The case for employee-centric sales training
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The case for employee-centric sales training

A new report from Deloitte sheds light on a growing trend in corporate learning: employee-centric learning. And it raises some intriguing ideas about how sales training should be deployed.

You may thinking, “What’s so new about that? I’ve always believed in putting my people first.”

I wouldn’t presume to suggest otherwise.

But traditionally, sales training and development has been a top-down function: The leadership decides what sales skills and knowledge are needed to achieve the organization’s goals, and that’s what people get trained on. Is the company rolling out a new product? The sales force gets product training. Territories are being reorganized? Let’s help the reps with time and territory management. Closing rates too low? Let’s set up an intensive clinic on closing skills.

Now, that sort of training may be useful and necessary, but it’s only the beginning. According to the Deloitte report, today’s employees don’t just want training on what the organization deems important. They want training that’s important and relevant to them.

Implications for sales training

Again, it sounds like a duh. But it has implications for how we design and deliver sales training:

1. We need to stop thinking of training as something we need to “sell” to salespeople. For a long time, the conversation around sales training (or any type of corporate training) has been how to get people to “buy in.” We worry that people will be resistant — that they’ll show up reluctantly, with a chip on their shoulder, and will regard the whole exercise as waste of precious selling time. The good news is that salespeople are less likely to resist training. In fact, it’s more likely they’ll be demanding it.

2. The bar will be higher. Yes, employees are already sold on the benefits of training. But at the same time, they’ll be demanding better training. It’s a question of ownership: If salespeople see training as something that benefits the organization, what’s good enough for you will be good enough for them. If they see it as something for themselves, they won’t be satisfied with so-so training.

3. It won’t be one-size-fits-all. I do believe that it’s important for sales organizations to train everyone on core concepts, skills and beliefs. It’s the only way you can build a strong sales culture. So, for example, everybody probably does need to get that training on the new product, so you can go to market with a unified voice. And everybody needs to understand your company’s basic value proposition and company philosophy, or you’ll be spinning your wheels. But that’s the baseline. The real opportunity for employee-centric training is to also offer training opportunities that are specific to the individual salesperson. Maybe you have a rep who aspires to a management role. Maybe you have another one who wants to sharpen closing skills. New hires may be having trouble with the fundamentals, while experienced reps are looking for new ideas to keep them from getting stale. You won’t always know, so it’s best to offer abundant choices.

4. It had better be time efficient. Ambitious salespeople will suck up as much high-quality training as they can get. But they’re busier than ever, so they’ll need to fit it in where they can. They’ll demand training that doesn’t take up much time, and that they can access on the go. Give a salesperson training that can sharpen a skill or gain a new insight while they’re waiting to call on a prospect, or that they can access when they have a specific need, or that can turn unproductive time into a learning opportunity, and you’ll have an enthusiastic adopter.

The upside of employee-centric sales training is twofold. Better-trained salespeople win more sales, of course, so there’s a direct impact on revenues. At the same time, it becomes a valuable tool for increasing employee engagement, and for recruiting and retaining the best sales talent. Numerous studies show that top performers in any field put training-and-development high on their employer wishlist. Giving them ample opportunities to learn — on their own terms — can help keep them around.

Source: Global Human Capital Trends 2016. Deloitte University Press. The report is based on 7,000 survey responses from around the world.

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