that works best for them while still tracking records in a customer relationship management system, or CRM.
For employees new to the workforce, it may even be necessary to include basic office skills in sales training programs, including preferred software usage, email, document, and other file management systems. They’ll benefit from learning that maintaining a logical recordkeeping system allows them to have the right information on hand when a customer or prospect calls.
Making the Sales Call
There’s a lot more to finding new clients than just picking up the phone and asking to speak to the person who does the buying for your product and service. It’s useful to train sales teams on sales prospecting, finding quality leads, and questioning techniques that lead clients all the way through the sales process.
If a salesperson isn’t prospecting - or looking for new clients - they won’t make their sales quotas. For salespeople, the purpose of prospecting is to create a pipeline of qualified customers. Training should focus on consultative selling techniques that help potential customers see that they need a company's products and services.
It's important that salespeople develop the skills to identify quality leads. Do they have the need, decision-making authority, and budget to purchase? If so, proceed. If not, it's likely time to move on.
Advanced questioning techniques help salespeople dig into the heart of a potential customer’s business. Training should include the art of asking open-ended questions that allow for a fact-finding dialogue that leads to a fuller understanding of a customer’s business and leads them toward a “yes”.
As mentioned before, sales is about making new connections -- and part of that is understanding what makes each customer tick. A useful skill in sales training programs is teaching team members how to identify a prospect or customer’s personality type.
In 1928, William Moulton Marston published a book called “Emotions of Normal People,” outlining the DISC personality system. In it, he defined four quadrants of personality that determine how people react in their everyday lives. Later, Walter Clarke took the theory further and created the DISC personality profile that is still in use today.
Training that helps salespeople understand the different personality types enables them to tailor their selling technique to hit the customer’s sweet spot.
Sales Process and Selling Strategies
Changes in economic or seasonal conditions, and other factors, can impact sales cycles. Understanding these cyclical swings can help salespeople plan and design a better process for any industry. With proper training, a sales professional will understand what forces impact the sales cycles of the different industries they serve.
Tools to help them plan their approach:
- Short-term & long-term forecasting
- Qualitative and quantitative forecasting
- Multivariable analysis
Once a sales forecasting method has been adopted, sales training should include a template for tracking the data and the details.
Field sales or outside sales is a type of selling strategy where representatives meet prospects face-to-face or outside of the office - for example real estate. It’s important to train outside salespeople to manage their time effectively. The tools of the trade to keep them on track include:
- Logging sales meetings
- Entering data into a CRM system
- Prospecting and networking
- Verbal and nonverbal communication
Research has shown that outside sales reps are more effective at closing big-ticket purchases, so training in effective sales techniques is imperative.
Tiered selling is a way to bundle features into multiple packages where each package is sold at a different price. This targets customers either with varying budgets or those who value features differently. Bundles are common for software as a service subscriptions, or credit cards. These tiers are often given names such as:
- Basic, Standard, or Premium
- Good, Better, Best
- Silver, Gold, Platinum
The benefits of this technique are it encourages existing customers to upgrade, while giving new customers an opportunity to trial the product with a lower cost of entry. Studies show that when faced with multiple options, customers make a quicker purchase decision and use the remaining time to focus on which option they are going to purchase.
No matter which selling methodology a business uses, closing strategies are essential for a salesperson to master, and therefore should be featured prominently in sales training programs. Customers will give both verbal and nonverbal buying signs, such as nodding and answering questions in the affirmative -- basic positive feedback. It’s imperative that each member of the sales team knows how to spot these signs and close the sale using one of the following techniques:
- Trial: incremental steps that lead to a final purchase
- Direct appeal: ask the customer to sign the contract
- Assumptive close: allow the customer to choose from a couple of options
- Special concession or incentive: give a discount or gift for an immediate decision
With proper training, a salesperson’s closing should make the customer feel confident in their decision, so they don’t get struck by buyer’s remorse after the sale.
Advanced Selling Skills
It’s important to offer seasoned salespeople opportunities to improve their skills through sales training programs so they can grow their accounts and advance their careers.
With proper support, these experienced team members can be trusted with a company’s most valuable and profitable customers, take on management roles, mentor junior staff, and champion new technologies.
Managing Enterprise Accounts
Enterprise accounts are those that provide the most revenue over time for the least amount of hassle. When targeting enterprise accounts, salespeople need the skills to add value, nurture the relationship, and offer relevant solutions.
When expanding into new territory or taking over a previous employee's footprint, sales team success starts with clear company policies and procedures that can be updated as the company continues to grow. Sales team members need training to support business expansion as they learn territory boundaries, introduce themselves to clients and prospects, create a plan for the next 30, 60 and 90 days, and begin building relationships.
Selling to the C-Suite
Lower-level buyers have limited budgets and limited power to purchase goods and services. As a salesperson gains experience, they need training and support to help them reach higher-level employees -- Chief X Officers -- the people in the C-suite. Skills needed to get to these busy executives include:
- Networking or finding someone who can make an introduction. The “six degrees of separation” theory is the idea that all people are on average six or fewer social connections from each other. The important thing for a salesperson to master is making the ask of friends and colleagues.
- Diving into background research. Start with Google, then move on to industry publications, affiliation groups, business papers. Find topics that interest them, and use those in conversation.
- Respecting their time. C-Suite individuals are busy professionals. If a salesperson gets the appointment, they should ask some of the more mundane questions of the executive’s assistant, so the meeting can focus on big picture issues.
As a salesperson works their way up the ladder, they should be offered training and support to learn sales forecasting. It’s a skill that will help them make informed decisions and predict short- and long-term performance for themselves and their team as they move into management.
With their day-to-day experience in the field, a salesperson can offer unique insight into how long it takes to move a prospect through the sales cycle. Management can provide training that shows how the sales forecasting helps manage workforce, cash flow, and resources, and assists in spotting trends and making market adjustments.
Sales Performance Measurement and Reporting
There’s a lot of pressure for sales teams to hit quotas. Many sales managers say they lack the training they need to be successful. Sales managers can be supported through sales training programs that include strategies to help identify key sales performance metrics so they can be proactive in:
- Improving the performance of sales reps
- Managing opportunities in the sales pipeline
- Monitoring the health of the sales funnel
- Creating strategies to improve profitability
Managing Field Sales
Leading a sales team comes with unique challenges. When a team is working from any number of different locations a manager must contend with sales performance strategy, time zone differences, and communication logistics. Great managers are those that have been taught how to keep long-distance sales reps motivated by:
- Providing the support they need
- Defining a clear sales process
- Offering constant and open communication
- Building relationships through team meetings
- Encouraging collaboration
- Offering relevant training
Providing ongoing training for sales managers sets a company apart and allows them to attract the best talent. Online learning programs offer the opportunity for staff to learn the same material no matter where they’re stationed.
In today’s climate, companies must use every communication method available to make the sale. Recently, due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, companies put greater emphasis on phone selling and virtual presentations to replace face-to-face meetings. It’s not ideal to have to make the switch to distance selling without training, but many companies made it work.
With phone sales, it’s important to set an objective before dialing the phone. Prospects are not inclined to listen to a lengthy sales pitch. Once a salesperson has established the purpose for the call, they must be trained to:
- Ask appropriate questions for the prospect’s place in the sales process
- Clarify understanding of prospect questions and comments
- Allow the prospect to respond
- Be prepared to face and overcome objections
- Take notes
- Close the sale and/or set next steps
The Virtual Presentation
Virtual presentations may require more preparation than in-person presentations. In addition to creating interesting content, the presenter must master the technology used to deliver the information. In order for a salesperson to make the best use of their time, they require training to help them design engaging material that will grab the attention of their audience and get them to respond to a call to action.
Knowing they won’t experience the same type of nonverbal cues as they would in-person, salespeople should encourage interaction through an online Q&A or chat for real-time feedback.
Moving forward, as technology advances and companies find cost savings through these techniques, well-rounded sales training programs will include these valuable distance selling skills.
Partnering with HSI allows you access to an entire Business Skills library that utilizes best practices in adult learning theory. You’ll find more information on the topics covered above, plus additional sales training topics that will give the novice skills to begin a successful career and help experienced team members reach the next level. In addition, HSI offers a comprehensive library of soft skills training modules that can benefit anyone on your team.
- Using portable media
- Presentation skills
- Emotional intelligence
- Working virtually
- Nonverbal communication
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