Skip to main content

Even when a training initiative isn’t considered an outright failure, companies worry about whether their investment in training produces a positive return. Getting a positive ROI on training requires several building blocks. For one thing, the sales team must be engaged and committed to the work they do. The leadership and coaching skills of the sales trainer are, of course, of critical importance. And learning programs themselves must be designed with goals in mind, and taking advantage of technology and neuroscience to ensure excellent uptake and assimilation of new information and skills.

Sometimes sales managers and sales trainers believe they can re-engage sales teams with new incentive campaigns or larger incentives. While this can be true, what is also true is that the path to a successful sale is different than it used to be. In other words, working harder in an existent system may have marginal effects at best, and this sets the stage for a disengaged sales team and all the problems that come with it. Disengagement puts the kibosh on the discretionary effort necessary to close challenging sales, and also hampers sales productivity. Here are some thoughts on setting your sales training programs up for success.

Let the Data Inform Your Training Initiatives

Before you can set goals you need to know your starting point. Some aspects of your training program may ultimately remain the same, but you need to know which aspects must change. Sales trainers, with input from sales managers (and possibly HR) should do several things before designing a new training initiative:

  • Take a fresh look at the sales model. Working harder on the techniques that worked yesterday can be an exercise in futility. What is your go-to-market model? Is it relevant to today’s marketplace, economy, and regulatory environment?
  • Use a reliable and objective sales competency model to determine which behaviors are most likely to result in sales success.
  • Ask sales team members what motivates them rather than assuming you know.
  • Take baseline performance data for later benchmarking so you can measure improvement.

Key Events That Should Prompt Sales Training Initiatives

Initiating new sales training shouldn’t depend on how long it’s been since your team last underwent training. Rather, you should initiate new training in response to changes (either internal or external) that are requiring your team to adjust their skills in order to meet their sales goals. Some examples of circumstances that can prompt you to propose a new training program include:

  • A change in your go-to-market strategy. Suppose remaining competitive requires that you shift emphasis from being the low-cost provider to being a value-added provider. This may require that you revisit how sales team members are compensated, their skill sets, and even territory design.
  • Introduction of a new product. Whether the new product is an upgrade or something entirely new, a product launch strategy is an excellent milieu in which to incorporate new sales training. Generally, the more innovative the new product, the greater the need for the sales team to retrain.
  • Marketplace disruption. While a low level of “disruption” takes place constantly as buyers change what and how they buy, some disruptors should prompt you to rethink how your team is trained. For example, rather than just selling to doctors, today’s pharmaceutical sales rep must be prepared to interact with other clinical staff, pharmacists, and formulary managers. Are they trained to interact with these professionals competently?

Motivation and Training Should Go Together

Keeping your sales team engaged in the learning process requires well-thought-out learning modalities, the use of technology where it has a good track record, and making the learning environment motivating. A motivated team is a team that is partial to open and frequent communication. As a sales trainer, you have considerable influence when you set a good communication example. An attitude of continuous improvement rather than making training separate and apart from regular work helps keep skills fresh and your team invested.

The right technological tools are indispensable to pharma reps, as is the training that allows team members to use them. With the right tools at the right time, your team can make the best possible case for your products and do so efficiently. Incentives should exist on both a team and an individual level. Team incentives help create shared goals, while individual incentives are great for motivating learners in exactly the way they need. All incentives should be implemented according to clear outcomes, and should be applied consistently to avoid emergence of resentment. Recognition should also be given on both individual and team levels.

The Sales Trainer’s Coaching and Leadership Skills

How willing the sales trainer is to offer coaching (or set up coaching with someone else) makes a difference in the success of a sales training initiative. Ideally, weekly one-to-one meetings with each sales team member help trainers understand which skills need coaching. Sales assessment tools are available to help you and your teammates understand strengths and weaknesses so that coaching can target the right skills and behaviors.

Other leadership/coaching tactics that work well include identifying sales training resources and providing access to them, as well as doing occasional ridealongs with sales team members. Integrity, strong organizational skills, and excellent communication skills are non-negotiable skills for the sales trainer in his or her leadership role.

Some specific tasks that help ensure effectiveness and “stickiness” of training include:

  • Committing to positive, uplifting sales meetings
  • Thoroughly understanding your sales culture
  • Developing reasonable goals and breaking them down into smaller objectives
  • Ensuring the company as a whole supports the sales department
  • Designing incentive and compensation plans that reward the behaviors you want

Training initiatives thrown together haphazardly, or based upon outdated processes are prone to failure. Fortunately, the steps you take to ensure the success of your sales training programs are relatively straightforward once you identify your starting point and determine where the best opportunities for improvement exist. Today’s learning technology makes it far easier to create a custom, blended learning environment that speaks directly to your sales team’s needs. Assessment tools are likewise sophisticated enough to make a measurable positive difference in the effectiveness of your training. We encourage you to check out our areas of training expertise as you plan for your most successful training initiative yet.

The problem with most training investments, and perhaps why many tend to avoid investing, is that it just doesn't stick. The team goes through training for a few days and comes back all fired up, and 30 days later they are back to their old habits.

Paul Alves, Chief Executive Officer and co-founderAG Salesworks