Organizations engage in sales training programs for numerous reasons. Despite best intentions, these programs too often fall short of the mark and fail to deliver the business results that the executive sponsors were originally looking for.
Regardless of the quality of the training delivery, the failure is frequently cause by a lack of clear expectation of what is supposed to happen differently on the day after the training, together with no post-training reinforcement plan in place. As numerous studies have shown, unless there is a robust reinforcement program in place, sales professionals will likely forget 80 percent of the sales training material within 90-120 days after the training is delivered.
There are many options to consider in a comprehensive reinforcement program, including on-demand reinforcement videos, intermittent testing, periodic role plays, one-on-one coaching, and group reinforcement sessions. In my experience, each of these can be an effective component to build into a reinforcement program.
But the overall initiative will likely fail without the direct involvement and engagement from the sales managers. A key question every organization should ask before launching a new sales training initiative is what will the sales manager do before, during, and after training to support the program and help ensure adoption of the new skills?
Preview the training. Before the training program kicks off, it is important that the sales manager receive an overview of the material being covered and understand what the expectations will be on the manager to support the training.
A condensed management overview session or training primer is important so that the managers do not feel blind-sided by the material, and can ask any questions they may have about the training before the participants are involved. This is also a good time to review the implementation program and discuss the critical role the sales manager will play in reinforcing the concepts and skills.
Communicate with the team. The second critical action the sales manager should take before the training kicks off is to communicate to their sales professionals their commitment to the program. It is important for the sales manager to show enthusiasm and sponsorship for the initiative.
They can really influence the tone and intensity of the program just by picking out a few key topics that they feel are important and discussing them in a team meeting, email, or one-on-one meetings.
Be visible and participate. Ideally, it is best to have the managers attend sales training with their teams. While some might argue that it diminishes the interaction and openness of dialogue, we find just the opposite.
A busy manager or executive who takes the time to attend the training, shows interest and enthusiasm for the program, and even participates in the exercises and role plays sends a powerful message to the sales team that this is important for everyone.
Minimize disruptions. Another action the sales manager can take during the training is to minimize disruptions and competing priorities during the training and allow the sales professionals to really immerse themselves in the training event.
All too often, though, sales training is squeezed around end of quarter reports, annual sales meetings, or client fire drills. To the extent that the sales manager can clear the schedule and deflect the typical influx of distractions that compete for a sales professionals time each day, the more they will be able to focus on the training material and retain the desired information.
Communicate follow-up expectations. It is critical that the sales manager knows what his reps are supposed to do on the day following the training. Will the new tools be available? Will there be assessment questions? Are there follow up sessions scheduled? This is an important step because it is the manager’s responsibility to clarify what happens next and set the stage for how the sales professionals will apply the skills.
Preferably, each participant will develop an action plan coming out of the training as to how they will apply the skills over the next 30/60/90 days. It’s important that the manager review these plans and be prepared to support and follow up on the execution of these activities.
Commit to a reinforcement plan. One way to clarify expectations of everyone involved and specify what is supposed to happen after the training is to work with the training provider (internal or external) to create a customized “Sales Manager Reinforcement Guide” that outlines the activities and steps the sales manager can take to support the program, and suggest a timeline for completion.
Items in the guide include a summary of key concepts, a checklist of activities and role plays that might be appropriate, and suggestions for topics to be discussed in team meetings and one-on-one coaching sessions. Ultimately, the guide becomes and backbone of the training program once the participants have finished the live training sessions and return to their selling roles where they can apply the newly developed skills.
Bottom line: a key driver of sales training success is how will you engage your sales managers before, during, and after the training.
If you would like more information on this topic, please download our whitepaper, Maximizing the Effectiveness of Sales Training.