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ATD Blog

Building and Sustaining a Sales Academy

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

A sales academy is a structured system for training and developing a sales team. A sales academy consists of numerous programs, which together form a single competency framework for driving the sales professional’s performance through their career. This learning design also offers the benchmarking tools to maintain best practices.

What’s Included in a Sales Academy?

A sales academy includes a collection of learning tools, including written material, instructor-led classroom training, digital learning tools, and coaching.

Leaders and trainers use the teaching method that’s best for conveying the material. For example, instructor-led classroom training is an effective way to learn and practice negotiating or handling objections because participants can engage in role play. Participants can offer feedback on the interactions and help the learner capitalize on insights.

In contrast, digital learning tools, which can be used on the go, are an excellent resource for field sales professionals working onsite with customers. Online courses engage multiple learning styles, like auditory, visual, and written response.

What Are the Benefits of a Sales Academy?

Sales professionals increasingly work in teams and need to be a cohesive group. With a sales academy in place, leaders know that each team member is working from the same group of core skills. Training boosts engagement, which is a key driver of business outcomes. Other benefits include:

  • improved quota attainment and win rates
  • continual skills improvement that goes beyond one and done
  • a roadmap to career advancement
  • skill building that moves in lockstep with industry changes
  • shorter time to productivity for new sales professionals
  • a forum for exchanging ideas and strategies
  • 360-degree development that covers all aspects of the sale cycle.

What’s a Multi-Year Sales Academy Curriculum?

A multi-year sales academy curriculum is a series of training programs designed to engage the sales professional through various stages in their career. The skills in each program help the participant navigate challenges specific to their current responsibilities.

This tiered approach works for three reasons:


1. Selling skills build upon one another. New sales professionals start by learning foundational skills. Then they develop nuanced capabilities later in their career.

2. Sales professionals are more receptive to skills that are relevant. Leaders provide skills that are practical and pragmatic by limiting training to the selling behaviors that are most relevant to the professional’s everyday world.

3. Sales professionals will find themselves among a familiar cohort. With a tiered structure, sales professionals can develop skills with others in the same role. This commonality is especially important when sharing new ideas and voicing challenges.

Different sales roles engage the customer in different stages of the sales cycle. For instance, a lead development representative interfaces with inbound leads and requires skills like rapport building and questioning. Conversely, field sales executive will need skills like team selling, negotiating, and resolving objections.

How Do You Pair the Right Modalities with the Right Skills?

Building a successful sales academy means more than covering the right skills. Leaders must also consider the way in which they deliver content. Examples of different modalities include:

  • instructor-led training
  • adaptive learning platforms
  • reinforcement tools.

Choosing the right modality requires an understanding of the sales professional’s process. Field sales professionals spend much of their time out of the office engaging with customers onsite. Inside sales teams leverage sales and marketing automation tools to reach more customers virtually.

Instructor-led training is more feasible for those in the office, while mobile-enabled adaptive learning platforms are suited to field sales professionals. The benefit of a sales academy is that it blends modalities, a critical component of sustained learning.

Training should be blended because different skills require different styles of engagement. Role playing, for example, is an effective way to condition sales professionals to use crucial communication skills in the moment when there is little time to determine a response to a hardline negotiation stance or an objection.

What Are the Essentials for Sustainment?

Sustainment requires more than a plan—it requires a frame of mind. Leaders need to demonstrate their inner drive for change with outward expressions and initiatives. They need to clear the everyday hinderances. They must commit to the following long-term initiatives:

  • Focus intensely on a small list of reasonable change goals rather than complicating the issue with too many directives that compete with one another.
  • Align at all levels for a consistent strategy that has buy-in among all participants.
  • Demonstrate the intention to change, both in words and actions that persist.
  • Overlay processes, metrics, and tools onto the change initiative to ensure that results are meaningful and ongoing.
  • Maintain accountability at all levels.

Without a sustainment plan, skill training is just a passing phase. Leaders need to instill a sense of ongoing change. Sustainment requires as much planning and focus as the training program and will, in the long term, require more of the leader’s and sales professionals’ time than anything else.

Want to learn more. Join me November 7-8 in New Orleans at the ATD SELL Conference.

About the Author

Ben Taylor is the content marketing manager at Richardson, a global sales training and performance improvement company focused on helping you drive revenue and grow long-term customer relationships. Our market-proven sales and coaching methodology combined with our active learning approach ensures that your sales teams learn, master, and apply new behaviors when and where they matter most — in front of the buyer.

Ben has an MBA in finance from LaSalle University and more than a decade of business and writing experience. He has covered content for brands, including Nasdaq, Barclaycard, and Business Insider.

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