Building sales muscles

Most professional organizations with a sales force budget time for training of their team. They understand that selling, like any profession that uses skills also requires a commitment for skill improvement. Hence, they will have a weekly, monthly or quarterly sales meeting to work on skills. This is often more difficult for teams with a remote sales force as it can be a challenge to get everyone together. With technology and video conferencing, even that obstacle can be overcome.

When evaluating their training commitment, an organization should ask themselves: Are our sales-training meetings really training meetings, designed to improve selling skills? Or, are they really “housekeeping” meetings where we spend the majority of time going over sales goals, our products and services and internal matters. Housekeeping meetings are important, but often consume time that would have been spent on skill development. Many sales leaders make a concerted effort to run separate meetings to be sure that skill development doesn’t take a back seat.

In today’s fast-paced environment, some companies are challenged to justify making a training commitment to their team. Common justification for not training might be “we hire experienced people and expect them to do their job.” Or, “we’ve already trained them — we did a one-week new-hire orientation when we brought them aboard and do an annual sales kickoff meeting.” If an organization is still able to field a team of top professionals who consistently over-achieve goals and outpace competitors, then these beliefs are working. However, for other organizations that struggle with leading the entire team to beat quotas and consistently win versus the competition, they might look at the following training best practices.

While many veteran salespeople have solid selling skills, are they truly achieving at their maximum potential? Consider this: A professional golfer has a swing coach. A professional vocalist has a voice coach. Doctors, attorneys and CPAs (licensed professionals) make a substantial time commitment to continuing education.

Most adults learn by doing, repetition and ongoing reinforcement. If my training consists of a half day every quarter, how much of that training am I actually retaining, and how does my sales leadership even know I’m using it? Imagine going to a half-day training three or four times per year to become an engineer?

As we know, the selling profession doesn’t enjoy the same fine reputation as some of the other professions listed above. Could it be that’s because we minimize the commitment and skill development that is required to be a professional salesperson? If so, think about putting a professional development plan together for your sales team and the individual members of the team. Here are some key facets of a training plan:

• Inventory your team’s skill deficits. Next, put a regularly scheduled training meeting cadence in place. Most organizations committed to skill development find that anything less than one training meeting per week is too little.

• Plan your training curriculum on a calendar. Schedule out topics to close identified skill gaps and prepare the training in advance. Those of us who have walked into the training meeting only having prepped 15-minutes before know that we were weak trainers and our team knows it. If they are going to commit their time than we need to show them the respect of preparation.

• Once the training is scheduled, it needs to happen and not be preempted or cancelled. This is no different than joining a health club, not using the membership and feeling out of shape. Salespeople need to go to the “sales gym” to stay fit so that when they hear that prospect objection or are at a moment of truth while closing a big sale, their sales ‘muscle memory’ takes over and they act out of conditioning, avoiding mistakes.

• One final training rule you might adopt to be sure there is ROI on your training: “Training without implementation is expensive entertainment,” so be sure to have a follow-up accountability plan in place. This could be a set of behavioral commitments the salesperson makes to commit to trying the training techniques with prospects and customers and/or ride-alongs and recorded calls with sales leadership where the training concepts and behaviors are observed in real time.

Bob Bolak is president of Sandler Training. He can be reached at 303-579-1939 or