Before & After: Essential Components of the Sales Training Process
The effectiveness of sales training is determined far before it begins, and continues long after everyone has exited the conference room or logged off the video call.
From my experience, I have found that the “before and after” is what many companies miss, and it makes all of the difference.
At ASLAN, we’ve honed the art of the activities that occur before and after sales training. We know that preparation impacts participation which impacts retention. All of this determines whether all of the important ideas stick and, more importantly, whether they are effectively implemented.
Here are the bookends.
What to Do Before Sales Training
There are four critical elements to what happens “before” sales training even begins.
Good selling starts with discovery before selling. To maximize the business impact of good sales training, start with assessment.
When I say assessment, I don’t mean an online tool to rank reps according to strengths and weaknesses.
I mean narrowing in on the relevant issues they face.
First and foremost: what are the key challenges? Honestly, this question is important because sometimes improving sales performance doesn’t require sales training. Maybe your reps just don’t know the product. Or, maybe you don’t have a good enough solution to sell.
If you engage with a sales training company, they should help you get to the heart of the matter through this kind of assessment. Sometimes, you need to take the money you were going to spend on sales training and invest in building a better product to sell. Then circle back.
Assessment will provide information that gets everyone on the same page and illuminates the right path.
2. Executive Alignment
At ASLAN, we put a lot of stock in this stage. In fact, I think it’s the most overlooked opportunity to set your team up for success in a sales training process.
A lot of times, the company’s goals, the sales manager’s goals, and the rep’s goals are not perfectly matched up.
Example: executives may be totally focused on new business but down the line, managers or reps see the biggest revenue opportunities in existing accounts.
- What is the company trying to do?
- Does that trickle down to the sales team?
- Will the training further that specific, shared goal?
Ensuring alignment between executive leadership, front line sales, and the sales training firm you’ve hired is critical for success.
If all you plan to do is cycle your reps through sales training and they come home with books and certificates, you get a short-term uptick in interest and a few ideas and some reps will improve. But for sustained change and the ROI we are all seeking, it takes more.
Leaders have to be involved and begin with the internal sale.
This is valuable
This will make a difference
This is a high priority for us
Then, managers have to be 100% bought into the training before, during, and after it happens.
More on that in a minute.
Executive alignment just means: we agree that this is needed, why this is needed, and that this is the right approach for our people. It means open conversations and compromise and consensus.
Do this, and your odds of success jump sky high.
A third element that happens before sales training is customization of the training itself. Very rarely does an out-of-the-box, copy/paste solution work. You probably shouldn’t pay for that. If you’re paying for high quality, instructor-led sales training, it should flex.
This is part of what you will obtain consensus for during the alignment stage. All of the tailoring and tweaks and goal-setting and goal-matching should happen before your reps show up.
Pretty straightforward. Definitely important.
Sales training is an experience. It’s instructional and interactive. It’s also limited to a certain number of hours and days.
That’s why I recommend prework.
Salespeople need a few forms of prework.
First, mental prep. When a salesperson gets their invite to training, they sit on a spectrum between “I couldn’t care less” to “I just want to show up and be entertained” to “I have some real challenges I’m prepared to go solve.” Ideally, prework moves them along this spectrum a little further so they show up mentally ready to focus and grow.
Second, practical prep. Ideally, your reps can be primed with personal client scenarios to get the juices flowing. They can be given some prework to “think about two accounts where you’re trying to grow,” or similar thought-provokers that make what they are about to experience immediately relatable.
Third, knowledge prep. Different from mentality, the power of getting exposed to ideas in advance improves retention outcomes. For instance, we talk about “drop the rope” in training, which is a way of diminishing tension and creating receptivity. If they read the book or listen to a podcast before they get to training, they already know the phrase and concept. This enables us to go deeper. To make it personal. To build mental ridges and bridges and all of the good neural pathways we know support long-term learning.
Assessment, alignment, customization, prework. All of this prep is about getting the most out of what your company is investing in sales training.
In addition to those powerful four steps, what happens afterward is equally important.
But first, a word about your sales managers.
A Word About Sales Manager Buy In
We’ve covered executive alignment and prepping your reps, but where do frontline sales managers come into play?
Securing their buy-in is a nonlinear process. It happens and is reinforced (or not) over and over throughout the whole gig. But their buy-in is worth its weight in gold.
Make sure managers go first. If possible, I always want to get sales managers trained in a different session than reps. It’s a whole different dynamic. Their attitude is different. It’s a relaxed learning environment, and it equips them to sell the value of the training to their people.
If you don’t get manager buy-in, their teams could easily say, “So we have to go to this sales training next week?” And the ambivalent sales manager could say, “Yeah, it’s some corporate thing.”
But imagine if they’re bought in. “You’re going to love it. It’s engaging, I got a ton of great ideas, and there are some things we’re going to use moving forward so definitely pay attention to the sessions on X,Y,Z.” Now you’ve got an advocate.
Don’t underestimate or diminish the important role sales managers play, not just in your overall sales performance, but in the outcome of sales training.
What to Do After Sales Training
The second you teach something, people start to forget. It’s called the forgetting curve. Most post-sales training work is fighting the forgetting curve, finding creative ways to revisit big ideas, restate important concepts, and offer reinforcement for retention.
There are two important components:
1. Comprehension & Retention
At ASLAN, we use an app that has dozens and dozens of microlearning lessons. There are numerous formats, so users can “choose their adventure”: watch a video short, read Q&As, take quizzes, skim articles.
Options help, and these small doses of information exposure actively move concepts from short term memory to long term memory.
But, of course, this isn’t a history course jammed with facts and figures to recall. Your reps should have gotten loads of practical, actionable ideas. Which means they need to practice and take action.
This is where all of that sales manager buy-in pays dividends. Reps need to practice applying everything they learned in sales training. Often, this happens best in a coaching context. Sales managers will facilitate scenario-based applications based on real client experiences first. Then, as the rep gets comfortable, they move into the real-world.
I like to say that the focus initially in application is about quantity not quality. In other words: just do it. Don’t be critical. Try it. Get feedback. Recalibrate.
A big difference between reps who change substantially and for the long-term (and those who don’t) is a willingness to play outside of their comfort zone. If they’re willing to be uncomfortable, their comfort zone will expand. Over time, they approach mastery.
Before, After, and Everything in Between
Sales training is complex – but there is a recipe that, when followed, can result in an amazing improvement in results (and lots of other things like higher employee engagement, retention, improved recruiting, and more loyal customers and referrals).
We’re trying to change people’s deep-seated beliefs about human behavior, about themselves, about what works. It’s never going to be one and done. But the principles I’ve laid out here can improve your success rates exponentially.
And they’re all elements you’ll get when you work with us.
Interested? Connect with the ASLAN team to learn more.
The best way to get to know us is to know what we value. If we teach it we live it, because what we do speaks far more eloquently than what we say. We’ll always choose people over profits, and we’re most fulfilled and effective when we serve. It drives our culture, frames our training programs and transforms the lives of the clients we partner with.