Make sales training a priority (or it won’t work)

I’m going to start with a very bold statement: The success or failure of your digital sales training program —  especially if you want it to scale — is predicated on buy-in from your senior leadership.

All the other elements within the ecosystem of digital sales training are smaller in value to this one, very simple statement. I’d be lying if I pretended that turning this statement into reality was simple; unfortunately for some of you, this will be very complex.

Why leaders resist sales training

I find it unfortunate that many of the senior leaders I meet don’t share my passion for innovation within their commercial go-to-market strategy. Before launching a digital sales training program, I estimate about 80 percent of the senior leaders I meet are either skeptical, frustrated their routine will be altered, or down-right scared.

Scared is the right word, especially for some marketing leaders. True digital sales training puts the marketing team under the same microscope as the sales team. Many marketers are simply not used to having weekly, monthly or quarterly meetings aimed at analyzing their performance to empower their art with science.

Marketing isn’t the only department from which you can anticipate pushback. The second potential red flag may come from your sales leaders, many of whom view digital sales training as a widget; a thing; a pill that their reps can take to magically hit quota.

I often find sales leadership wants to get digital sales training “over with” so the department can get back to “normal.” What should worry you is that “normal” is code for “This is an event. It will end, and we’ll go back to the same way we always did it.” Sales leaders just want to hit quota, so plugging in a digital or social selling widget sounds great if it means little disruption to normal routine.

Finally, pay close attention to how sales enablement and sales operations show interest in digital sales. I’ve found that traditional sales enablement leaders tend to attack the problem with the same playbook they’ve always run:

  1. Conduct a half-day, in-person workshop.
  2. Find a tool that can do social or digital selling.

With either of these solutions, you’ll probably still encounter pushback: “Our sales professionals are already spread too thin and asked to do too much. They’re constantly in meetings, and we can’t take them out of the field for more training. Let’s do a workshop when they’re all together next month at the quarterly business review.”

The truth about sales training

No half-day workshop or magical tool is going to drive millions of dollars into your sales pipeline. (You don’t need me to tell you that.) But the real root cause for these half-baked sales enablement solutions is a lack of commitment to true behavioral change. You can talk about change, but change is hard and takes time – a luxury that most senior leaders feel they don’t have. Again, I get it. According to Forrester, the average tenure of a senior sales leader is only 18 months.

If your window of opportunity is only 18 months, then make an innovative impact in your first six months! Are you going to be the change agent? Are you what the CEB would call a “mobilizer”? My experience has taught me that a thorough social and/or digital sales implementation within an organization is only possible when it’s one of the top sales initiative globally. Otherwise, the initiative comes off as a “nice-to-have” instead of “need-to-have.”

Sales training is not like launching a product. Unfortunately, sales enablement teams often deploy them as such. Long-term sales training programs require each sales professional to play a role in the initiation and continuous follow-up. You can’t cram new information into a sales professional’s head once and expect it to be permanently turned on like a switch.

As with any sales training initiative, senior leaders need to be committed to ongoing reinforcement. For many, this means continuously demonstrating that social and digital interactions are how you’re going to compliment working with buyers going forward. The sales cycle for training is infinite, with a priority level that doesn’t simply turn off next quarter.

How to establish effective sales training

To establish digital sales training as a priority, start with a communications plan (such as a town hall meeting, sales kickoff, quarterly business review, video email, etc.). Priorities need to be articulated. They must be explained and reinforced continuously to all participating departments (multiple times) for the message to resonate.

No matter the training program, frequency and method of communicating your plan, the actions of senior executives will far outweigh any communicated presentation.

Sales training has the best chance of excelling if expressed as a top priority — with enthusiasm — from the highest C-level executives. These are some simple actions to help your company get excited about digital selling:

  • Tweet company successes.
  • Connect with each company employee on LinkedIn.
  • Share favorite web articles and insights with the sales teams.
  • Be part of digital asset creation, such as blog posts or videos.

These subtle, but highly impactful actions will speak volumes to the sales and marketing teams. They’ll understand the importance of both these sales training initiatives and embracing the digital world.

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