The challenges with making an impact with traditional sales training (and what to do differently)

Sales Training: Six Ways Mensana Can Help You Finally Make It Work

Here’s a scenario quite a few of us will have experienced during our working lifetimes.

You and a few colleagues are invited to attend a sales training session to pick up some skills that, your employer says, will change for the better how you do your job. Other colleagues have just attended it, and they have nothing but glowing words for the content and the trainer.

The training turns out to be everything you’d heard it would be and more: the learning is served up in original, engaging activities, and it delivers one insight after another about better ways of doing a job whose routines you thought you’d mastered long ago.

The session ends, and you and your colleagues leave, awash with inspiration. You’ve just learned a ton of new tricks, and you’re excited about putting them to use.

Six months go by. One day, a colleague casually recalls a funny anecdote from the training session. Your mind hurtles back to it. You realize you’ve never actually applied a single thing you learned that day. And by now you’ve forgotten a lot of it.

This is the big problem with almost all otherwise good workplace training: people like what they learned but don’t end up using it. (Of course, there are still plenty of bad training courses out there—the ones where no one learns anything because the materials are badly designed, or because the trainer does nothing but talk at the audience in a monotone for two hours. But those are another story.)

Granted, things don’t always unfold this way. When people are being trained on, say, a software suite that’s going to replace what they’d been using before, they’re going to have to apply the training if they want to keep their job. But when training focuses on new ways of doing old tasks or developing softer skills like effective listening, all too often people end up failing to integrate the training into their working routines.

Sales training is extra tricky—but there are ways to get it right

Training for sales professionals falls squarely into this latter category—so much so that many salespeople  believe that successful selling is fundamentally about unteachable qualities like charisma and instinct. And whenever additional sales training is rolled out, a familiar pattern emerges: sales teams are happy to sit through the training but then rarely assimilate it into their routines.

Leaders who have not seen any reliable performance improvements from their sales teams after they’ve sent them on training programs may start to believe that sales training is of limited value. We think they’re missing out on a great opportunity. When a firm sets new strategic objectives focused on revenue growth—increased market share for a higher-margin line of products or expansion into a new market, for instance—there’s no better way to accomplish those objectives than to recalibrate what sales reps sell and how they go about selling it. At Mensana, we know this because when we work with clients who are dedicated to making improved sales-team performance part of their revenue-growth strategy, the results tend to far surpass their expectations.

How do we do it? Here are six core features of Mensana’s approach to making sure your sales training actually changes how your sales team sells.

1. Building sales models and sales training together

In our experience, a sales training program cannot succeed if it has been built on a predefined sales model. Off-the-rack sales training almost never works, because it’s too generic to tackle each firm’s unique sales challenges.

This is why, at the start of our work with a new client, we sit down with them and their sales team to collaboratively build a sales model that specifies a custom strategy for engaging prospects and existing clients. Through this process, insights emerge about the key priorities of the training your sales team will need to unlock the opportunities you want to seize. By including your sales team in this model building, we help them to buy into what you are trying to achieve, which primes them to be receptive to the training that will follow.

2. Making training ongoing as well as interactive

When exploring training providers for your sales team in the past, you might have noticed a big claim they make is that their training sessions are full of interactive elements. Things like quizzes, storytelling, and gamification are held up as the apex of instructional sophistication.

Although we consider these devices an absolutely standard requirement for any training program, for us they’re only a starting point. Yes, they help participants to engage in the training in the moment, but they don’t solve the bigger challenge of helping people to integrate what they learn into routines that they’ve been following for several years.

That’s why we prioritize continual coaching and training in the field, working at your sales reps’ side for as long as it takes for them to fully assimilate the new sales processes and habits. Moreover, we equip your team with sales-enablement apps that have been pre-loaded with the playbook for your new sales methodology as well as the product and marketing materials for your new sales campaign, meaning that what your reps learned in the initial training is always at their fingertips.

3. Focusing on habits

Many training programs take people’s knowledge and understanding of the training as proof they have been adequately trained. At Mensana, we see knowledge as only a first step; it has no more than a hypothetical value if it’s not baked into people’s working habits. A training session, no matter how interactive, can only ever be about imparting knowledge. Habit formation happens through going out into the real world and repeatedly performing the actions learned during training.

From the moment we start building a new sales model with you and your sales team, we frame all training outcomes in terms of habits. Once we’ve established a sales methodology that fits your organization’s goals, we look at the current habits of the sales team, identifying which new habits need to be incorporated and which old habits will conflict with the new ones if they’re not replaced. On average, the Mensana team spends about three months working on habit building through a cycle of observation, review, and mentoring of your sales reps in the field.

4. Bringing in tools that let sales professionals concentrate on applying the training

To train employees to do their jobs differently is to ask them to do extra work—not just in attending the training, but in making the effort to apply it afterward.

Few companies that provide sales training recognize this fact, but here’s what happens when they don’t: the people who’ve been through their training session go back to work, find they have a million things to do, and cope with the situation by jettisoning any commitments they might have made to start applying the training.

For this reason, we support your organization’s sales training program by giving your reps tools that relieve them of distractions that might get in the way of their efforts to form new sales habits. To give an example, over the years we’ve had great success in stripping time-consuming administrative tasks out of sales teams’ routines by constantly fine-tuning the CRM tools that they work with. It’s amazing how a little task and reporting automation plus cross-account syncing of appointment and client details gives sales professionals the extra thinking space they need to form the sales habits you want them to develop. And as an added bonus, in making pro-level CRM use an integral part of their new routines, you’re also implementing a system to collect sales performance insights that can suggest ways to tweak your sales campaigns.

5. Giving sales managers a coaching methodology to use with their reps

We have found from past projects that sales managers like to take a hands-on approach to managing their teams. Even after they’ve been promoted from a frontline position, meeting clients and prospects is their lifeblood. This trait can and should be leveraged as a powerful source of ongoing coaching for the frontline sales professionals who report to them.

To be clear, we’re not talking about burdening your sales managers with an extra responsibility. Instead, we train your sales managers to work with their people in a new way.

From hundreds of hours of observing sales managers on client visits with their sales reps, we’ve observed they have a tendency to take over the interaction. This creates a missed opportunity: the rep is deprived of the chance to build new habits by putting the training into practice.

However, this is an issue that can easily be fixed. The first thing we do is put sales managers at the heart of the initial training framework, so that from the beginning they’re aware of exactly what new habits they need to see in their frontline people. Then we train them to apply a methodology for their ride-alongs that has them coaching the rep before the client meeting, observing without intervening during it, and offering constructive feedback after it, referring specifically back to the habits introduced during the reps’ initial training sessions.

When you have sales managers who apply this methodology, the training benefits are huge. Instilling new habits in reps becomes a permanent feature of the manager-rep relationship, meaning that no team member gets left without the support they need to master the habits you want to see.

6. Measuring the right things

It’s almost a cliché, but we don’t care: what gets measured gets done. And this holds especially true when it comes to training people. Yet, for some reason, most sales training programs don’t include any methods for measuring whether people are turning the techniques taught in the training into personal habits. They just focus on rises or falls in sales figures, which can be caused by a host of things outside of the control of your sales reps.

An essential component of Mensana’s approach to sales training is to identify and implement quantitative and qualitative measures of your sales reps’ progress—ones that are unique to your company. Our own team applies these measures out in the field with your sales professionals, and we train your sales managers to use them on their ride-alongs. The data collected is invaluable both for tracking the overall adoption of the training and for preparing ongoing one-on-one coaching for each member of the sales team.

Interested in finding out more about how Mensana can help you to deliver training that translates into permanent improvements in sales results? Contact our team here.