Leverage Sales Training by Developing a Learning Culture

January 12, 2016
Leverage Sales Training by Developing a Learning Culture

We’ve all seen companies like it. They invest in sales training programs, but everything seems to go in one ear and out the other. One or two top salespeople seem to do everything right, but the rest of the pack is left struggling. New hires come on board and never seem to gain any traction, quickly heading onto greener pastures. When the market changes, the company is slow to react. And eventually, the company seems to just fade away.

What happened there? The absence of a learning culture kept information locked in little boxes scattered all over the place and slowly gathering dust. Even though the company invested in sales training, they didn’t have the culture to really make it work. They didn’t have a learning culture.

Here are 8 ideas for developing a learning culture in your sales team.

1. Collect and Share Best Practices

I know it doesn’t sound very exciting, but the heart of any learning culture is an interest in collecting and sharing knowledge. And that’s a muscle you can build with time and effort. Here’s a simple plan:

  1. Create a place where best practices can be documented, such as a sales playbook.
  2. Document key processes, policies, and procedures.
  3. Work with the team to collect current best practices.
  4. On an ongoing basis, review and revise the best practices.

Over time, this will become a habit. Your team will start to check in the playbook for best practices before trying something, and they’ll remember to add their new ideas to the playbook after they’ve seen the ideas work.

2. Get Your Team to Do the Training

There’s a funny thing about training someone to do something. In order to teach, you first have to learn! And as you continue to teach, you will continue to learn – both to stay a step ahead of your trainees, and as a result of your interactions with them.

Why keep all this benefit to yourself? Encourage (and if necessary mandate) your team to train their peers, and assign senior or high-performing salespeople to mentor new team members.

Are you incorporating sales training into your ongoing sales meetings? Assign a different team member to present each time – that will put them on the spot to come up with something to say. The pressure will keep them learning.

3. Leverage Past Sales Training

If you’re like most sales organizations, you’ve probably invested in some sort of sales training in the past. And your salespeople have probably worked in other organizations and received various types of sales training there as well. How could you leverage those investments?

Identify the best ideas from the sales training you and your team have experienced, and add them to your sales playbook. Take the time to integrate them into your process, rather than just bolting them onto the side. Over time, you’ll end up with a powerful sales process filled with proven best practices.

This can also be a great discussion in your sales meetings: “What’s the best sales technique or skill you’ve learned from sales training?” You might be surprised to hear what has stuck!

4. Start a Book Club

Books have the power to introduce entirely new concepts and transport readers to new places. Have you ever seen the result when a sales team has taken a sales or business book and fully aligned behind it?

Start a regular book club with your team, identifying books that will inspire and motivate them, as well as ones that will teach them specific selling skills. (If you can’t think of any, we have a list of 27 here!) Ask the team to add suggestions of their own.

Then pick one book at a time and read it as a team. Discuss it in your regular sales meetings or in separate meetings, and consider creating an internal forum for people to discuss it. Pull out key points and integrate them into your sales playbook.

5. Solicit Market and Industry News

Do you know what’s going on with your local competitors? What questions are your top prospects asking? What’s the buzz coming out of the latest industry conference?

Your sales team should know the answers to these questions – and a whole lot more. Encourage them to keep their ears open as they are talking to prospects, clients, and partners, and create a mechanism to capture news they collect and share it with the rest of the team, both the sales team and the rest of the organization.

Don’t encourage the team to gossip, but let them know they’re an essential source of intelligence and you appreciate what they can learn.

6. Develop an Onboarding Program

One of the best ways to evaluate your organization’s learning culture is to look at how you onboard new hires. Is it consistent and structured or random and haphazard? Is there a period of time when people are expected to focus on learning, or are they given a laptop and phone and told to get to work?

If you can demonstrate a culture of learning and training to your new hires, they’ll maintain it throughout their time with your team.

Here’s a simple plan:

  1. Identify the knowledge required to effectively execute each job description.
  2. Identify the general knowledge about your company every new hire needs to know.
  3. Find sources for all knowledge – they can be people or documents.
  4. Develop assessments, where appropriate, to measure how much people have learned.
  5. Build a checklist-style onboarding plan that assigns specific instructors and data sources.
  6. Assign someone (this can be a manager or a peer mentor) to ensure the new hire completes each step and is proficient.

Over time, continue to review and revise your onboarding plans so they’re kept up to date. Remember to ask new hires to provide feedback on the onboarding process once they’ve been through it and again once they’ve had a chance to implement what they learned.

7. Debrief Lessons Learned

One of the best topics of learning in any sales organization are lessons learned in the field. These can be wins, losses, or stories from earlier interactions in the selling process. It’s easy enough to learn from our own experiences, but it’s much more powerful to learn from our peers’.

Make the time to debrief key lessons learned at the end of major opportunities, both won and lost. What can the team apply in the future?

On a day-to-day basis, encourage the team to share stories about smaller things they’ve learned in their calls and meetings. Is there a new pushback to a common objection? A great voicemail to leave? Don’t keep that knowledge locked in one person’s head – socialize it.

8. Celebrate Your Learning Culture

This might sound silly, but one more thing you can do to develop your learning culture is to talk about it and celebrate it.

Remember to congratulate and thank people when they share things they’ve learned. You might even have the team vote on the best things they’ve learned from teammates to get them in on the process. Keep learning and training front of mind, and they’ll continue to grow!

I hope you’ve found these ideas helpful as you work to develop a learning culture in your sales team.

As you build your learning culture, it's important to keep your team motivated. Download our free resource on motivation to get started!

Motivating Your Sales Team

Thank you to flickr user Rob Chan for the featured image in this post, found here.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

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