7 Ways to Improve Sales Training

ISE Season 3 - Enablement History with Erich Starrett

Helping salespeople in your organization improve their performance is challenging. For sales trainers, the job probably isn’t easy. But they’re not alone. Every role in your company is likely changing.
Information technology is moving to the cloud; marketing is becoming more data-driven; sales conversations are evolving, and operations are becoming more efficient. With all this change, people need help to be successful in their role.
Our team at Growth Matters works with many trainers and learning professionals. we hear over and over again, “it’s hard to show business impact.” With course developers and training facilitators, it’s hard to show the direct line between the work they do and the business impact they are trying to achieve.
For example, how does a course design translate to sales results with the sales team? How does classroom training create lasting and sustained behavior change with managers? These are the right questions.
And they’re questions that should keep you up at night.

Reflect on your approach

Achieving business impact as a training professional is easier said than done. There are many moving parts to driving behavior change, and there are many factors out of your control. But there are many things you CAN do. We would start by asking some simple questions and reflect on your approach.
It’s critical to clarify your objective and then get real about any disconnect that may exist between your day-to-day work and the outputs you’re are trying to create. Don’t put your head in the sand. If you feel like you’re missing the mark — you probably are.
If you’re like many trainers we talk to, you probably know the link between what your team is doing and why they are doing it might not always show up in their final output.
If you feel like your outputs are lacking something, you’re probably right.
If that’s the case, stop designing and building. Stop digging yourself into a hole. Do something about it.

What problem are you solving?

To us, business impact always comes down to the problem you (and your function) is addressing. If that problem isn’t understood and scoped correctly, the training design and delivery will fail to achieve results. So the first question to any designer or trainer is simple;
“What problem are you trying to solve?” The typical responses are: “I need to get this done before the deadline.”I need to figure out how to create an activity that people like.”I need to get the training event slimmed down, so it fits into the 20 min slot we’ve allotted.”I need to be less busy because I’m slammed.”
PAUSE…Take a look at the list above, and ask yourself if that’s REALLY the problem you’re solving.
Are you sure?
Where’s the business impact?
Because if you ask a sales leader, or a business unit manager what problem they think you’re SUPPOSED to be solving, none of this stuff would be on their list.
It wouldn’t even be close.
In fact, they would probably roll their eyes.
So, please stop and reflect. Let’s face it.
For you to be successful, you have to do meaningful work. Not just meaningful to you, but useful to the business. To be more relevant, you have to focus on your audience and focus on achieving the results that business leaders are looking to gain.
So, if your audience is salespeople, what problem do you need to solve for salespeople? And, if your audience is the technology team, what problem do you need to address for them?
Answering these questions may be easier said than done. Too many trainers and developers have a difficult time answering this question. If that’s the case, it’s vital to search for more clarity and understanding. Don’t back off.
Get outside your comfort zone.
Get passionate about figuring out what problem your audience needs help solving. Start there.
Don’t start with what needs to be “gamified.”

Professional relevance requires business acumen

To begin creating a plan to increase your relevance, you have to engage stakeholders with what matters to them. Think “outside-in” and start with your organization’s customers, markets, and industry.
To help, here are some questions to help other trainers and developers increase their business impact.
As you read each question, think about what conversations you need to have, with whom.
The questions are:

  1. What problem are you trying to solve? The problem ties to sales managers and sales leaders and their business needs. Do they have a skill gap they need to address? Do leaders have a turnover challenge? Are marketers bringing new products to the market that they need to sell? You can’t be relevant unless you know what problem you’re trying to solve for your audience.
  2. What’s your definition of FAST? Are your time frames matching your audience’s? If business leaders are looking for help next month, are you able to deliver? What about next week? If your definition of “fast” is six months, you’re out of touch, and you are probably on the path to becoming obsolete. Every function has to deliver faster and produce at higher levels today. You’re not alone. If you can’t work at the same pace as client-facing functions, you’re not going to be relevant to leadership.
  3. What’s your definition of VALUABLE? Are you able to stick your neck out and fight for feedback from your audience, or are you afraid of what you’ll find out? When was the last time you sent a survey out or conducted interviews with stakeholders to ask, “How valuable is the content, material, and courses I’m producing?” You won’t be relevant until you can get in tune with your customers. Engage in reality. If you want to hear the unfiltered truth, start a “Training help desk” and see what happens.
  4. What do you need? Can you (and your training team) whiteboard your company’s business model and the role of the sales team in that model? Can you explain how customer-facing, revenue-generating employees sell? What’s their sales process? You can’t be relevant to your audience until you understand how your business works. Business acumen is a must. Bonus points if you can explain your company’s revenue streams and how your sales, service and marketing teams organize by capability.
  5. Who is your learning audience? How well do you know for whom you’re building content? Do you know what sales and service agents need to know and do to be successful? Are you able to take calls, listen in, or go on ride alongs? When was the last time you did that? Do you know the annual goals and objectives of your learning audience? You can’t be relevant unless you know what makes your audience tick.
  6. How do leaders measure their team’s productivity? Do you know how to read and review the metrics that leaders use to calculate business results? Are you able to link those measures to course content and the learning experiences you’re creating? You can’t build practical training solutions unless you understand how your audience is measured.
  7. What challenges do your audiences face? Do you know the friction points that exist in your audience’s organization? Are you able to explain both sides of a sales and marketing discussion? Are you ready to translate business requirements into something your audience’s needs (not just what they want)? Are you able to factor in these critical organizational linkages when you’re designing and delivering training solutions? Have you tried to field a phone call from an angry client? Have you tried to sell a solution to others? You can’t be relevant unless you can empathize with your audience. To gain more empathy, you have to immerse yourself in your audience’s reality.

Answering these questions may seem difficult at first. However, the answers to these questions, and your ability to dig in, and work hard to figure out the answers, will help you improve teaming with internal learning audiences, their managers, and their leaders. More importantly, shifting your approach allows you to become more consultative and business-centric, which then will enable you to engage in more impactful work — work that exists on the fringe of your organization, where innovation and agility occur.

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