How to Create a Sales Certification Program That Actually Build Sales Competencies

Feb 21, 2016

In my previous post, I talked about creating effective sales training for your new hires. But once you have run through the sessions on “what to sell” and “how to sell”, how do you measure whether your new hire is actually ready? How much of the knowledge have they retained? And more importantly, how much will they be able to apply when they’re face-to-face with a potential customer? How do you identify what are the gaps in the knowledge of each individual sales rep?

According to the Objective Management Group, 20% of “B” players have the potential to become “A Players” with the right tools and training. So the potential upside is significant if you can identify the gaps before the rep moves onto the next phase of their onboarding program, coaching.

There are two different ways to assess how a rep is learning; first is an objective appraisal of how the individual is understanding and applying knowledge. Second, looks at how the rep compares when their results are applied to a cohort or peer group. I’ll address the latter in my next post Analyze, while this post will look at how to assess the individual’s competence.

In my experience, the old school methods of written question and answer tests, aren’t very insightful in demonstrating how the rep can play back the value proposition, follow processes, or handle objections. This is where the assessment design is important. Creating knowledge-based assessments, coupled with exercises that require the rep to simulate a real situation for example, are invaluable when assessing their skill level. You wouldn’t put a pilot in a cockpit without making sure they’d passed the simulator first, right?

Based on your objectives, you can then determine what are the key skills that the rep must demonstrate before achieving their certification, or readiness certificate. Only sales reps who pass the readiness certification should go to the next stage.

A framework for holistic sales certification

First, let me start by sharing my definition of sales certification means as it relates to sales rep onboarding. Sales rep certification during onboarding means that someone has demonstrated an understanding of ‘What to Sell’ and ‘How to Sell’, and is equipped with enough knowledge to move on to coaching and is closer to being sales-ready.

While sales certification is a term that many are familiar with, but in my experience, it isn’t always implemented effectively. When certifying a sales rep, it’s not just about giving them a pass/fail; they should be able to demonstrate their knowledge and skill in the context of the company’s offering and how it meets the business needs of the customers.  I’m not suggesting that sales certification isn’t a good idea; it’s important to set a standard of achievement.

When putting together a framework for sales certification, first you need to be clear about what you want to test. Revisit the objectives of your sales training, and identify the specific areas of knowledge that you wish to assess.  For example, when assessing “What to Sell”, the sales rep must be able to articulate the core benefits and the promise of the product or service. So being able to demonstrate this should be a part of your certification process. Similarly, for “How To Sell”, you may want to see if they understand your funnel management and sales methodology, so this becomes another component of your certification process.

Assessment design

Once you know what you want to assess, you then need to design the assessment so that it achieves your objectives. There are two types of assessment that I find particularly useful:

  1. Knowledge assessment: This tests what knowledge the sales rep has retained, understood, and can apply the knowledge in the context of customer needs. Once the training is completed, the rep needs to demonstrate their knowledge, so the assessment should be a “closed-book” test.

The assessment itself needn’t be old school though. It should include a range of quizzes and situational exercises so that each of the different aspects of the training are tested. For example, Mindtickle’s platform has 8 types of quizzes that can be used, from multiple choice to label matching, that our customers have to found to be more engaging and effective. This can all be done using an online platform, like Mindtickle. The platform can then calculate whether the rep passes this section, and is, therefore, ready for the next level of certification.

  1. Simulation missions: This involves providing a dry-run of the sales process and the associated techniques to the sales reps. For example, in order to test the rep’s ability to articulate the value proposition of the company’s product or service, you could have them record their sales pitch. They can then play it back, and see how they performed; the video can also then be used as a tool when coaching (I’ll come to this in a later post about the Coaching stage). Similarly, video can be used to test the rep’s ability to respond to objections. For extra benefits, you can create a library of sales pitches from all new hires and use crowd voting and gamification to promote sharing of pitching styles and ideas.

Another great exercise to test understanding of the sales process is to have them actually run through the sales process using dummy leads. For example, they can do background research on leads, populate the CRM, identify and track leads, demonstrating their knowledge of the systems and processes. You will then know whether they can manage the process when they’re working the real leads.

These exercises will need to be reviewed by someone, either a sales manager or sales Enablement Manager so that they can determine whether the rep has “passed”, and therefore achieved their certification. Once you’ve assessed your sales rep and they’ve achieved certification, they’re ready for the next level of sales onboarding. This doesn’t mean that they’re ready to get out on the field yet though. Now it’s time to hone their skills through feedback sessions, by shadowing senior reps, listening in on calls, and starting to develop skills through face-to-face coaching. I’ll take you through how to create a structured coaching program in my next post.