How to Conduct Effective Sales Training and Adult Learning

A significant component of your sales training design is going to be based on what type of sales training structure or process you select to best communicate your new learning ideas.

To best understand the positives and trade-offs of any specific training format we need to first look at the steps of adult learning. You can improve your ability to select the best training format and alternative for your sales team if you first have a better understanding of the steps necessary for long term learning and change to occur.

Six Steps

You need to evaluate any training program you are considering against these six steps of adult learning. Your sales training will not be successful unless all members of your team are able to complete each of these six steps. Keeping these steps in mind as you evaluate various sales training formats can help you make the best selection for your team based on the funding and time you have available to invest in your team.

1. Increase awareness

This is the first step where you teach them something or give them a changed and improved insight. You have several training process alternatives available to help increase your team’s awareness. The positives and trade-offs to various training formats will be covered next.

How good is the training process being considered at increasing the awareness of your team?

2. Increase the comprehension of the ideas covered

The second step to successfully training someone is to increase their digestion of the ideas covered. You have just presented a new sales idea to your team. Just because they have this new information doesn’t mean they will actually do anything with it. To move their learning process forward you now need to help them “digest” the ideas so they understand and believe we are actually talking about them and what they need to change.

This is the “Yea, we mean you and your territory” part of the sales training. One of the first reasons otherwise successful training programs fail to generate any long term change is the attendees never really connected the new awareness idea to what they were actually doing in their territory.

Awareness “digestion” needs to occur both during the actual training class and in your ongoing role as coach and leader of your team. After the completion of a training class or program you, as the coach, need to be working with each member of your team to understand what they actually heard (or think they heard) in the training. You then need to be helping them process this new material by asking questions such as “how do you see that idea working with your accounts?” or “How would you say that so it got the attention of your customers?

A lot of solid sales training on the market that does a good job, but if no one from your sales team follows up to work your team members through the processing (or digestion) of the ideas covered, then the new information evaporates within a few months and is forgotten.

What have your done since your team's last training experience to insure all team members understood and processed the new information? Consider how effective the prospective training is at helping your team process information. Then decide how easy it will be for you to continue that digestion process through your ongoing coaching efforts.

3. Increase raw implementation

This is the third step where you get them to begin implementing. You are not interested in perfection here...just some kind of action. This is where most training falls apart. Even when someone has new awareness and understands what to do with their new information, getting them to take action and actually do something is where most training stalls.

You, as coach, play a critical role in this “raw implementation” phase of learning. Your job is to first help get them to at least try what is being asked or discussed. You are just after them even trying something new. The second critical part of your job with this step is to also provide affirming feedback and encouragement. This is where a lot of sales leaders fail as coaches. They provide their people with great new information and even show them how relevant it is to them and their job -- and then they just wait and watch for some kind of results.

Scientists say “inertia” is the strongest force in nature. Helping create change in a sales team means you need to be the leader here to get your people out of their routine and into some type of action.

4. Increase their refinement

The fourth step. Once team members are taking action, the responsibility of a coach is to help them refine, or get better at what they are doing. This is also the continually quality improvement fourth step of ISO 9000.

5. Increase permanence

The fifth step. Once your sales team is improving their skills it is time to lock this new skill in so it becomes habit without their having to even think about it. Repetition of action, positive feedback, and ongoing coaching are the three best ways to help someone move to a permanent level of change.

6. Go back to the first step and start increasing awareness in a different area

The sixth and final step. A philosophy of lifelong learning is based on the idea of always reinvesting and moving to the next level. Once members of your team have reached “permanence” with a skill it is now time, as their coach, to help them identify the “next best” skill (or skills) to now want to work on next.

Time to ask yourself ---

How much time and attention are you investing in your sales team to help them increase their awareness? Their comprehension? Their raw implementation? Their refinement, improvement and permanence? And finally how much time are you investing in helping your people identify new skills and awareness they can improve?

Jim Pancero

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