What skills does your organization teach its sales representatives? Undoubtedly they’re taught the features and benefits of your organization’s offerings. Success would be unattainable without a basic understanding of the products or services you sell. Company onboarding probably also covers the company’s history, and might also include motivational messages from current leaders (regardless of whether this content actually helps reps meet their quotas).

But what soft skills does your organization teach its sales representatives? Are they taught empathy, problem solving, or communication? Many companies underestimate just how critical these so-called “soft” skills are. In the world of sales, effective communication can make the difference between truly connecting with customers or not, and of course, closing deals or not.

One common factor among high performing sales representatives is the ability to comfortably and confidently communicate with their colleagues and customers. While most sales reps are natural extroverts with the gift of gab, communication is certainly a skill set that can be taught, practiced, and improved over time.

Achieving Business Results with Effective Communication

It’s a common adage in the learning and development world that if you don’t give sales reps the opportunity to practice during training, they’ll “practice” on their customers.

Without proper coaching and support, how effective are your reps at communicating with their customers? Can they succinctly explain the products they’re selling? Are they able to make recommendations based on their customers’ true needs? Can they overcome common objections?

Sales training must go beyond memorizing the basic features (and the ever-so-helpful company history lesson) and give reps the opportunity to engage in role-play conversations, ask for customers’ business, practice listening as much (or even more) than they speak, and even practice non-verbal communication such as body language.

If you don’t take responsibility for teaching your representatives these skills, how can you hold them accountable for performing these tasks on the job?

Sales Training Challenges

Let’s explore some common challenges encountered in sales training, as well as how to overcome them.

  • The high cost of in-person training: Large companies with widespread sales teams incur high costs bringing everyone together in person. Flights, hotels, meals, and other travel expenses can quickly consume budgets earmarked for learning and development.
  • Lack of engagement during training: Sales reps have notoriously short attention spans. Because their job is to engage with customers (and they are often paid on a commission basis) they may feel entitled to take calls or check email during training.
  • Time “lost” to training: Simply put, sales reps may perceive any time spent away from customers as time not well spent.

Online training offers a robust set of solutions to help overcome these common challenges and others as well. Consider how transitioning to online training and eLearning content can address and even eliminate typical training challenges.

  • Travel fees are eliminated when training is facilitated online, whether through virtual workshops or asynchronous eLearning courses.
  • Short microlearning courses offer “bite-sized” chunks of content that maintain learners’ attention by presenting specific, targeted lessons that learners can access when needed (such as immediately before calling a customer).
  • eLearning courses utilize engaging scenarios and interactions that can gamify content and present learners with meaningful interactions.
  • Online training can be delivered asynchronously, meaning learners can access it whenever and wherever they wish. Online courses are mobile-friendly and, unlike in-person classes, learners can complete online training at any hour of the day (and repeat as often as they like or need to).

How to Boost Sales with Digital Role-Plays

eLearning for sales training offers a perfect “sandbox” environment where sales reps can learn and practice new skills before speaking with actual customers. Dialogue simulations or role-plays are effective techniques in virtual sales training that mimic real conversations in the safety of an online setting.

A dialogue simulation resembles a real conversation by allowing learners to navigate through branching scenarios. Learners are presented with options of how to respond to various prompts, and their choices lead them to either successfully or unsuccessfully accomplish their goal during the flow of the conversation.

Effective content in such role-plays prepares learners for the conversations they will face on the job, such as overcoming a customer’s objections, negotiating, upselling, and resolving customer service issues.

Just as in real life, every choice has a consequence, and you have the opportunity to provide learners with feedback for each decision, and even provide an on-screen meter that allows them to monitor their progress throughout the simulation.

To get started, determine your learning objective(s) for the simulation. What measurable, observable, on-the-job activity should learners be expected to perform subsequent to the training?

Script a conversation between a customer and a representative where the learner must take the role of the sales rep and choose from the provided responses to the customer’s dialogue. Take the time to map this out on paper (or digitally) so you can consider all possible branches and outcomes for this conversation.

Take the time to listen to recorded or live sales calls, to make your dialogue simulation as realistic as possible, as the best lessons come from real life.

Depending on the cognitive demand of your learning objective, your scenario can be as simple or as complex as needed to give your learners sufficient opportunity to practice their skills. Before moving on to the next step in the design process, ask your subject matter experts (SMEs) or other stakeholders to review your outline. Making changes to the content now will save you time later, enabling you to build your course with confidence in your authoring tool and preventing you from having to make time-consuming changes later!

Once your outline is complete and approved, the next step is building the scenario in your authoring tool. Have fun selecting characters and background images that bring your story to life!

You may also consider allowing your learners to select a character to represent themselves as avatars, or even packaging several simulations into one course. In the example pictured here, the page functions as the main menu of the course, allowing learners to select which client they’d like to call. Once learners enter the simulation, each client presents a unique challenge the learner must successfully navigate.

Make sure to test every possible branch and path through your scenario, to ensure all course navigation functions properly and your learners receive appropriate feedback along the way. Give your SMEs and stakeholders the opportunity to demo your simulation, and once it meets everyone’s approval, you’re ready to go live with your learners!

Final Thoughts

Online sales training using proven methods such as dialogue simulations and role plays gives learners the confidence to have effective conversations with their customers. By practicing in a safe environment and by receiving feedback on their choices, learners have the opportunity to grow and experiment before trying out their new skills with actual customers.

In addition to providing a perfect “sandbox,” online training also eliminates many of the common obstacles to sales training, such as the high cost of conducting in-person training and the false perception that training must always be time-consuming and tedious. When designing online sales simulations, the only limit is your own creativity! By writing branching interactions with multiple paths for the conversation to follow, feedback for each selection, and graphics that depict real-life settings and reactions, your learners will be immersed in actual scenarios that will equip them with the skills and knowledge to succeed on the job.