In a perfect world, sales managers would be able to stop time, get their reps in a training workshop for a few days, and not lose one crucial minute of prospecting and sales calls. Sadly for them, that world doesn’t exist. As a result, 80% of companies don’t train as many salespeople as they want on the skills they think they need, according to a new survey.
The survey, conducted by Corporate Visions and Sales and Marketing Management Magazine, reveals several contradictions, gaps and challenges in today’s sales training environment.
Contradiction #1 – Managers choose training, but don’t want to lose time
Respondents to the survey said they primarily rely on sales managers to choose the training options and plans for their salespeople. However, these same sales managers balk at letting their salespeople leave the field for training.
Nearly 50% of companies identified this as the main reason for not providing the necessary level of sales training. While, budget constraints came in a distant second in the voting.
Challenge: Does it make sense to leave training decisions up to managers if they don’t see the value of investing the time?
Contradiction #2 — No investment in most effective training format
This probably also explains the second contradiction exposed by the survey. Of the nearly 300 companies responding, 45% declared that instructor-led, classroom training is the most effective at changing salespeople’s behaviour.
However, investment in this form of training will be flat in the coming years, while
64% of companies said they plan to increase their investment in virtual, online training, which, ironically, registered significantly lower in the effectiveness vote.
Challenge: How do the people in charge of delivering training be responsive to these demands despite believing the alternative is less desirable?
Here are three things needed to help overcome the challenges created by these contradictions:
Meaning there’s no standard set of skills that salespeople need to master and no agreement on what level of proficiency they must demonstrate… According to Sirius Decisions only 20-30% of companies have sales competency models at all.
- Competency Model-Driven Training Curriculum – According to Sirius Decisions, most companies (70-80%) do not have a competency-based training model. Meaning there’s no standards set of skills that salespeople need to master nor any agreement on what level of proficiency they must demonstrate. Companies need to establish a competency model and measures to ensure more impactful training.
One idea is to build a competency model around the three critical skills areas reps must excel at across the buying cycle in order to succeed:
- a) Pipeline – provide training, practice and coaching on the ability to disrupt the status quo, convince a prospect or customer on the need for change, and then effectively differentiate from competitive alternatives to create more qualified opportunities.
- b) Proposals – provide skills development and tools to improve the ability of reps to connect external factors and key customer initiatives to your solution, and then build a meaningful, custom business case that communicates value and passes muster with executive and financial decision-makers.
- c) Profits – provide concepts and techniques to make sure your reps don’t let value leak and margins suffer as the deal makes its way through the process and you confront the inevitable pricing pressures and run the procurement gauntlet.
By ensuring your reps are being trained, coached and measured on these skills, you improve the relevance of your curriculum relative to sales’ key performance indicators.
- Custom Learning Paths based on Performance Indicators – With a competency model in place, you can now replace your outdated “arbitrary learning paths” with custom learning paths designed to up-skill salespeople in the areas they actually need versus relying on unreliable manager opinions or generic role- or tenure- based development plans.
Data can be available from several sources to help determine each rep’s specific area of training needs. For example, you can look to your CRM system to find which reps are struggling to create the necessary pipeline to hit their quota; or, you can see which reps continually seem to have their deals and proposals get stuck in the middle of the pipeline because they can’t get executive buy-in from their customers; or, you can look at deal data to see which reps are the most promiscuous when it comes to discounting and pricing.
Based on these performance indicators you can begin to assign the appropriate training to the most need reps, to address the areas of greatest concern. In addition, you can consider behavioral outcome type assessments that help determine the skills gaps associated with each of the competencies in your model. Well-written surveys that include benchmark data for comparison to low and high performers can help you prioritize which reps need help in which areas.
- Flexible Learning Modalities – Having a competency model, and a custom learning path is useless – unless you can get the right training to the right reps at the right time. As revealed by the survey, time is the biggest enemy of a great training program. In traditional classroom learning, reps are often waiting to attend a scheduled class in a city near them that may be months out from when you have determined their need, only to have that date come and the rep’s manager decide they can’t leave the field or a travel freeze keeps them grounded in their home office.
Imagine being able to “push” virtual, modular content to each of your reps, as soon as you determine the gaps and deficiencies in their performance? The idea of just-in-time, situational learning is a reality with modular, online training options that can intercede immediately when an acute performance challenged is identified and a custom learning path created.
Classroom training may still be regarded as the standard when it comes to creating behavior changes in the field. But, they have zero impact if you can’t get reps into the classroom when they need it. That’s why companies need virtual training formats that strive to replicate the training rigor of a classroom setting, providing competency-based training, custom learning paths and situational learning modalities that improve reps’ performance without removing them from the field.