Sales training is powerful. If you do it well, your sales team will exceed their targets and your revenue will skyrocket. If you do it poorly (or not at all), you’ll miss out on a lot of revenue for months or even years to come.
What does it take to do sales training the right way?
In this guide, we show you how to lay the groundwork for a rock-solid sales training program. We also tackle the challenges involved with training your entire sales team and your sales managers, as well as helping you pick the right tools and making sure your training plan sticks.
The best sales training program is the one created with your unique sales team in mind. No two sales teams are the same. Your reps bring different selling skills, personality traits and experiences to the table. They also have diverse strengths and weaknesses.
Before you start building a training program for your sales team, it’s essential to deeply understand your starting point. No matter how hungry for learning your reps are, they’ll have zero benefits if all they get is a poorly structured training program.
If you get it right, however, the benefits will compound for months and years to come.
To lay your sales training foundation, here are the three questions to ask in advance.
How much time and budget can you invest?
Your bandwidth is a crucial consideration when starting your sales training program planning. You may want to get your team into a 10-day training program, but if you can’t afford to miss making sales for that long, it’s not the best approach.
You can always add more training to your team’s plans later but start with a training scope that will fulfill your team’s needs in the near future.
Do you have a defined sales process?
A repeatable, clear sales process outlines everything that needs to happen to close a sale. It typically includes:
Before you work on a sales training plan, make sure you know your sales process inside out. Document it in a way that’s easy to understand and reference later on.
Our guide to creating a sales process will help.
What makes a successful sales rep in your company?
This is about knowing which of your sales reps’ skills are the most valuable to your company and your company’s unique position in the industry, on your local market and so on.
These questions will help you identify the essential skills and traits you want to cultivate your sales training:
If you can onboard your new sales reps in a way that gets them up to speed and lets them hit the ground running quickly, they (and you) are more likely to succeed. As it turns out, companies with efficient sales rep onboarding have a 10% greater sales growth and hit 14% more sales and profit goals.
The idea is to train your new reps efficiently and get them in the field as soon as possible. They’ll get all the theoretical knowledge they need quickly and learn the practical aspects of the job in the best way possible: by doing the job.
Here are the building blocks of your new sales rep training and onboarding plan.
Homework for your new sales rep before their first day
The biggest time-wasting mistake you can make when training and onboarding new rep is spending weeks making them familiar with your company.
Instead, prepare a simple document with resources and links on your:
Advise your new sales rep to get familiar with the information in this document. Check in with them on their first day for any questions they may have.
In-depth product or service training
Your new reps know the basics of the offerings they’ll be selling based on their homework. The next step is to take them deeper into the value of your product or service and the real-life use cases of it.
The ultimate goal is for your sales rep to know your offerings inside out so they can overcome sales objections and discuss details with confidence and clarity.
However, a lot of that confidence and deep knowledge will come with experience and hundreds of conversations with prospects. To get them started, they don’t need to know everything there is to know.
Instead, use this training to lay a strong foundation and empower your new reps to look for information they need as they go.
Product/service sales training should cover:
Introduction to your sales strategy and process
If your new sales hire is coming from a sales role in a different company, it means they’re used to someone else’s sales strategy and process. And if this is their first sales role, it’s also their first time following a sales strategy or even a sales methodology.
In both scenarios, introducing and clarifying the sales process steps as early as possible is crucial.
For this part of the sales training, outline the sales process steps you’ve listed in an earlier section with activities that go into each. Here’s an example:
Next to each sales process step, you can add data around how long it usually takes to move a prospect forward. This will give your new sales rep an idea of what a healthy sales pipeline looks like for your company.
A note on industry specifics
Remember, it’s your job to ensure your sales process reflects industry requirements.
For example, selling professional baking supplies, marketing software or printing services doesn’t seem daunting. But when you’re doing real estate, investment, or pharmaceutical sales training, there are additional regulatory steps that need to be mentioned—contracts, due diligence, codes of practice and more.
Make sure you make these obvious in your sales process when onboarding new reps. Train your new reps on the technicalities, as well as potential fears and uncertainties, that your prospects go through if you’re in a highly regulated industry.
Michael Fletcher, practice enablement manager at FreeAgent, explains how they deal with this issue as an accounting software:
“We work with accountants, so it’s essential that reps are able to relate to our clients and understand some of the technical side of their business and business pains. We’ve built this into our recruitment process.
Also, all new joiners take accounting 101 training which is provided by our head accountant and covers the basics of accounting.”
Shadowing and getting started with real-life sales
The final step before your reps start selling is exposing them to the work of your already successful reps.
This can take many forms:
Exposure to your team’s work should get your new sales rep fired up to get started with their own sales conversations.
Their timeline on getting started will depend entirely on you and your company’s circumstances. Many companies get their new reps on the phone by the end of their first week. Of course, this isn’t a one-size-fits-all rule—if you’re selling a $15,000 product, you might want to give it a bit more time. Completely up to you.
There’s one more critical element of a successful new hire training...
Create a learning environment that celebrates action-taking
Sales can be scary and quite anxiety-inducing. Add the stress of a new job to that and you have a recipe for failure, even with the most skilled sales reps that join your team.
This is why creating a space where taking action is more important than perfection is key. Here are two of many reasons why encouraging action is helpful:
As FreeAgent’s Michael Fletcher put it:
“We expect people to take on a lot in a short amount of time, so it’s all about creating an environment where people are willing to learn, make mistakes and ask questions.
While we cover processes and tech, we accept and encourage people to ask for help when they start doing things ‘for real’ after training. This helps both the salesperson with learning the process (without picking up bad habits from colleagues) and allows us to review the process to ensure it is easy and fit for purpose.”
Create a timeline for checking in with your new salesperson. Set their goals and milestones for the 30-, 60- and 90-day mark. Then, check in with them on a weekly basis to track their progress towards those goals and maintain an open space for them to ask for help, resources and additional training in areas they feel they need it.
Always keep in mind that each sales professional will bring their own strengths and experience their own challenges. If they’re totally new to the sales world, they may take six months or more to fully master the role, while sales pros may only need a couple of months.
Be open to that and adjust for each new rep.
Connect your sales training to your company goals
“Align sales training methods with your business strategy, goals, and needs,” recommends Andrea Grodnitzky, CMO at Richardson. “What is your strategy and how does the sales training help to support the organization’s strategic objectives? At the end of the day, what is the behavior that you are hoping to drive? How do you want your sales reps to change the way they do things? What do you want them to actually do in order to achieve the desired outcome?
“If you can’t easily answer these questions or connect your sales training to the needs and priorities of the company, then you should modify it or scratch it all together. Don’t waste precious time, effort, and energy on tangential diversions. Instead, be able to connect the dots for the trainees, as well as senior management to keep everyone focused on the ultimate bottom line.”
Looking for real-life examples of a sales training for new reps? Check out the sales training program that the sales team at Referral Rock implemented.
Mica Longanecker, director of sales at Referral Rock, shared with us the steps new reps go through when they join the company.
Referral Rock runs intensive training for three weeks, followed by several weeks of shadowing. They also run monthly office hours for additional training and sharing learnings. They’ve broken their training into these key areas.
Get inspired by this sales training program and start developing your own.
Your sales development programs shouldn’t stop at bringing new hires up to speed.
Here’s the thing: high-performing sales teams are twice as likely to provide ongoing training as low-performing ones. In other words, your sales force should never stop improving.
Ongoing learning and improvement are important, but you also don’t want to distract your sales reps from their work when they’re in the flow and hyper-focused.
You can handle this challenge by creating and cultivating a company culture that encourages learning and plans for it ahead of time.
Don’t force a learning methodology on your reps or ask them to commit to an arbitrary schedule for it. Instead, make it a regular habit to use your one-on-one meetings with them to ask if they’ve noticed a gap in their knowledge or skill set that’s limiting their potential and that they want to work on.
With these insights, go ahead and work out a convenient training schedule with them, with a methodology that suits their schedule and learning preferences.
Here are some sales training programs and learning techniques you can organize for all your reps.
Effective sales training doesn’t need to be expensive or complicated. You can get your reps with the best sales results to share their skills with other reps in a structured way.
For example, they may focus on what made their sales calls close deals well, or how they handled a tough sales objection successfully.
You can provide your reps with the time and budget to find the training solutions themselves. These can be in-person sales courses, online courses, full-day workshops… Anything that will help them fill the gap they currently have in the most efficient way.
Encouraging each member of your sales team to take responsibility for their own training will give your reps a feeling of control.
“I would say, to not stop reading or educating yourself, not just with regard to sales strategies and techniques, but general business management and strategy,” suggests Dena Bakr, Inside Sales Team Lead at Gett.
“Business interests and learned acumen can enable someone to leverage any learned skills because you understand why people (buyers) and internal and external stakeholders make the decisions they do. Understanding people and the decisions they make is one of the key components for enabling empathy (and subsequently, closing a deal).”
In-house training manager
Depending on how big your sales force is (and how fast your company is growing), there might come a time when you won’t be the best person to manage your reps’ learning anymore.
This is when you can hire an in-house specialist to handle the learning and development of your team. Once you do, they’re the one handling your training budget, monitoring your team’s need for knowledge, researching training solutions, booking sales training courses and more.
Workshops and sales speakers
Bringing in a sales trainer to hold a workshop or a longer training session for your team is the least flexible of them all—it usually requires your entire team to step away from selling for the day.
However, there are cases when this type of training is the best option. Some examples include a new legislation that affects your sales process or a growing trend in your industry (like a new technology). Training your whole team at once is the most effective way to get everyone on the same page fast and turn the new industry development into selling power.
Free learning resources
Give your reps the green light to seek out free online sales training resources from trusted experts. These will come in the form of…
Whichever format they choose, it’s important to help them identify the one area they want to improve so they can focus on it in their search.
For example, we built a huge library of videos with tips on selling, key selling concepts and tutorials on CRM features. But if your rep wants to get better at handling sales objections, we’d direct them to these two videos: “It’s too expensive” and “I’m not interested”.
The same goes with our Pipedrive Academy. Instead of bingeing the entire thing like a new Netflix original (although they can—it’s just not efficient), your reps can focus on the exact thing they’re struggling with. Looking to do better follow-ups? Automating manual work? Something else? There’s a free resource for it in the Academy.
The checklist for selecting the right sales training course for your reps
If you’re the one picking the provider for your team’s sales training, start by making a list of available and highly rated training providers and then vet them based on your requirements. Here are the boxes you should make sure to tick:
Most effective sales training programs for your team are those that pass all the above criteria.
On top of that, don’t forget to let your team in on making this decision and respecting their learning goals in the process. The results will be much better than if you force your choice on them.
Even if you hire and train top performers, you (and them!) will struggle if your team doesn’t have an easy way to track and report their activities and results.
This is where choosing the right tools comes in. In sales, a CRM software is a pretty standard tool across the board. Inside or outside sales, hot or cold leads, two sales conversations or dozens; a CRM is the central home of everything going on.
The punchline? CRM should help your reps sell better, not take them away from their most meaningful work. Administrative tasks are responsible for almost 15% of the effectiveness drain in salespeople. Instead of making their jobs easier, tools like spreadsheets and bulky data management systems are adding to the already full plates of sales teams.
The right CRM tool will:
There are more sales tools you can integrate with your CRM to fuel efficiency and action-taking. Consider adding these tools to your team’s sales workflow:
When selecting your sales tools, getting your team involved and hearing their needs is key. Then, as you introduce a certain tool, make sure to showcase its value and lead by example by using it regularly.
The tools you select should be intuitive to use instead of requiring a two-day training course just to get started. The idea is to have tools that make selling to the right leads easy. The result? A productive sales team and a revenue boost.
Remember, it’s your job to check in with your reps and look for potential gaps in their use of sales tools. Here are some ideas for tool adoption and regular training:
Your sales managers are the drivers of your sales force. They’re planners, motivators, analysts, mentors and so much more. They hire sales talent and set their goals, getting them started with a sales strategy and course-correcting when necessary.
Yet, one study found that only 11% of companies train their sales managers to a high extent and 22% don’t train them at all. In reality, training just one sales manager can improve an entire team of sales reps.
Sales managers have a mountain of responsibilities to their team, as well as to their own bosses. Without training, they have to figure out both all on their own.
Using the same approach as earlier, look for the type of learning they prefer and enjoy the most, such as in-house workshops or a mix of in-person and self-guided learning.
Then, work with them to find learning resources so they can upskill on:
Build a document for each sales manager that will act as a central hub for all the learning resources you’ve found, including those that aren’t an immediate priority. Make this document easy to update and come back to regularly.
Your sales training program is ready. From new hires to sales managers, there’s a plan that will help you create sales success time and time again.
What happens next? How can you make sure these training plans are implemented and your reps don’t forget about them in a week? Here are some steps you can take.
When you’re deep into the day-to-day routine with your sales team, all you can see are the deals you closed and lost and the targets you’ve hit or missed.
That makes it hard to see why certain things are happening—especially when your team is missing their quota. If you don’t step back, you can’t see the gaps in negotiation skills, objection handling or even a simple lack of systems to follow.
Luckily, these gaps are easy to bridge with the right sales training. It doesn’t have to be a complicated process. Work together with your reps to build a training program that addresses their learning needs and style.
You’ll be able to measure your reps’ progress and see how this investment helped you and your team hit and exceed your goals.
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