SGEi is a training and communications company that works with companies across multiple industries and in over 30 countries around the world. Our team designs and delivers customized learning experiences, focusing on sales and customer service, at all levels of an organization. Research from ATD states that organizations spend an average of $1,459 per salesperson on sales training each year. This type of investment warrants a detailed plan and a high degree of expertise to ensure success. Through our experience, we wish to offer some advice when developing your own comprehensive internal sales training program. It all begins the first day for your new employee at orientation.
Orientation is the foundation for a comprehensive sales training program. Companies must develop an engaging, interactive, and fun experience for an employee the first one or two days on the job. The first day of an employee’s new job establishes the priorities of the company in their mind. Too many companies focus on paperwork, policies and procedures. Many companies get straight to selling, ignoring the importance of orienting and integrating new staff in the company’s brand, culture, and customer. Your sales associates are ambassadors of your brand; thus, it is critical that you start them off right by providing the necessary knowledge and expectations of your brand. Your salespeople must be emotionally connected and invested in your brand from day one to ensure their level of excitement and commitment to the products and services they represent. It is the most important day of training an employee within your company experiences. It not only establishes the company priorities but, it also sets the stage for how valuable and fun learning will be in the future.
After the first one or two days of orientation, the new hire is handed over to their respective teams to begin their onboarding process in earnest. Research shows that onboarding is a critical part of the employee experience affecting retention, performance, and productivity. The focus of the next 30 – 60 days is to train and certify that the new sales staff can successfully sell, meet customer expectations, and satisfy their sales goals. Too many times, sales staff are selected on experience or are assumed to know how to sell. As a result, their onboarding is cut short or nonexistent. Companies must invest to teach all their new salespeople how to sell in-line with the brand and culture of the company.
The purpose of the onboarding process is to enable employees to sell comfortably and confidently so, exposing them to the product and services they are responsible for is important. They must spend time using the product on their own or experiencing the services they offer. When we opened hotels, we would ensure the sales staff spent at least two days staying in the hotel. When we worked with BMW, we loved that some dealerships allowed new salespeople to take a new BMW home in their first week to experience the ultimate driving machine. Companies must introduce their new salespeople to their new products as quickly and for as long as possible.
Another key aspect of a successful onboarding program is to pair up a new salesperson with their first mentor in the company. Many successful companies, such as Netflix, use mentoring to provide a peer who can work alongside the new hire, guide them around their new environment, and provide a great example of how to be successful in the company. To get your new salesperson productive as quickly as possible, assigning a mentor is definitely a proven best practice.
Also within the onboarding experience, it is important that new sales staff are tested to assess their selling abilities, product/service knowledge, and cultural fit. Use of role plays, knowledge tests, and observational tests from a mentor are all important in setting up the new salesperson for success.
Enable & Empower Your Sales Teams
Once onboarding is completed, employees should continue their learning and development by completing sales training courses online and in person. These courses should include skills on how to make decisions and develop coping mechanisms when dealing with difficult situations or customers. We recommend all sales staff go through ethical training each year to help guide practices and decision-making. Reinforcement of values on how to act and interact with customers, and potential customers, is also critical in a sales-focused environment. Companies can no longer just stress the importance of hitting numbers but, also emphasize how those numbers must be achieved.
It is important to provide sales staff ongoing training and exposure to a variety of ideas and inspiration. Opportunities inside and outside of the company are a critical part of their ongoing development. We develop learning maps that combine classroom and online learning opportunities for sales staff. Continuing education is the catalyst for progression, which is a key reason why employees stay with an organization.
As sales staff become more seasoned, we recommend requiring them to contribute to the development of others and the organization. Ask them to write and submit their own articles, blogs, business cases, or training modules so that others in the organization can learn from them. Ask them to co-facilitate workshops and develop training modules to formalize their own thinking while helping others. Provide them access to a library of information, ideas, speakers, and workshops to continually evolve their own thinking. The bottom line is, sales people with more than two years of tenure should be expected to contribute to your business in a meaningful way beyond just hitting their sales numbers. This is particularly important for millennial employees as only 28% feel as though their skills are being fully utilized and 93% want development opportunities.
We also recommend looking for sales staff with leadership potential, the ability to work with, and through, others constantly. As salespeople master their skills and numbers, assessing their capacity to lead others is important because you must continuously fill the leadership pipeline. We recognize that some salespeople are better off just selling. We have seen the negative outcome of salespeople with little interest or capacity to oversee others being placed in leadership roles just because their numbers are great. We must stress your best future sales leaders are not necessarily your best salespeople. However, when you do recognize leadership potential in a salesperson and they are interested, then you must provide them opportunities to grow their skills around leading others and themselves. These opportunities to develop should emphasize the development of coaching skills, understanding the business the brand, how to elevate performance, how to have tough conversations, and how to communicate more effectively across multiple mediums. It is ideal for these young potential leaders to be given mentor roles for new sales staff entering the organization.
Remember, it is not necessary that all employees find a managerial position in your company and it is important to realize that while you invest in the skills of your salespeople, there is a good chance they will leave anyway. And while I speak to many owners who hate this likely outcome, the reality is if you do not invest in your salespeople and they are still sticking around after two years, what is the state of their attitude, skill level, and ability to contribute to your company?
These are the various elements we see in high-performing organizations that understand and invest in the learning and development of their sales teams. If you have additional questions, please do not hesitate to firstname.lastname@example.org and learn more about how we can help design and deliver your internal sales training program.