How much training should I give my sales team?

Highly effective sales people and teams do not happen by chance. A study by Aberdeen Group (2009) of 8,500 top performing companies with a turnover in excess of $50 million, showed that the highest performing of these in each of their industries provided their sales teams with no less than eight days of focused sales training per year, and this did not include product training.

Another Aberdeen Group Productivity report (2008) showed that top-performing sales organisations were 24% more likely than all other companies to either have in place, or have short-term plans to implement, formal sales training methodologies.

It is plausible that larger businesses can afford to, and do invest in, the development of their sales teams on a more consistent basis. Usually supported by learning and development departments, access to the latest research and training providers, corporates and larger businesses can appear to have the upper hand when it comes to highly skilled sales and service teams.

Providing regular and quality training and coaching can prove to be a challenge for smaller businesses. Finding the time to take your sales team out of the field to train them, getting access to quality, customised training content and quality trainers at an affordable price is problematic. Too many ‘off the shelf’ sales programs aren’t usually flexible enough to meet most sales teams’ requirements and are often limited to simple transactional sales interactions or motivational ‘rah rah’ sessions.

However, for many SME sales teams to compete head to head with the skills of larger businesses, they need to be trained in more complex selling skills and processes which include:

  • Sales and account planning
  • Prospecting skills and strategies
  • Consultative/diagnostics selling skills
  • Negotiation skills
  • Interpersonal communication skills
  • Public speaking, pitching and presentation skills
  • Account management and development
  • Business acumen
  • Deal making and proposal/tender writing
  • Self or time management
  • Self awareness, resilience and insight.

So how can SME’s continue to develop the skills, knowledge and mindset of their sales teams even though they do not have the resources of a major corporate? We need to be clever about creating a continuous learning environment in SME’s. Here are a few tips:

1.     Think about what standard you need your sales and customer service people to be operating at. This will help you determine the type of training you need to provide them with.

2.     Assess what you feel confident delivering in-house and what you need to access from qualified, external providers. Research your external providers and make sure they deliver practical, competency-based training that can be taught and transferred to others.

3.     Map out a 12 month learning plan which provides regular learning sessions and has clear learning outcomes so you can check progress and skills and knowledge development. Not all of your training need be full day workshops. The best value is gained from ‘mini’ sessions of 30 minutes to one hour run regularly (fortnightly or at least every four weeks) interspersed with more formal classroom learning, ie. between one to four days per year on key topics where you need formal instruction.

4.     The mini learning sessions can focus on specific topics. A great way to include everyone and create accountability for learning, is to allocate topics to your sales and customer service people and have each of them select a topic they will research and present to the team. This helps you spread the learning load while giving your people the chance to practice their presentation skills. Rotate these sessions among your sales team. Make sure the environment is supportive and constructive to encourage rather than discourage participation.

5.     Reading material is in abundance. Giving your people access to free sales articles, such as the ones I write, can be used to assist further learning. Many of our clients’ sales managers use these sales articles to aid their sales team development. Whether they send it out as a topic to read or use the topic as a point for discussion in their sales meeting, they are creating a continuous learning environment.

6.     If you are going to invest in external development, a critical area is sales management and coaching. This can have the greatest return on investment for you and your sales team in terms of their professional development. Between 60-70% of a sales managers time should be devoted to people development. We suggest you get yourself or your sales managers professionally trained as sales coaches and trainers. For instance, we have built a Sales Leader’s Tool Kit which includes sales coaching field guides and mini skill, drill learning sessions that sales managers can run with their sales teams on a regular basis. This equips them to run structured, well planned sessions, and aids the development of your sales teams and shows your commitment to their ongoing development.

SME’s don’t need to be left behind when it comes to having high performing sales and customer service teams.

Continuous learning is a conscious choice and does not happen by accident. Whether you have access to large sums of money or not, you can create a viable learning environment and continue to enhance the capabilities of your sales and service teams.

Start with the end in mind – sales mastery is a way of life not a fad.

Remember, everybody lives by selling something.

Sue Barrett practices as a coach, advisor, speaker, facilitator, consultant and writer and works across all market segments with her skilful team at BARRETT. Sue and her team take the guess work out of selling and help people from many different careers become aware of their sales capabilities and enable them to take the steps to becoming effective and productive when it comes to selling, sales coaching or sales leadership.To hone your sales skills or learn how to sell go to www.barrett.com.au.

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