Why an Inadequate Sales Training Program is Hurting Your Goals

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As you drive toward revenue goals, sales training is one of the tools that helps to reinforce the right behaviors, enabling reps with the tools needed to win in the marketplace.

Putting a training plan in place has significant upfront costs: First, you need to hire people to deploy and design a program. Then, it needs to be built. Finally, it needs to organized in a repeatable, scalable way so that it can be delivered.

Yet, the classic two week training program has often rightfully earned a stigma, as depicted by GE Capital’s Mike Kunkle:

“Usually it’s a content dump. No interaction, often not new content or content proven to make a difference, no real learning occurs, there’s no skill practice, no coaching and feedback loop, and no transfer strategy to bridge it back to the real world. And therefore, of course, no ROI.”

Training programs are not easy to start in a short period of time, and may even require a new hiring cycle to pass before fully effective. The significant costs are also mostly up front: new messaging, professional programming from groups like CEB, Corporate Visions, and Force Management, or even just the cost of hiring a trainer.

Without a deeper time investment, including a focused, progressive curriculum and a proper schedule, getting an ROI on training is an uphill battle. Still, when organizations face revenue goals and higher targets, a common reaction may be to increase the time spent selling, at the expense of training. Regardless, the money is already spent.

With the upfront investment already made in training, ensuring the program persists throughout the year remains the best investment. By delivering a truncated training program, three key measures of your organizations success are negatively impacted: the principle sales metrics, the costs of turnover, and the long-term loss of revenue and quota attainment.

Inadequate Sales Training Impact on Sales Metrics

Sales leaders are trying to impact a host of metrics, like speeding time to productivity for new hires and new products, reducing attrition, and increasing win rates. Engineering to these goals requires focus and guidance on behalf of sales leadership.

When a training program ends abruptly, reaching the full potential of the program in any reasonable timeframe is virtually impossible. Tracking to higher revenue targets requires continual improvement in your sales organization, but without robust, progressive training, you have few means of reaching these targets – other than simply hiring more reps, which works…until it doesn’t. The upfront training costs are already paid, and you have little to no real improvement to show for it.

By creating a robust sales training program that extends beyond onboarding and past three months, you give yourself the chance to realize a full ROI against the metrics you’re tracking. Training programs require time to mature.

Inadequate Sales Training Increases Turnover

The costs associated with hiring, training, and firing a rep can be astronomical, and may not even be clear to your organization. Yet, these costs skyrocket at scale and weigh heavily on budget projections.

While your mileage may vary, CEB estimates the average annual cost of training a rep to be approximately $3,400. Many sales organizations run a simple payback equation to see how long it takes for a rep to become financially profitable for the company, taking into account salary, other expenses, and training.

When you suspend or shorten training, attrition increases as reps fail to get better and never develop the necessary skills to reach higher performance levels. Losing these reps means losing your training investment into their performance, but more importantly, losing the entire value of that training investment each time.

At average spends, you not only have to estimate a loss of a $3,400 training investment, but also the lost productivity of a reduced salesforce and the costs of recruiting and training a replacement rep. These costs grow exponentially too – the higher the attrition, the faster the costs pile up. Losing a rep is probably more expensive than you realize, and without an ongoing training program, keeping attrition rates manageable becomes a full-time exercise rather than a predictable process.

Inadequate Sales Training Results In Lost Revenue

Forecasting revenue can be difficult with an inadequate training program. Not only do you have to guess at the change in revenue gained from too-short training, but you also have to factor in the potential loss in revenue brought on by undertrained reps failing to hit the number. Both issues stem from the same core problem, and their effects can impact your budget and your job.

When the training investment does not meet the needs of your reps, there is a direct correlation with your revenue output. A training program that ends without continued improvement or leaves reps more or less on their own after two weeks can result in reps reverting back to older, suboptimal habits.

Extending training in some sense throughout the year ensures that, at the most basic level, new concepts remain sharp and familiar, making it more likely that reps will not only recall them on sales calls, but also use them correctly. Additional time working on the craft of selling reinforces the right concepts, while ensuring you have the ability to shift behaviors in your organization. A sales leader’s job is part change management, and managers that lose sight of this end up with teams that don’t improve. If your reps get better, they stay longer and they perform better.

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Three Ways to (Actually) Hit Your Sales Revenue Goal this Year

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If you’re like most VPs of Sales, you’ll soon turn your attention to hitting the 2015 number. As we shared recently, creating your 2015 plan, with help from Cracking the Sales Management Code, is a more systematic way to engineer to success. To review, we broke apart the plan into three parts:

  • Business Results – the goals handed to sales each year, such as Financial and Market Share targets
  • Sales Objectives – these are the levers through which you reach your Business Results. Think of Market Coverage, Product Focus, or Customer Focus as viable options.
  • Sales Activities – Sales Activities are actual sales force actions, such as Territory Management, Opportunity Management, or Sales Force Enablement.

Think of it as a hierarchy: at the top are the Business Results, like revenue. To build to this goal, you set several Sales Objectives, which depend on selecting the right Sales Activities to manage and engineer to your success.

Here are three potential Sales Objectives to focus on in 2015 to help to power revenue growth. The first is Product Focus, deciding which solution or product needs to grow in sales to achieve higher returns. The second is Market Coverage, the right ways to approach a new segment and activate new sales in unfamiliar territories. Finally, Salesforce Capability looks at you manage and apply tools like your sales process.

1. Product Focus

Everyone wants to sell more product and bigger deals, but the world has moved toward crafting specific solutions that are more customer-centric. Whether a new product, an undersold solution, or a high-value option, building the 2015 plan around a specific product goal can be an extremely valuable exercise.

The Sales Activity that helps drive toward a product goal is Salesforce Enablement, more specifically the training, content, and messaging that you already use to boost your team’s abilities. Getting reps and managers up to speed on a solution comes back to the right education process, with the right content to enable them to sell. Reps need to be able not only to articulate the product to the market, but also to put it in context of a solution, educating and solving a prospect’s issue. Using a practice-based sales training and certification program, can help ensure your reps are actually carry the appropriate product focus

2. Market Coverage

Entering a new market segment is a classic way to drive new revenue, but only if you understand that segments receptivity. New segments bring new messaging, new attack plans, and new challenges, all of which alter the Sales Activities you choose to drive.

To drive at a new market segment, reps need to alter their approach. Who are the existing customers in the space that you work with? Are there any specific needs that are unique to that space? By communicating you understand the segment and its unique challenges, you’ll penetrate it at a higher rate. Now you need a place to collect and disseminate your company’s distinct point of view in each segment.

Here, you’ll look similarly to Account and Territory Management to drive toward success. Both mean peeling apart the measures that define success with a particular account or territory. To build toward Market Coverage, look at metrics like net new meetings in the space or calls into the new market. Once you begin to track, you can work toward the Sales Objective.

3. Salesforce Capability

Salesforce Capability looks at how your team operates and how able they are to sell and convert. It includes the sales stages, the training, and the continuous development that creates a successful sales process. When approaching the 2015 plan, one effective way to drive toward new revenue is to review Opportunity Management, how the team actually handles the process of converting a lead to an opportunity and customer, and the difference in messaging in each stage of the sales cycle.

CEB research finds that reps will, when missing the right messaging, default to whatever they learned last, making it imperative to drill the use of the right messages at the right time. Different sales cycle stages require different messaging and approaches that reps may not be executing live. Without changing the message in each stage, moving from general insight and education to positioning the solution within the market and matching a need, the chances of the sales being lost or delayed surprisingly increase with each step.

Guiding the team toward a dynamic sales cycle requires both planning and education. Looking at the buyer and seller stages together, for example, helps your reps and managers to understand what a certain stage of the process looks like, what the appropriate messaging is, and how the buyer will receive it. Once a plan is established, getting reps and managers applying messaging requires training, both highlighting a path to success with the new system and giving reps the skills necessary to identify and activate the right messaging at the right stage.

Solving the Sales Training vs. Sales Manager Onboarding Paradox

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Which of these sales training scenarios sounds more familiar?

Scenario A:
The sales training organization leads onboarding, with sales managers waiting on the sidelines. Yet, after two weeks of onboarding, reps are passed to their managers, who now expect to have fully functioning reps.

Scenario B:
The responsibility to onboard is placed on the individual sales manager, working from their own playbooks and often with different expectations. Every manager’s approach to training is different, reps come out of the process with widely varying amounts of attention, and comparing success across onboarding classes is difficult.

Which of these scenarios is the most common to you? These are two extremes, so your organization may look like one, the other, or somewhere in between, but chances are, the some of the realities are the same.

In Scenario A, the problem starts at the handoff. Once reps are passed on to their manager, the structure associated with the onboarding program wanes. Managers inevitably focus on making this month or quarter, but new hire onboarding doesn’t stop after two weeks.

For Scenario B, the problem comes in a lack of cohesion. Each manager has their own playbook, and the results of training vary widely from rep to rep. One of the dirtiest secrets in any sales organization is that coaching is widely inconsistent across managers.

No matter which scenario you identify with, here are four tactics that, when executed, will build a well-oiled onboarding machine that your managers will love!

1. Benchmark success and track results

By setting up clear benchmarks for success, measuring key data like participation and knowledge retention, sales training and/or managers will have greater focus and attention on what’s working and what’s not. Likewise, a training organization that communicates with managers in a language they understand (time to first deal, time to quota attainment, time to certification, etc…) delivers far more value to the company than one that only delivers onboarding.

Good sales training starts with good teamwork.

2. Generate buzz before the start date

Building buzz before onboarding, both with introductions and teasers of the learning and success to come, is a great way to build momentum and align both sales training and managers on the task ahead. Moreover, reps start on day one knowing what to expect from sales training, managers, or both.

3. Continue to train after two weeks

No matter who leads the initial onboarding, it shouldn’t stop at an arbitrary moment in time. The reality is that we all learn at different speeds and intensities. Yet, there’s one thing that most organizations look at – “the start date.” A healthy way to get after this challenge is to look at the key milestones in year 1. Set up those milestones and build your curriculum around metrics as opposed to arbitrary moments in time.

4. Involve the broader team to accelerate learning

If you leverage the power of sales tribal knowledge and peer mentoring, you can reinforce onboarding concepts and community from day 1, while giving your new team members powerful tools to retain and better embrace new concepts. Reps learn more effectively from each other, so developing strong team bonds will help to reduce the time to productivity and boost overall learning stickiness.

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Prior To The 2015 Sales Kickoff, Reps Need Practice–And More Practice

Published by Tim Riesterer | CMO

For an assignment in business class, my daughter and her peers each had to deliver a sales presentation in front of their classmates, after which they voted on the winner. My daughter texted later that day, saying her presentation ended up “winning by a landslide.”

To which I replied, “it must be in the DNA,” jokingly trying to take the credit. Within a second, she responded: “Or it could’ve been the 50,000 times I practiced it…”

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5 Sales Kickoff Myths Debunked

The annual Sales Kickoff is an event that exists to celebrate last year’s achievements, announce this year’s goals, and more broadly, set the stage for the year to come.

If done well, reps leave not only highly motivated, but also with a clearer line of sight on how to reach their objectives. For some, it’s the peak of rep motivation, when excited reps travel back to the office, ready to sell. To others, Kickoff can seem to be a difficult, generally unsuccessful event, expensive and spent away from the phone.

But for as much time and effort that goes into planning a Kickoff, there’s a debate over whether it’s actually worth it. Here are five myths you should be aware of but shouldn’t deter you if you’re planning a Kickoff this year.

1. Reps are only there to have a good time

The stereotype of a Kickoff gone wrong is well known: a group of half-asleep, hungover, and unfocused reps make up the majority of attendees. Meanwhile, an engaged group takes the event seriously, but loses interest over time. When the first group dominates the second, you’ve got a problem – the stereotype of a Sales KIckoff gone wrong.

Demonstrating value and driving success with reps is based almost entirely on how you set the stage. Leveraging good communications and driving an exciting lead up to the event, as well as setting a clear path to success, can steer reps and managers to excitement and learning before Kickoff. Pick a compelling theme and generate buzz before the event by creating mystery and intrigue. Take it one step further by asking reps to practice a short message or specific skill in advance, with the topic covered on day 1. When reps have thought about Kickoff, or dare we say, even prepared before showing up, you’re much more likely to have their attention from the word, “go.”

2. It’s a waste of time

Another common thought on Sales Kickoff is that the entire event is a waste of time, with reps taking home little more than a temporary boost in motivation.

The reality has little to do with the event itself, however, and far more to do with how you plan and measure success. Creating a firm, progressive plan that builds expectations, drives toward success, and keeps reps motivated and engaged is a main part of seeing a value return to the event. Likewise, setting up clear benchmark metrics that demonstrate value can help you drive toward a cost-effective, yet still phenomenal event. Focus on learning and cohesive planning, not just pushing content on reps.

3. It’s going to cost you

The costs involved with Sales Kickoff can quickly spiral out of control, weighing heavily on a sales budget. Think of the normal costs associated with the program – plane tickets, hotel rooms, food, events, speakers, and even time away from selling. One expert analysis by Sales Benchmark Index calculates the cost of an average enterprise kickoff at 2% of revenue goals! Your mileage will vary, but the costs are still very real. This creates the standard that Kickoff has to be expensive to be successful.

In reality, what makes Kickoff successful has less to do with the spend than you may think. While big events and resort travel can certainly get everyone excited to attend, success itself is drawn from what you do before, during, and after the event. It needs to not only inspire reps and teams, but serve as the launching point for a new year of success. Start looking at the Kickoff as less a moment in time and more as a year in the life for your sales team. If you decide to downgrade on the event itself, you may consider letting reps know that you’re plowing dollars back into other incentives or events throughout the year.

4. You need to go all out on entertainment

Keeping the team engaged during Kickoff is a big factor in the success of the event. Yet, many of the classic ways of driving excitement are overdone in the eyes of reps – motivational speakers, rock bands, and other flashy sessions may not be effective.

Solving the entertainment gap can be as simple as leveraging the bench of talent that already exists at the company. Look to your executive leadership team for motivational speaking – the same programs they bring to top conferences can work internally. And let your reps entertain each other! Most reps adhere to the philosophy that, “all the world’s a stage and we are merely players.” Whether it’s stand-up comedy, a song or dance competition, or some other unique talent, your reps will enjoy being the show if you let them. The best part is that it reinforces team bonding and start group formation, a core part of a solid peer mentoring.

5. Tracking success is difficult

One of the historical issues with Sales Kickoff is that its success is hard to track. While sales leaders know what metrics they want to drive toward, the specific data from Kickoff that leads to these goals is not as clear. Likewise, creating a specific plan that tracks the right metrics can be daunting.

In planning your Sales Kickoff, take the time to determine the data that shows success in the event alone. Things like rep participation rate, knowledge absorption, number of reps certified, or manager engagement can help build a framework of success. After the event, benchmark and score the Kickoff year-over-year, and begin to determine how the results of the event drive toward specific Sales Objectives and Business Results. Even if you’re not sure, try to put a frame around the event itself – you’ll get smarter each year.

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