Best Practice

Lessons Learned from Virtual Sales Training

training and development

If you have salespeople in your company, chances are they have sat through quite a few virtual sales training meetings these past few months while the world has been practicing social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. The sales professionals and leaders we work with tells us their top three complaints about virtual sales training meetings are:

  • They’re often disappointed they don’t learn anything new.
  • They get bored on the calls because the training is not interactive enough.
  • It’s hard for them to retain the material because it’s presented to them only once and not reinforced in the future.

However, there is a specific formula for conducting an effective virtual sales skill training meeting. The formula takes pressure off the sales leader and spreads the responsibility for the effectiveness of the training to the participants as well.

It’s important to remember that there is a difference between product/service training and sales skill training. Many organizations allocate most of their training time to product/service training, and not enough to skill training. Professional golfers, on the other hand, are constantly learning about new equipment and trying it out, but the majority of their time is spent honing their skills. If pro golfers can improve their skills, so can experienced salespeople.

There are five components of an effective virtual training formula:

  1. Topic. The sales leader chooses one skill topic, such as “Questioning strategies.” When training begins, the sales leader walks the team through the agenda for the training, which includes roleplay. Some salespeople have anxiety or fear about roleplay, so this gives them a heads-up that it is going to happen and time to prepare.
  2. Customization. Get each individual sales team member to share his or her “gap” with regard to the training topic. At Sandler, we call this “pain.” It could sound like this: “Write down a time when you received a prospect objection and thought you had handled the objection but didn’t end up closing the deal.” In this example, salespeople sometimes forget how to handle a prospect’s objections or don’t have the skills needed. Using this type of question at the beginning of the meeting helps to establish challenges specific to the team member, external changes in the marketplace, or possible competition that will require improvement in sales skills. After participants share what they wrote, the sales leader may ask for some clarification, but most importantly, should guide each salesperson to discover the impact of the skill gap using his or her own response.
  3. Instruction. Many sales managers typically rely on instruction for their entire sales training meetings. However, it works much better after the salesperson’s “pain” has been shared. In this case, the sales leader might share a list of common prospect smokescreen objections. Those are objections the prospect gives to the salesperson but are usually not the real and honest objections. They would then share a list of various questioning strategies salespeople can use to dig deeper, when they receive smokescreens, to discover the true objection.
  4. Practice. Provide time for the salespeople to practice the specific skill. Roleplay allows the development of a sales skill to be practiced in a “safe” environment, drastically improving the likelihood of success in the field. Using web conference software breakout rooms, the salespeople can pair up and practice giving each other objections and using the questioning strategies to see if those do, in fact, help them zero in on the real objection. The prepared sales leader may even supply the “prospect” with common smokescreens, but also the real objection to make the roleplay more realistic. Sales leaders should also visit each breakout room to provide feedback if needed.
  5. Sharing. The training is wrapped up with a segment for “lessons learned/action plan.” The salespeople are asked to quickly share their biggest lessons learned from the training and what they will commit to putting into action in the coming week.

If the sales leader has the discipline to keep the training topic-focused, all of this can be accomplished well within an hour. Some sales leaders attempt to run training in 30 minutes or less. Depending upon the topic, this can work, but too often vital components are skipped, like failing to get each salesperson’s “pain” out on the table or recapping with lessons learned at the end of the meeting.

Salespeople tell us the “lessons learned” portion of training is often their favorite. They learn from each other in that segment and also internally reinforce new beliefs, develop team chemistry, and generate the important “light bulb” moments.

After adopting this formula for conducting an effective virtual sales training meeting, most sales leaders will find that salespeople are much more engaged and learn far more than in previous virtual training since they are active participants. So take a back seat, facilitate the learning and let the process and the salespeople do the work. You’ll love the results!

Bill Reidy is president of PWRhouse Consulting, an authorized Sandler Training center and sales force development company in Orlando. He can be reached at www.pwrhouse.sandler.com, bill.reidy@sandler.com or 443-418-6033.

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