The Science of Designing Engaging Sales Training Curriculums

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The problem with many sales training programs today is not just ineffectiveness – it’s boredom. The risk of these unengaging programs is high. In fact, studies indicate that participants in lackluster sales training can forget more than 80 percent of the information they were taught within 90 days.

Training that is limited to new product introductions or annual kick-off meetings where reps are given information and marching orders is insufficient, as it often lacks the level of practice, feedback, and reinforcement necessary to turn knowledge into skills. Sales enablement can help organizations avoid this trap with thoughtful curriculum design that aligns with reps’ needs.

With personalized, interactive training that accounts for the differences in knowledge, skill, and motivation sources between sales reps, sales enablement can help drive retention. Sales enablement can also improve training efficiency by engaging sales leadership and frontline managers to adapt the training program to strategic needs. By tracking performance before and after, practitioners can modify curriculums as needed and provide additional support for reps who need it.

Here are four ways sales enablement can craft compelling curriculums for training programs to engage learners.

Understanding Learning Personas

Sales training cannot be successful as a “one size fits all” approach, as different people have different levels of knowledge and learn and develop in different ways and paces. Therefore, practitioners need to know how their audience learns, focuses their attention, retains information, and are motivated to learn.

“It is empathizing with the human being, that learner, that consumer before anything,” said Alyssa Clark, head of curriculum and instructional design for sales enablement at ServiceNow. “It’s really thinking about how does the learner want the information? When in the daily flow of work are they experiencing the need for that information? How are we as the learning professionals, the architects designing that experience, taking those inputs into consideration in the product?”

To factor individuality in and ensure reps effectively apply training in the field, consider leveraging Clark’s human-centered curriculum design approach to consult and collaborate with the users of the training program:

  • Gather Qualitative Insights: Conduct qualitative research–including focus groups, interviews, survey questions, and more–with a diverse range of reps to gain observations and immersions into the training needs of reps, as well as the techniques that they may best engage with.

“We want to be able to give people the opportunity to customize, tailor, curate, and own,” said Clark. “They have that accountability to their learning experiences. The only way that you do that is by truly making sure at the front end of your process, that you have important and intentional research-based conversations with your end-users.”

  • Craft Learner Personas: Crystallize the insights to understand and formulate the different personas of potential learners. Examples of potential learning personas may include early-career rep with limited industry experience, a seasoned rep looking to become a top performer, or someone who is switching departments, but familiar with the company.
  • Align Curriculum to Personas: Utilize learner personas to help cater to reps’ needs and create better curriculum materials and services.

“[Give learners] some choices and options that they can choose to see, ‘yes, I need more information’ or ‘no, I really don’t,’” said Julie Dirksen, author of “Design for How People Learn”. “They’re probably the person best able to judge that at any given time…[Try] to figure out how we create environments where people can adapt to the environment themselves, or make choices about how much information they need at any given point.”

Engage with Stakeholders

Training is not effective when delivered in a vacuum — no amount of personalized training will be successful if it is essentially dropped at the feet of reps. Enablement should enlist the help of sales leadership and frontline managers to effectively align training goals to business objectives and ensure ongoing support and reinforcement.

To provide realistic results expectations, sales enablement leaders should aim to have a seat at the table with the executive leadership team in order to understand the behaviors they want to see and tie training efforts directly to stakeholders’ priorities. Enablement must also work with frontline managers to engage them as champions of the training programs. This will help ensure they are equipped to help drive excitement prior to the training and provide adequate support and reinforcement to reps during and after the training.

As outlined in Miranda Martin’s “The Ultimate Sales Training Success Guide,” consider designing a three-step “Tell” recipe to generate a clearer understanding of what leadership and managers want from the training program:

  • Step 1: What Ingredients Are Required: What is the relevant material you want to include in your training? Avoid saturating them with too much premature information in this stage.
  • Step 2: Explain Why These Ingredients Are Needed: Give brief feedback on why some of these steps are included.
  • Step 3: Explain How to Complete the Recipe: Tell these stakeholders how enablement plans to do it and ask for their input.

Taking the time and effort to ask for stakeholders’ input may not significantly change what the training modules and content would have been without their involvement, but it will make a huge difference in adoption. The stakeholders will feel listened to, engaged, and more receptive. Their acceptance can greatly influence reps and decrease resistance to participation.

“Everybody thinks something different is important or key,” said Aisha Wallace-Wyche, vice president of global training and enablement at Diligent Corporation. “Some of the strategies I recommend to overcome these are collaborate, collaborate, collaborate, communicate, communicate, communicate. Don’t be afraid to speak up after you’ve done some analysis and asked the right identifying questions.”

Identify Gaps and Establish Curriculum Objectives

Sales enablement must go beyond the objective of boosting sales performance by identifying competency gaps and tracking training progress to inform the sessions and supporting materials that are integrated into the training.

A gap analysis is an examination of a rep’s current performance to identify the differences between the current state and where the reps should be. Conducting a gap analysis will help reveal opportunities around identified areas to focus resources and energy on in order to design curriculums to close those gaps.

“We really try to break it down and say, ‘before this training initiative goes out or this enablement program goes out, what are the current things that [reps] know?’” said Emily Ricco, senior manager of learning design at Salesforce. “What are the current things that [reps are] doing?…After [reps] go through this training program, what are the things that we want them to know and what are the things that we want to make sure they’re doing?”

After clearly identifying gaps, set objectives to track throughout training and beyond to determine the success of the training curriculum.

“We’ll try to pick [metrics] and get a benchmark of what they look like before the training and what they look like after the training intervention to see if we’re reaching our goals,” said Ricco.

Martin recommends using the ACE tool to simplify the process of diagnosing gaps and selecting necessary training topics:

  • Active: Trainee is live in action, and trainer is actively listening/observing and taking notes
  • Conversations: Conduct both pre- and post-sale-autopsies. Talk to learners and have conversations.
  • Evidence: Understand the metrics to diagnose issues and highlight great performance against benchmark ratios.

Clarify Expectations From the Beginning

To guarantee changed behavior in reps, outline what is in it for them and be transparent about what they should accomplish. According to Martin, setting expectations can elevate training to a 95% retention rate. After setting expectations by leveraging actionable steps for projected deadlines in a clear, concise format, enablement can better implement a strict practice regimen to sustain rep engagement in training programs. To set expectations with reps, Martin recommends utilizing the WHAT model:

  • When are they going to do it: Solidify when the rep is going to complete the assignment with specific targets or deadlines.
  • How will they do it: Clearly communicate the game plan and validate that reps understand it by having them repeat the plan back to you. Identify any possible roadblocks that may hold them back.
  • Agree and commit: Get a verbal commitment from the rep that they will meet the goal. The American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) performed a study on accountability and found that individuals have a 65% chance of completing a goal if they commit to someone.
  • Time for accountability appointment: Have reps set specific appointments with a person they’ve committed to, such as enablement or their manager. The chance of goal completion if you have a specific accountability appointment with a person to whom you’ve committed is 95%.

“For me, [the enablement] brand is about being expected, repeatable, and consistent,” said Hannah Ensler-Rivel, director of revenue enablement at Red Canary. “With expected, that’s about when we’re doing enablement…so sales always knows when they’re showing up to learn and can be in that right headspace with those correct expectations.”

Growing a great company with world-class sales reps means creating personalized training that effectively aligns training goals to business objectives, identifies competency gaps, and sets expectations. Truly great sales organizations intimately understand how reps think and build learner personas in order to offer ongoing support and reinforcement.

To maximize effectiveness of training, sales enablement can provide reps with interactive sessions, practical exercises, and meaningful conversation about the difficult “real-world” obstacles that need to be overcome. By crafting thorough, human-centered training curriculums, sales enablement can help reps hone their skills until they’re sharper than ever.

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