Welcome

Due to technology and multichannel digital experiences, modern buyers are equipped with greater informational resources before they even make contact with a potential seller. This means that preparing sellers requires more than just developing proficiency on the product itself — in fact, sellers should be trained on developing more nuanced skills in order to penetrate the attention of today’s information-savvy buyer. As a result, the importance of effective, high-quality, and immersive sales training programs is all the more apparent for the sales enablement teams that design and support those efforts.

The Evolution of Sales Training & Onboarding

According to the Demand Gen’s 2019 B2B Buyers Survey Report:

45% of b2b buyers researching potential solutions before purchase consideration

The sales training terrain has changed dramatically over the years. In decades past, formal sales training programs focused on product and service features, with some attention given to objection handling and role-playing, depending on the company. However, very little focus was placed on training sellers to educate buyers on how their products or services can grow their customer’s business.

Due to the increasingly complex business environment with the emergence of global markets, advancing technology, and buyer empowerment due to access of information on the internet, suppliers were forced into providing their customers and prospects with more than just the best product on the market. They needed to hire, onboard, train, coach, and develop salespeople who are able to function as trusted advisors to their customers. Sellers must be able to complement the increasing awareness of their buyers with key information on how their products or services can contribute to long-term, strategic impact for their organization.

Training & Onboarding Fundamentals

To prepare sellers for this complex market landscape, there are essential elements that an effective sales training and onboarding program should adhere to so that new hires and existing reps retain the information they learn, experience a noticeable improvement in desired skill development, and demonstrate increased sales performance due to changes in behavior. Here are three fundamental areas of expertise that sales enablement or other sales readiness teams should consider when designing effective programs, along with accompanying materials and tools that dive deeper into each respective area.

 

Instructional Design

Obtaining knowledge about instructional design models is invaluable for training development. These models identify a system to the knowledge acquisition process, with the goal of making learning accessible. There are many frameworks one can use, but the ADDIE model is one of the most common as it addresses the desired outcomes:

  • Analyze: Define the reason for conducting training by establishing the problem that needs to be solved. Identify the current knowledge gaps.
  • Design: Establish the learning strategies involved, content that will be used, delivery methods, and duration.
  • Develop: Assemble the elements of the design phase into a structure, with consideration of your particular audience. Test the program for feedback.
  • Implement: Present and facilitate training as planned.
  • Evaluate: Determine if objectives were met and revise for future training programs.
retention
Article

Adult Learning

Without a basic understanding of adult learning theory, training collateral can fall flat in front of new hires or sellers. Adult learners require an optimal educational environment in order to learn, retain, and apply the knowledge they’re taught. Educator Malcolm Knowles developed four principles of adult learning theory that are widely used today and are effective in addressing the unique needs and motivations of mature learners:

  • Adults need to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction.
  • Experience (including mistakes) provides the basis for the learning activities.
  • Adults are most interested in learning subjects that have immediate relevance and impact to their job or personal life.
  • Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented.
competency framework article
Tool

Competency Mapping

It’s impossible to train your sales reps toward a desired outcome without a clear, defined understanding of what the end-goal is. With competency modeling, practitioners have a framework for establishing the necessary skills, abilities, and behavior requirements for a given sales role. When done correctly, competency models are linked to organizational strategy, and ensures that training programs are guided by the goals of the business. In fact, organizations that prioritize competency improvement during onboarding experience win rates that are 3 percentage points higher than those that do not. For many organizations, seller competencies can fall into four main categories:

  • Selling motions
  • Product knowledge
  • Soft skills & attributes
  • Systems & processes

Modern Sales Onboarding

 

According to the State of Sales Enablement 2020 Report:

21% of organizations reported that onboarding new hires is one of their top three sales challenges

What is onboarding?

Every effective sales training program starts with onboarding. Sales onboarding is the process of introducing new sales reps into the organization by providing them with the necessary skills and knowledge they need to be successful. From the perspective of the new hire, a positive experience is contingent on them feeling a sense of belonging to the company and its values, with a clear understanding of organizational goals and visions. For the organization and its bottom line, it’s essential to have a streamlined and highly structured onboarding program that accelerates the productivity of new sales reps, in order to begin generating revenue for the company.

Virtual Onboarding

While many organizations are accustomed to delivering onboarding in-person, many are also pivoting to virtual onboarding due to new remote work environments and the flexibility to onboard global cohorts simultaneously. In addition to being a rich learning opportunity, it’s equally important when onboarding remote sales teams to prioritize the quality of experience for the new hires. It’s critical to start things off on the right foot, since this is their first encounter with the company’s culture. There are a few things to keep in mind when onboarding sales reps virtually:

Leverage technology

Technology plays a key role in enablement’s ability to deliver onboarding programs remotely, as research suggests that those that leverage a tool for those purposes experience win rates that are 7 percentage points greater than those that do not (State of Sales Enablement 2020 Report). Do plenty of research and ensure that new tools integrate well with the existing tech stack.

Engage creatively

Prior to the first onboarding session, send new hires a welcome package that includes props that will be used throughout their session. These can include little chalkboards where they write answers to trivia games and share with the team. These types of elements are helpful in promoting participation in the sessions, while also keeping their interest and engagement throughout.

Utilize pre-work

Give new hires pre-work to complete before their first virtual onboarding sessions. These can include educational videos or longer-form reading materials that they’re able to do on their own time. This reduces the amount of time they spend sitting in front of the camera, while also creating a more dynamic, asynchronous learning experience.

Onboarding Best Practices

strategies and tips

An effective onboarding program doesn’t only decrease the ramp up time of new sales reps, but it also can impact the retention of key talent and improve the revenue performance of the sales organization as a whole. In order to achieve this, here are some tried and true best practices to implement before, during, or after the onboarding program session or activity, all from seasoned sales enablement experts and thought leaders within the community.

Pre-onboarding

Clarify role expectations. Consider providing new sales reps with materials and resources to view or complete prior to their onboarding session that will prime them for what to expect in their sessions and give them confidence in what lies ahead. For instance, a personalized document that specifies their role, its responsibilities, and the skills and abilities that will be required (and that they’ll be trained on), or a video that introduces them to an existing rep who gives an overview of their day-to-day as a seller.

Keep it simple. Be wary of overloading your new reps with information that is less necessary for them right now. Streamline the onboarding process as much as possible, and focus on including the most relevant information in an organized, clear-cut format.

 

Provide structure with stated goals. Create and adhere to a formal structure that new hires are informed of prior to their first day, ideally contained within their onboarding plan. This should include an agenda that states the skill or competency being targeted, which day that training will take place, the expected duration of that training, and a clear outcome or goal that the training should have on seller knowledge and abilities.

Complete administrative tasks early-on. Ensure that reps are adequately set-up into their emails and that all logins for necessary onboarding tools are good-to-go. Having some hires lag behind others because of technical difficulties can create a poor first impression that lasts throughout the day or week.

During Onboarding

Boot camp. These lay the foundation for new reps to develop their industry expertise and become familiar with the company and products that they’ll be selling. Time should be spent reviewing office norms, company culture, and expectations of the role.

Skills learning & training. This is where new sales reps start to learn and develop the specific skills that you’ve already outlined are necessary for their success. These can be skills or knowledge-based, and be related to methodologies, their industry, or the products and services that they’ll be selling. 

Practice & immersion. To get reps to be productive faster, provide them with opportunities to practice what they’ve learned over and over. Utilize job shadowing, peer-to-peer learning and feedback, and show them what good looks by having high-performing reps lead role-play sessions.

Post-Onboarding

Reinforcement

On average, people forget 70% of what they’ve learned during training within 24 hours. In order to avoid this pitfall, lean on sales managers to continuously reinforce skills and behaviors taught by the onboarding team. That way managers are holding new reps accountable for meeting their goals, and onboarding or sales enablement teams are able to facilitate their jobs more effectively.

Mentorship program

Consider assigning every new sales rep with a mentor who offers career advice, networking opportunities, and trusted insight into their own challenges and experiences of the day-to-day job. Make mentorship matches strategically: consider coupling younger, digitally native reps that have less experience with mature, tenured sellers that could benefit from more technical expertise.

Performance evaluation

After the employee’s first 30 days, sit down with them and evaluate if they’ve achieved the outcomes they’ve set out for themself. These coaching sessions should ask questions about what is or isn’t working for them, and whether or not they’re enjoying their new role. After 90-days, conduct another check-in and ensure they’re feeling satisfied with their performance.

Measuring Onboarding Success

Onboarding can have a dramatic impact on seller success, therefore it’s critical to be aware of the core metrics that translate to sales rep performance. Here are a few key indicators of onboarding success:

Time-based metrics can provide insight into the early successes of onboarding programs. These should demonstrate the velocity of a new rep throughout the course of their ramping, key milestones to track their progress.

onboarding metrics
Article

Measuring the adoption rates of the sales stack that’s introduced during onboarding is an important indicator of your program’s effectiveness. Adoption rates can apply to any number of tools, programs, or content that organization’s supply to sellers.

podcast with alan love
Podcast

One of the most important indicators of programmatic success is the feedback that comes directly from new sellers. Not only should feedback be accumulated after the onboarding process is complete, but during as well, when the experience is fresh. Opportunities to provide feedback should be systematic and, ideally, one-on-one.

Similar to quizzes, behavior assessments evaluate and score a seller’s readiness or knowledge in a particular area. Reps complete a task in front of a panel and are judged for specific behavioral attributes on a scorecard, which determines if they’ve met minimum requirements for a certification. This allows reps to get targeted guidance for their performance.

Modern Sales Training

Why Sales Training is Important

Sales training is the process of preparing customer-facing teams for sales success, through skill, knowledge, and asset development. It encompasses onboarding new hires, continuous training for desired behaviors, and assessing the effectiveness of existing programs in order to iterate and improve.

To prove how vital a thoughtful training program is, consider that Ebbinghaus’ “forgetting curve” indicates people will forget 90% of what they are taught within one week if left without proper systems in place to combat this effect.

Having formal training programs that leverage the fundamentals mentioned above are critical to sales rep performance and ultimately, to the revenue growth of the entire organization. As the business-to-business selling environment becomes more complex, more is expected of sales reps than ever before and therefore training programs should be targeted to specific outcomes and align to corporate strategy.

Sales training statistics

26% of companies report that their sales training programs are ineffective, according to Training Industry
10 points win rate Orgs that are highly effective in the management of ongoing training efforts experience win rates that are 10 points greater than those that are somewhat effective, according to the Sales Enablement Maturity 2020 Report
70 percent of learners forget what was taught within 24 hours of training, according to SmartWinnr

Creating a Sales Training Program

Sales enablement practitioners should be familiar with specific frameworks that have the ability to maximize effectiveness when designing training programs. When creating a sales training program for one’s organization, it’s important to incorporate various techniques and strategies that take into account the multitude of responsibilities, abilities, learning styles, and end-goals of the reps and revenue teams that the programs serve. Here are four key components of effective training initiatives, with additional resources to deepen one’s understanding before putting into practice.

competency audit
Article

Core Competency Audit

One of the first things sales enablement should devise is an assessment of the core competencies that are required to be successful as a sales rep within the organization. To support this, competency audits are effective in creating standardized criteria and are useful in targeting specific behaviors of development within the training process. Here are the necessary steps for conducting an audit:

  • Define core competencies
  • Identify behavioral indicators
  • Assess current competency levels
  • Analyze gaps and training needs
podcast
Podcast

Peer-to-Peer Training

Beyond training reps in products, skills, or competencies, it’s critical that they’re provided opportunities to practice new behaviors and apply the knowledge that they’ve learned in simulated environments before venturing out with actual customers. Not only does sharing best practice with teammates help build confidence, but it also fosters a positive, team-oriented culture. Some examples of optimal peer-to-peer training sessions might include:

  • Roleplaying with fellow reps
  • Shadowing a high-performing peer
  • Internal mock-calling
  • Real-life outbound call with managerial support

Reinforcement

Training is not a one-time event. In order to create lasting behaviors and foster long-term retention of knowledge, reps should be given consistent opportunities for ongoing learning and training. Reinforcement of concepts and behaviors ensures that they cement; lack of reinforcement can cause reps to revert back to their old ways. Some ways to support ongoing learning and reinforcement include:

  • Create a community channel for sharing relevant news or online resources
  • Begin a book club, where reps read assigned materials and present to their teammates an informal report once a month
  • Launch a podcast where reps can present their success stories or deliver case studies on big wins
podcast
Podcast

Micro-Learning

As part of continuous learning within corporate environments, micro-learning plays an important role in the development of the modern learner. It’s known to be an effective strategy in bridging knowledge and competency gaps, and is particularly useful in today’s rapidly changing business environment. Some instances of micro-learning include:

  • Text that’s organized into bite-sized chunks
  • Short quizzes that reinforce key concepts after a learning session
  • Images, audio clips, and videos to create a more dynamic experience
  • Learning games or simulations

Measuring Sales Training Success

A sales training initiative is only as good as the data that tracks it. While there is no singular, Holy Grail metric that can measure the true impact of training sessions, there are several that, when taken into account together, can paint a decent picture. Below are some of the common and less common metrics that practitioners track, including activity-based metrics, competency-based metrics, and qualitative feedback.

Activity-based metrics

According to the Sales Enablement Analytics 2019 Report, many sales enablement practitioners surveyed default to activity-based metrics when assessing sales training effectiveness. Although these tend to be the most commonly evaluated data points, research indicates they are less effective in enhancing business outcomes than competency-based metrics. Examples include: number of physical training sessions delivered, number of virtual training sessions delivered, and the number of participants within sessions.

Competency-based metrics

The Sales Enablement Analytics 2019 Report indicates that less than 20% of sales enablement practitioners utilize competency-based metrics in order to understand the effectiveness of their sales training programs. Even so, not only are these metrics proven to more accurately reflect the abilities of sales reps, but they’re also tied to an increase in average win rates when compared to activity-based metrics. Examples include: competency improvement post-activity, the number of certified sellers achieving quota, and certification vs. retention rates.

Qualitative feedback

Receiving feedback on a delivered program is critical to assessing its quality in a way that data or numbers are less equipped to show. When done correctly, these present meaningful opportunities for sales enablement practitioners to increase the satisfaction of employees, promote engagement in learning materials, and elevate levels of retention. Gather feedback using quizzes in which reps score their experience, anonymous surveys to write-in their feedback, or one-on-one interviews.

Ask an Expert

Q

What are some of the key things that you consider when designing a curriculum?

A

“The biggest thing to really consider is getting into that analysis or that discovery phase and doing a really good job. I think the challenge that I see a lot of companies, and even in my own organization, it could be a challenge where you see a potential problem or you think there’s a solution that’s going to solve for it and you just go, and you start building. But in reality, just like, you know, any good salesperson you want to make sure you do a really good discovery to really identify what it is that businesses are struggling with, where do they really need help?”

–Matt Sustaita
  Senior Sales Enablement Content Strategist, Snowflake

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wrap-up

Designing and delivering a sales training program that resonates with sales reps and readies them for the frontline is a critical component of any sales organization. That being said, it’s not the only solution for delivering on revenue goals -- leadership is responsible for providing sales reps with a structured coaching strategy that reinforces training materials. For more resources, view all of Sales Enablement PRO's expertise as it relates to training.

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