Before engaging a sales training program, determine individual learning needs of the staff

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:27 pm

Before engaging a sales training program, determine individual learning needs of the staff

By Marcia Gauger, for SBT

Question: I recently acquired responsibility for training our sales staff. The challenge I have is that the staff is made up of veterans and rookies. How do I make sure that the training will be effective for all? What topics should I train first?

Answer: Forget about defining topics for a minute. Do you want to just train, or do you want to affect sales performance and outcomes? The question you need to ask yourself first is, "What should the training do?" What should your people do differently than they have done in the past? You are right to be concerned about appealing to the real training needs of a mixed group. If you take a generic approach, you may end up spending more time and money than you need to.
Start by defining core competencies required to be successful.
What do the best performers do to achieve success, specifically in the areas that you have identified as your outcomes?
After you define the required competencies, test your staff on their knowledge of the skills required for those competencies. That will give you a clear picture of both group and individual training needs. This is a very straightforward approach.
Whether veteran or rookie, they either know what they need to or they don’t!
One very successful approach is to hold group training sessions on the topics that are universal to the group, or allow salespeople to "test out" participating only in the courses that they need to. Another approach is to have salespeople put together their own training plans based on their individual needs.
Here are some other guidelines to consider when designing effective sales training:
1. Define learning objectives which produce the correct outcomes. You may design a course which is structured properly and learners enjoy, yet it may not produce the result that you need. Examples of this are endless. A sales organization who was experiencing vehicle damage and accidents assumed that the need was to provide automobile safety training. So, they did — over and over again. And nothing changed. After assessing needs, we discovered that safety was not the issue. The sales staff knew the safety issues. Instead, they didn’t care! So, training was provided on how the accidents impacted profit sharing and bonuses. Accidents decreased by 60% in the first year.
2. Select learning activities that reflect your desired outcomes. If your objective is for your sales team to answer objections effectively, having them read a book or watch a videotape about how to answer objections won’t cut it. Learners need an opportunity to practice what they learn. The classroom environment and the activities that you select should mirror real life as closely as possible. Participants should feel like they can make mistakes without repercussions. No large group role-plays! They aren’t real and they do nothing more than put people on the spot.
3. Design to appeal to all learning styles. The three main senses that we use when we learn are sight, sound and touch. While we use all of these senses to receive and interpret information, we have a preference. Some of your learners will learn best by practice or role play, some by explanation and others by watching and visual stimulation. Make sure that you appeal to all styles when you design your training by peppering your sessions with a variety of training activities.
4. Allow participants to be accountable for their own learning. The facilitator should never be the focus of an effective training session. You most likely have a wealth of experience in your group. Draw from it. It’s amazing how little you will need to actually deliver if you allow learners to think for themselves. A general rule of thumb is to allow for 70% learner involvement and 30% facilitator intervention. Reserve your delivery time to introducing key concepts, and guiding the learning group to reach appropriate conclusions.
5. Determine delivery options. Logistics play a significant role in how training will be delivered. If you have a sales force that is geographically scattered, look for options outside of traditional classroom settings, such as self-study modules. Regular sales meetings are terrific venues for introducing sales training topics. Regardless of the format that you select for delivery, you should consider amount of training to be delivered. One of the most effective delivery methods is to introduce one or two topics at a time, have learners practice their skills over a given time period, and then introduce additional skills that build on the concepts learned.
6. Determine coaching opportunities. If training is not supported outside of the classroom, it won’t matter how good it is. If your sales staff reports to others, consider providing the coaches with guides introducing what was learned, how to recognize when skills are being utilized and reinforcement ideas.
7. Have fun! There is nothing that says that training should be boring. Incorporate games, contests and activities. For instance, in a recent new employee orientation program individuals were given company history and operations information to read as pre-work. When they entered the classroom, they were placed in groups and asked to write review questions. The group played a game of Jeopardy utilizing the questions. The result was more than fun. Retention increased substantially and training time was cut in half.

Marcia Gauger is the president of Impact Sales, a performance improvement and training company with offices in Wisconsin, Florida and Arkansas. You can contact her at 262-642-9610 or Her column appears in every other issue of SBT.

Nov. 14, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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