A business friend here in Gothenburg recently asked me what a good sales training program would be. I guess he, like many other business owners, wanted to train his sales team to sell more effectively so that both they and the business could grow.
The query got me thinking. I know that there are many consultants who have created attractive, ready-to-use sales training programs that many businesses rely upon. I am sure some of them are good, but I must admit that I am generally sceptical about such pre-packaged sales training.
I have seen sales training programs that categorise so-called customer personality types using colour codes such as “blue”, “green” and “red”. The salespeople are then trained to approach these groups using different methods. Some pre-packaged training programs talk about “tricks” salespeople can use to convince the prospective customer to close the deal.
My problem with these training programs is that they focus on selling for the sake of selling. In my opinion, this kind of sales training is good for those who are selling snake-oil.
As a growth, sales, marketing, and digitisation strategist, I follow a different philosophy.
The golden rule: Delivering value to the customer
In my opinion, all sales and marketing should focus on how we can deliver more value to our customers.
I cannot emphasise this enough.
For me, a great B2B sales training program is a collaboration between sales and marketing. It is a program that helps the salesperson completely understand the customer profile, jobs to be done, the pains the customer is suffering, the gains the customer is looking for, and how the product or solution you are selling is connected to this.
This philosophy is based on the fact that every single customer is looking for some kind of value. Once you make sure you know what that is and how your product or solution can deliver it, and incorporate that knowledge in your training program, you will have a valuable course in hand.
What you must have in place before designing a sales training program
A sales training program tailored to the needs of your business cannot be quickly created by a consultant because it requires immense research, ideation, and creativity. And before you even get started on designing the program – be it for a sales team or a channel partner program – you need to get a few things in place. These are:
- A well-designed Sales Process: Having a well-engineered sales process will make your sales activities more efficient. It will help you focus on deals that bring you more revenue and result in higher conversion. You absolutely must have such a sales process in place before you design a sales training program because your salespeople need to understand its different steps, what their specific role is in this process, and how they should support the customer. A well-designed sales process is perfectly connected to the customer’s buying process and ensures it is as smooth as possible. For help on this, read my updated detailed guide on How to design a Sales Process for B2B Sales.
- A CRM or Customer Relationship Management system: CRM systems are the number one work tools for salespeople, which is also the reason businesses need to have one in place before designing a sales training program. A CRM system has many uses, and I’ll list only a few here. One, it helps sales people manage hundreds of contacts, keep track of customers and sales opportunities. By helping salespeople manage their customers in a consistent manner, it helps them build stronger relationships with clients. Two, having a CRM system in place ensures that if a salesperson quits, their replacement will be able to pick up where they left off. Three, CRM systems help salespersons and their manager prepare reports for the leadership team with regard to sales performance and sales projections.
- Set processes on how salespeople should use the CRM system: Any system is only as good as its data, and it is no different for the CRM system. For your business to truly benefit from a CRM system, you must ensure that all data about your customers and interactions with them should be stored on it, and every deal, opportunity, contact and account that is important should have planned tasks and follow-ups for the future. To ensure that this happens, you must get everyone to use the CRM system the same way. You can start by establishing the processes your salespeople should follow while using the CRM system, and then include them in your sales training program so that everyone is on the same page from the word ‘go’.
- A great story: Make sure you have a great story about your product or solution that your current and trainee salespeople can easily repeat and learn. Once you have this story, you must include it in your training program.
Important components of any sales training program
Here are a few suggestions on the components of any good sales training program.
- How to use the CRM: As I just mentioned, it is important that everyone uses the CRM system in the same way. This includes entering data accurately, managing data, setting reminders for when salespeople should follow up and so on. All this will go a long way in ensuring that your salespersons will manage customer contacts efficiently, improve customer experience and send prospects updated data about your product or solution. Any good sales training program must therefore have a module on “Best Practices of how to use the CRM”. These guidelines should be well thought through and really help salespeople do their best work.
- All about the customer: Your salespeople cannot sell to a customer if they do not understand who they are or what are their needs, pain points and desired gains. When a salesperson knows a customer inside out, they can tailor the message and value proposition better and increase the chances of acquiring new customers. This is why businesses need to design presentations and/or training materials that teach salespeople everything about their customers. This requires a lot of research. In my opinion, the best way forward is to create a customer profile and define the customer’s buying process. This research should find answers to questions like: What does a customer’s day look like? What is important to them? What are their problems? What are their jobs to be done? You then incorporate the findings of your research in your sales training program.
- All about the market: No matter what you sell, your current and newly recruited salespeople should be knowledgeable about the market your business operates in. This is not only because customers expect it of you but because it helps your salespeople sell better. If your salespersons know what your rivals offer, for instance, they can pitch your product or solution more effectively. All this requires regular training too.
- All about the product: Ensure that your salespeople are experts in your product or service. There is no scope for doubt. They should know every detail in and out. This will allow them to answer all the questions thrown at them by prospective customers promptly and intelligently, increasing their chances of closing a deal.
- Expertise about problems customers didn’t know they had: Customers come to you because they have specific problems that need solutions. But several products and solutions also solve problems that the customer was unaware they had. Make sure you educate your salespeople about all these in detail. As an example, our company developed a tool called MuchSkills, a skills visualisation solution. Many teams use our skills tool to look for skills and talent within the organisation. But our tool can also help with employee engagement by helping managers match employees with projects that require their strengths. In our sales training program, we educate partners and salespeople about how lack of employee engagement can hurt productivity and what organisations can do to boost it.
- Detailed and intelligent answers to all possible questions: Fifteen years ago I was trained by Jeff Sherwood, one of the best salespeople I have ever met. He taught me the importance of having well scripted and well thought out answers to all the possible questions a customer could ask. It is hard to explain the details of this process in this blog article, but in short: it is about understanding the customer’s intent and the job to be done and then creating answers to any possible questions they may have. This exercise is super important because a good salesperson should be able to answer all questions the customer has.
When I was working for mobile distribution app platform Appland, we created a bank of resources that contained thoughtful answers to just about every question the customer could throw at us. We created slides for these questions and answers and added them as an Appendix to our standard sales presentation. Just before I left Appland, I was able to make a presentation and show a slide for ALL questions the prospect had.
- Follow-up process: Salespeople need to be taught about the importance of following up and trained on how to do it effectively. How many email and phone calls should salespeople make before giving up? Should LinkedIn be used to establish contact? What are your rules and what is expected? All this should be clear.
- Storytelling: Good storytelling is an art form. When deployed in B2B sales and channel partner sales, storytelling can help you transform sales because of the connection it helps build between the business and customer. I elaborate somewhat on this in my article on how to create a sales presentation, which you should definitely read. Storytelling should be an important part of your training program. This is why, as I mentioned earlier, you need to settle on a story about your product.
To conclude, creating a sales training program is not an easy and quick task. It requires thinking, planning, and structure – all of which take time and effort. Also, once you create it, you cannot sit back and relax. You will need to modify, update, and improve your program regularly to ensure high quality and that it stays relevant to your business.
The good part is that once you start getting salespeople on board, and help them grow professionally with sales training, you will see some amazing results. Most likely, your salespeople will be making their first sales faster and faster and they will have a higher chance of success. If you continue to coach them and help them grow, you can substantially increase your overall sales.