Start Fast in 2020: Rethink Your Sales Training

Ralph Grimse

We met with a prospect last week to discuss plans for 2020. After describing our approach, the leader turned to me and said, “So if I’m hearing you right, you think my team needs advanced sales training. That sounds a lot harder than what we’ve done in the past. My team just needs the basics.”

Sales training has been around a long time. Countless books at the airport bookstore. Tens of thousands of free YouTube and LinkedIn videos. More than 100 universities offering undergraduate sales majors.

So many resources focused on the basics – preparing for sales calls, asking open-ended questions, handling concerns, gaining commitment, etc. With the wide availability of information on sales basics, we believe you should be hiring folks that already know these things.

Yet when companies start looking for training to close their sales gaps, most just settle for the basics. They select a program that spends way too much time on the fundamentals.

Money invested in basic training yields disappointing results. Frustrated, many sales leaders bring in another vendor for more fundamentals (likely just packaged differently or using new acronyms). The vicious circle is predictable.

  • Are sales fundamentals important? Yes!
  • Do they need to be reviewed? Certainly.
  • Do they need to be coached? Of course.
  • Should you buy programs that teach fundamentals that aren’t tailored to your business? We don’t think so.

Why? It’s a poor use of money and time, all to deliver sub-optimal results. Hire reps who have the fundamentals. And let front-line managers reinforce these skills with the help of sales enablement. The basics should be continuously addressed in field rides and deal reviews.

What should you train?

Which leads us to the idea of ‘advanced sales training’. Is there such a thing? Yes!

Advanced sales training is akin to advanced forms of training in other areas like sports, music, and medicine. Consider the game of football. Starting with the 5-year old leagues, players learn the fundamentals: positions, ball handling, formations, basic routes. But these skills aren’t nearly enough to earn a starting spot playing on Sundays (or even Friday nights). 

Mastering football requires advanced skills to handle complex game factors. Players can never forget the fundamentals. But the best athletes combine the basics with higher-level skills to run the right play in the right situation.

How do you translate this to a sales program?

In football, the pros use many different techniques to execute in specific game scenarios. Their advanced training focuses on combining multiple skills and strategies that match the realities of the game.  

In the case of sales, advanced training focuses on the combination of four sales execution elements:

  1. Knowledge – what you need to know about the product and customer
  2. Message – what you need to communicate
  3. Skill – what selling action will move the deal forward
  4. Content – what supports customer engagement or enables buyers

The key is combining these elements with context.

Foundational skills are often taught in isolation of context. For instance, many training programs just focus on product knowledge. Or, they just teach the ability to ask effective questions or regurgitate value statements. Just memorizing a receiver route from the playbook isn’t enough. Practicing how to run that route in the right game context is what matters.

Advanced sales training starts with the context, then works backward to what’s needed for a successful customer interaction. The context should be a specific selling situation – the characteristics of a deal or customer meeting that a rep needs to pay attention to.

The more specific your context, the more value you give the rep. For example, it’s not good enough to train reps on how to run a discovery meeting with a CFO. Your advanced training should layer in more context to the buyer’s situation. The goal is to mimic a real-world situation. Think about:

What’s the seller’s objective for the meeting? Modern reps can’t just diagnose without communicating their perspective in a discovery meeting. When that happens, the meeting might be effective for the seller, but it will be a waste of time for the buyer.

If you think this sounds like a role play, you’re right. But advanced sales training involves so much more. It trains sellers to carry out winning plays in specific situations – the combination of message, action, and content. The point of advanced training is to focus on common selling scenarios, teaching the related skills and coaching good execution.

Again, the priority is training in context. You’re not teaching just how to run a football play. You’re training how to run the play when it’s 3 and 6, you’re in the red zone, the defense is blitzing out of their nickel personnel package, and the crowd noise is deafening.

What are the benefits of advance sales training?

Done right, advanced sales training will give your reps the ability to perceive, pivot, and play:

  • Perceive the deal patterns
  • Pivot to the right strategy, and
  • Execute the right play that moves the opportunity forward.

Sure, advanced sales training like this sounds “hard” compared to basic training. But can you really win in today’s market with a team of Pee-Wee all-stars? Or do you aspire to lead a team of elite athletes who can deliver results?

In most complex deals, no single piece of knowledge, skill, message, or content is enough. It’s the combination of these elements – executed at the right time – that creates value for the customer.

Your seasoned, highest-performing reps do this intuitively. The point is to build a system for training the entire team of reps. Advanced sales training is the heart of your game-winning system.

Contact us to learn more about our system to build your system using advanced training. Our approach can quickly get your reps game-day ready, but with minimal time and resource investment.

Ralph Grimse

Ralph Grimse

Ralph is a partner with The Brevet Group, and for 20 years he has led sales performance teams in the United States and Asia. Recently he also served as a sales leader in both the media and technology industries. Ralph’s work has focused on a unique blend of management consulting and sales enablement to help companies execute their sales strategies. Prior to this role, Ralph was the APAC sales effectiveness leader at Mercer.