The ever-changing landscape of the business-to-business sales profession necessitates a fresh look at the crucial training and development activities provided to quota-carriers by their enterprise. More than ever, companies expecting scalable and repeatable sales success stories are embedding their educational efforts into long-term, flexible, tech-savvy methodologies designed for multi-year results.

Sales training used to be simple: provide a rep with a compendium of your products and prices, run them through a script, assign them a territory, and then let them sink or swim in a cold, Darwinian fashion. Today’s enterprise sales leaders, for the most part, recognize that complex deals, long sales cycles, and highly educated buyers force a more holistic approach to training and managing their human capital. They also know that a “survival of the fittest” mentality is costly: according to Aberdeen’s Beyond the Quota: Best-in-Class Deployments of Sales Performance Management, the average price of replacing a full-time rep is over $29,000, and it takes over seven months to locate and onboard each individual.

Attacking Substantive Business Problems With Sales Education

Hence, sales training remains alive and well — in this fifth consecutive year of Aberdeen’s Sales Effectiveness research on the topic — as sales leaders more effectively manage and grow their talent. Indeed, newly collected data from 260 survey respondents shows that companies deploying formal sales training initiatives lead non-adopters in overall team attainment of sales quota (78 percent vs. 63 percent), customer retention (71 percent vs. 66 percent), the percentage of sales reps achieving quota (64 percent vs. 42 percent), and additional key business metrics. These companies are responding to a variety of business pressures when implementing their sales training programs:

  • Increase or sustain revenue during an uncertain economic recovery (50 percent of companies indicating this as a top-three pressure).
  • Need to align sales activity with overall business objectives (37 percent).
  • Changes in products, functionality, or services offered (28 percent).
  • Longer customer buying cycles (18 percent).

For all of these challenges, an enhanced focus on better-informed, well-trained front-line sales reps can mitigate the negative effects of a competitive marketplace. In fact, when we look at the most popular strategies that survey respondents are implementing, in order to confront these pressures, the common theme in their sales training deployments is focused on the all-important conversation that reps hold with their prospects and customers. These actions begin with the need to up-level the skill sets of enterprise salespeople – Figure 1.

Figure I: Strategic Actions That Enhance Sales Conversations

Considering how the modern “hidden sales cycle” allows our prospective buyers to learn so much about our products and services before we have the first chance to speak with them, it is crucial that our reps be armed with high-level abilities to nurture, negotiate, close, and service their deals, at all times. Their interactions also need to be less generic: no longer will a standard sales pitch work; buyers expect their rep to know about their specific business and practically anticipate their individual needs. The second pair of popular end-user actions tell an additional story about business trends. “Improving the ability to engage senior-level executive decision-makers” is more popular than it was a year ago, while “standardizing messaging” is less so. These changes further speak to the need for sales training to go beyond the old-fashioned basics: it takes time and experience to learn how to reach and impact high-level executives in the buying organization, as well as to customize one’s messaging to the individual conversation at hand. Now, let’s take a look at how the most successful sales teams put these strategies into real-life methodologies.

Core Competencies: Embracing Best-in-Class Process And Knowledge Management Capabilities

Aberdeen’s Best-in-Class companies within this Sales Training data set lead under-performers in adopting a series of business process that create a solid foundation for their educational initiatives – Figure 2. At the top of the list is a formal sales methodology deployed by a majority of all companies, but especially so by the top performers. Whether developed internally or acquired with the help of an external sales training provider, a deliberate process to guide sales activities is essential to any organization seeking to maximize their sales results and grow their business. These methodologies can be as simple as a step-by-step order in which the various pieces of the B2B sales puzzle ‒contact, vetting, BANT criteria, demo, proposal, negotiation, signature ‒ are put into play. Alternatively, many companies buy and deploy complex “guided selling” applications with wizard-driven interfaces and predictive analytics genies that drive time-honored sales process into the very fabric of a rep’s daily activity feed. At either extreme and across the spectrum, continuously teaching salespeople how to sell better will yield stronger results and an enviable return on the investment; Best-in-Class firms are 22 percent more likely than All Others to refresh their teams’ training at least on a quarterly basis.

Figure 2: Process Capabilities: Teach, Analyze, Share

The next two items from Figure 2 represent crucial operational competencies that can create teachable moments for professional sellers. First, up- and cross-selling into existing accounts is undoubtedly more efficient than finding new customers, but not all salespeople are provided with the tools to find such opportunities; read Aberdeen’s Grab the Low-Hanging Fruit: How Best-in-Class Companies Leverage a 360-Degree Customer View to learn how to tee your reps up for such success. Best-in-Class firms are 44 percent more likely than All Others (69 percent vs. 48 percent) to take this approach, so it is clearly advisable. So is the concept of learning from our success and mistakes alike: You Win Some, You Lose Some: How Best-in-Class Sales Leaders Learn as They Go teaches us that win-loss analysis initiatives are essential in maintaining an efficiently-run sales team. As our markets inevitably change, as our competitors evolve their tactics, and as our prospective buyers gain ever more insight into our products and services without listening to our voice, it is crucial to follow the Best-in-Class lead of ongoing sales education based on deal-by-deal post-mortems.

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