The sales industry moves at breakneck speeds, constantly evolving with one new technique or another being ushered into playbooks. With new techniques and behaviours comes training and experience building, no matter how talented a salesperson you maybe it’s simply impossible to pick up new innovations on the go. Which begs the question, how should HR be approaching the L&D requirements of their sales teams? A number of training systems are commonly used, but we feel the core of our BESMA winning programme is ideal for most teams and we are here to share how.
Before exploring programmes and techniques, it’s important to take a wider look at the sales industry to fully understand the landscape the teams are operating in. The truth is the buyer’s journey has changed dramatically in recent years while training is somewhat stuck in the mud. Getting buyers to the table is increasingly tough to achieve, even when the meeting is organised there is difficulty making contact with actual decision makers rather than mid-level contacts. Modern training programmes need to include provisions for the entire journey, from the point of arranging meetings, through the sales pitch itself and ultimately the final deal. Once the programme covering these hot points is designed, implementing a continuous development cycle within key team members can help considerably with the spread of new skills.
Continuous development cycles are a core tenant of post-training growth, it has been proven through the curve of forgetting how swiftly delegates lose their new skills in the immediate aftermath of a training session. Within the first 24 hours 50-80% of skills can be lost, diminishing to 3% over the coming days and weeks. To sustain the results from training there are a number of options, implemented in the programme itself and within the company after the sessions.
In our BESMA winning programme, Sales Activator worked with an internationally leading organisation to develop 43 sales leaders across the EMEA region. Existing processes in the company weren’t working and there was recognition of their need for a culture change via experiential learning.
Starting with the in-programme features that can lead to long-term growth; a key feature is uncomfortable delegates. It may sound strange but truthfully, the best way to learn is through new, unexpected situations that cause discomfort in those taking part. A successful training programme is a fast-paced affair, keeping candidates on their toes unaware of what’s coming next. Forcing delegates into situations they are not accustomed to forces them to adapt, and also allows them to see (through coaching and support) that they are actually capable of much more than they realise.
Business-aligned simulations are a great avenue to build the skills and behaviours required to uplift capabilities. One such simulation we have implemented is a ‘breakfast club’ scenario, whereby delegates are briefed on their ‘company’ and subsequently take part in a role-play of sorts with actors designed to push their knowledge and sales skills to their limit. It isn’t uncommon to see senior sales team members crumble under the pressure exerted in these situations. Really, this is the aim. From this point delegates can be built up with the realisation of which skills they currently miss. The Centre for Talent Innovation highlighted the fact that presence is the most important trait for salespeople, linked in part with grace under fire, decisiveness, pedigree and vision. These are all trainable and can form a continuous development cycle whilst also spreading across teams.
Starting the cycle
Following the conclusion of any training programme there is a void waiting to be filled. Left alone, delegates will depart and carry on with their professional lives. Possibly implementing some of the skills delivered but many will fall by the wayside courtesy of the Curve of Forgetting. For the time and money invested in these programmes it’s bizarre that many will end with no follow up activity.
A relatively simple method of ensuring delegates continue to learn following a training day is through the use of gamification. Mobile apps are great if budget allows; something as simple as a competitive quiz for delegates to face each other can result in greater knowledge retention and a willingness to engage with the materials when presented in an alternative format. In addition to assisting with the delegates own retention, these apps can even lead to the general spread of information as other team members seek to learn more about what’s causing so much competition in the workplace.
John Kotter’s eight steps to implementing a change programme are well known, the embed stage of these is vital to ensuring a CDC is implemented within the business. It is partly outside your control as it requires the delegates to take up their own initiative to continue the learning process. Providing a toolkit for businesses to follow results in much higher success rates compared to leaving delegates empty handed post-training. Offering honest, direct feedback during the programme forms the basis for continued learning. Feedback in line with the idea of Radical Candor, created by Kim Scott is ideal… abrasive, no-pulled punches feedback is much easier to act upon for team members as opposed to faux support and a guiding hand in the right direction which can lead to confusion.
No matter what techniques you implement in the training programme or the amount of materials and support offered following the end of your time with the business there is no truly fool-proof way to keep delegates learning. But using some of these ideas will provide the foundation for continued skills development to occur.