Most salespeople have to learn their craft through experience. Few colleges offer degrees in sales. In fact in 2015, according to CollegeFactual.com, there were only 2100 degrees earned in general sales. Compare that with 33,925 degrees earned in marketing.
But sales training is key to success. In a survey of sales gurus by Docurated, Jeff Goldberg of Jeff Goldberg & Associates says the number one way to improve sales performance is to “Train them properly, reinforce the training and observe them in the field putting it to use.”
And Arshad Husein of Epic Consulting Group writes that on-going sales training is required for reps to develop good sales habits. He prescribes planned repetition with active learner participation as essential parts of any training program. Sales courses can introduce ideas but turning “best practices” into real conversations and actions takes time and iteration in the field.
But it’s a challenge to help people practice skills when they’re in the field. It’s hard to track what individuals are doing. It’s not always clear if a rep has mastered a skill or is still learning it. And it’s difficult to tell if they’ve picked up bad habits.
So what can you do? First of all, don’t try to manage everything. You want reps to choose their learning based on what they need to know. Some will want to look at manuals; some will want to work with a colleague. And you want each team member to learn at a pace that’s most effective for him or her.
But there are a few elements of structure that you can weave into your team’s daily schedule to help you track, direct, and support their informal learning so it becomes even more effective for helping reps hit their targets.
Create specific behaviors you want employees to adopt.
Training is all about changing behavior. And as your folks learn informally, they’ll adopt new habits and processes. You want them to practice the specific behaviors that reflect best practices. For example, when your reps first meet with prospects, what specific questions or listening techniques should they use to understand the prospects’ motivations to buy?
Give individual reps their own sets of habits to work on.
Just as you hand out quota targets, you can assign on-the-job training targets or lists of the behaviors you want reps to work on mastering. It only takes a quick meeting to decide what an employee needs and then give each one a personal plan. Each rep’s customized learning path will help them do their jobs today and grow their careers in the long run.
Give everyone the resources they need to train.
You’ve created specific behaviors you want the team to adopt and tasked each member with acquiring a custom list to work on. Now they need the resources to do it.
They need access to manuals or videos if available. If there are no materials, then they need access to people who can show them what to do, including you. For sales people, who spend a lot of time waiting between appointments or flights, ensure they can easily access resources on their phones or tablets.
Track and recognize the progress.
If training is the key to performance, you need to follow up on learning goals as often as you check in on quota. This is where most people have trouble. You have to constantly ask reps what they have practiced and remind them of their target habits. But without your management, the team will fall back into old habits, and you’ll sacrifice performance.
[Tip: you can easily track on-the-job learning with a tool like Pract.us.]
Check in regularly to learn what they’ve accomplished. Have them demonstrate new skills or have discussions about how they’re using particular skills. Use this feedback to learn what’s working and what’s not.
And loudly recognize the progress your employees make. Most of the time, people struggle to learn a new skill before they can use it effectively. But recognizing the effort can keep reps’ motivation high in the meantime.
We tend to discount on-the-job learning because it’s not organized, structured or quantified. But few would deny how crucial this practice is for sales results. With just a little effort and focus, you can turn this incredible resource into a performance powerhouse.