Sales is different, and sales training should be, too

Sales is unlike any other corporate function for a number of reasons: the empowerment of the frontline, the direct correlation to revenues, the connection to customer, the tenure in frontline positions.

As such, a decade ago sales training split off from corporate learning & development in many (if not most) large organizations. Corporate HR/L&D handles some components of onboarding, general competencies and often general leadership training. Sales training handles all sales onboarding, sales skills, product knowledge, sales methodology and other similar training.

Generally speaking, this is a positive. Sales training departments are usually staffed with professionals with a sales background that are more credible to participants and can help apply concepts. They cater to a remote, in-field workforce. And they stress the realistic and practical elements of learning. Attention should be given to the fact that unlike any other training participant, salespeople are paying to be in class.

A salesperson with a variable pay base succeeds financially when he or she makes the number. With less than a third (33%) of time spent in selling conversations (2017 World-Class Sales Practices Study), salespeople are loath to invest hours (especially business hours) in non-revenue generating activities. Every hour in training is an hour that could be spent selling and making money. Therefore, sales training has to meet a high threshold. Namely, a salesperson participant has to leave their learning experience with enough benefit to make more money than they lost by participating.

Corporate training is modernizing faster than sales training.

All these reasons validate why sales training should be handled separately and differently than corporate training. Having said that, the split between corporate and HR training occurred so long ago that in some cases, it has resulted in the creation of silos. That’s a shame, because there is a lot going on in the world of learning. Mobile-enabled LMS platforms, micro-learning, rapid development techniques, new modalities, gamification, new authoring tools and more. The list of learning innovations is endless.

Yet much sales training relies on older instructional design principles and concentrates too heavily on central events and too little on ongoing sustainment activities that move learning into the workflow. In our 2017 Sales Enablement Optimization Study, less than a quarter of respondents were taking advantage of mLearning (23.1%), simulations (12.2%) or gamification (12.4%). Only half (50.4%) were using vILT, a common standard for many learning organizations.

Sales training departments would do well to re-engage with their corporate brethren and take advantage of newer tools, methods and platforms. There is a science to learning just as there is a science to selling, and the two need to be brought together to help sellers succeed in an increasingly challenging environment. Keeping sales training distinct does not mean you should replace learning expertise with selling expertise. Those staffing a sales training organization need to be both learning experts and selling experts. The opportunities for sales training often lie in:

  • Micro-learning – Too many sales training organizations rely on once-a-career sales onboarding and once-a-year sales kick off (SKO) meetings as the main distribution points for learning. Certainly, these can be important anchors in a learning path. But they need to be connected by a continuous stream of interventions that extend, expand and sustain learning. This can be accomplished by shorts bursts of learning aligned to assessed gaps. In this way, learning is an ongoing activity, just like forecasting, prospecting research or any other sales task.
  • mLearning or multi-modality learning – Sales training organizations still most commonly resort to instructor led training (ILT) as a default. Instead selecting modalities for different elements of an intervention based on learning objectives (knowledge acquisition vs. application for example). Selling is getting much more tech-enabled, and sellers are used to accessing CRM on mobile devices, but mobile learning technology usage isn’t as common.
  • Measurement – measuring application of learned behaviors in the field through manager observation, success case stories, or collection of leading indicators. You can’t jump from good marks on post-class evaluations to claiming revenue results without measuring evidence of the behavior change in between.

 

Questions for you

  • Does our sales training support the needs of modern learners?
  • Do we have a valid way to measure the impact of training?
  • How agile is our sales training development process?
  • How flexible and dynamic is our sales training curricula?
  • How well is learning sustained and applied in the field?
  • Are we selling experts, learning experts or both?

 

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