You wouldn’t put a pilot in a cockpit without ensuring they’d passed the simulator first, right?
It’s the same idea behind sales certifications. It’s your way to measure whether a new hire is ready for actual sales — how much knowledge they retained, where the gaps are, and what they’ll be able to utilize when face-to-face with a customer. Sales certification or sales training programs include knowledge-based assessments and simulations to answer all those questions and more. All you have to do is determine which key skills a sales rep must demonstrate to pass.
Here’s what to know about sales rep certification, how it works, and what sales training programs should look like.
Defining sales certification
Sales certification is proof that a rep has completed assessments, exercises, or tests to demonstrate specific knowledge and skills. Certification can begin as early as onboarding, where reps learn what and how to sell and are ready for coaching; however, sales training certification programs can occur at all levels and take different forms depending on your goals. For example, a SaaS sales certification is focused on Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings and the unique considerations in this field.
Of course, there’s more to sales certification than just passing or failing. Sales reps should be able to demonstrate their knowledge and skills and how these meet customers’ business needs. Essentially, it’s important to set a standard of achievement.
What is a sales certification program?
Sales certification or sales training programs are the systems through which you deliver educational material and experiences. They can include courses, learning modules, role-plays, assessments, and more. Our research found that most sales certifications are completed in January and March.
Good sales representative certification programs should provide visibility into every step of the learning process, allowing trainers to track progress, identify gaps in the material and connect educational outcomes to future sales performance.
Sales training certification programs can be as basic or specific as necessary. You can choose the best training topics based on existing knowledge gaps, common questions during the onboarding process, and any relevant goals.
How to create a sales certification program for your sales reps
When you know what you want to assess, you need to design a sales certification program (or choose a premade option) that achieves your objectives.
Firstly, you need to set up an effective review process. No matter what assessment or sales certification training program you choose, a real person should review most exercises. That’s how you can determine whether the rep has passed and achieved their certification. This is also a great opportunity to learn more about your reps’ selling styles, habits, and coaching needs — not to mention the effectiveness of your learning material.
Along the way, keep in mind that you’ll need to connect your learning objectives with business and revenue outcomes. That often means collaborating with leadership on multiple levels and going beyond the sales department to get the big picture. On top of that, you’ll need to balance the pacing of your sales training program; self-paced is often best, but you still need to be careful to avoid “information overload” — especially during onboarding.
As learners progress through your program, check in to evaluate engagement, readiness and confidence levels. If you notice your content isn’t “clicking” for new hires or existing reps, consider restructuring your approach so topics more gradually build on one another — and remember to utilize roleplaying to let sales reps cement their new skills and take a break from book learning.
You should also think about what happens after sales onboarding is complete. Once a rep has passed, remember they’ll need to hone their skills through:
- Feedback sessions
- Shadowing senior reps
- Listening in on calls
- Developing confidence and capability through face-to-face coaching
Noting all of these things is key to creating an effective sales certification program for your reps. When you know where you’re going, it’s much easier to create a path — or in this case, a program — to get you there.
Here are three different training approaches and how to leverage them:
This assessment is focused on sales rep knowledge — what they’ve retained and understood — and how they apply it in the context of customer needs. Tests and quizzes are a common choice but roleplays can be particularly useful. According to our 2023 State of Sales Productivity Report, knowledge assessments include an average of 21 questions.
Knowledge assessments should include a range of materials and test structures to more accurately gauge different aspects of the training. For example, Mindtickle’s sales training software has eight quiz types — from multiple choice to label matching — that can all be performed using our online platform. The platform calculates whether the rep passes this section and is ready for the next level of certification.
There are two ways to structure these assessments:
- Closed book: Participants don’t have access to any resources, notes or supporting material. This is purely a test of what they’ve retained and how well they adopted key concepts or skills.
- Realistic: Participants have access to the sales enablement or support content they would utilize in a real scenario. This more closely simulates the job environment, where sellers have access to specific resources but have limited time to act.
These missions are a dry run of the sales process and the associated techniques. For example, to test the rep’s ability to articulate your company’s value proposition, you could have them record their sales pitch. This video can be used to:
- Help the rep get a more objective view of how they performed.
- Inform trainers and coaches on knowledge gaps or problem areas.
- Test the rep’s ability to respond to unfamiliar questions, situations, and objections.
To get even more out of these missions, create a library of sales pitches from all new hires. This library isn’t just a training tool; it’s also a way to gamify your sales training programs by using crowd voting to highlight pitching styles, share ideas and get the whole sales team engaged.
Another great exercise to test a sales rep’s understanding is to have them actually run through the sales process using “dummy leads.” This allows you to give out leads depending on what you need to assess; for example, one dummy lead might be a tough sell, making it a great way to test sales reps on their ability to position your value proposition.
Through this assessment process, sales reps can:
- Identify and track leads
- Do background research on leads
- Populate the CRM
- Demonstrate knowledge of your systems and processes
Better yet, the dummy lead approach can connect with a simulation mission for an even more in-depth process. This helps leaders, managers, and trainers know whether reps can juggle the right things when working with real leads.
Benefits of a sales certification program
Sales training certification programs aren’t just a great way to hone key skills, improve sales readiness and close more deals. They also have significant benefits for your teams, including:
- Increased morale: Passing a training program gives reps the confidence and engagement they need to better connect with their roles.
- Better visibility: Training courses provide vital performance information and can help address issues before they arise.
- Boosted productivity: When reps know more about processes and tools, they spend less time asking questions or fixing mistakes.
- Reduced turnover: Reps can realize their full potential and have better on-the-job experiences, which means less turnover.
Want to see how four companies revamped their sales certifications and saw real benefits thanks to Mindtickle sales training programs? Here’s a quick look:
- Introhive: Improved onboarding and used gamification, roleplays and microlearning to grow certifications by 100% and shorten sales cycles.
- Trimble Viewpoint: Used analytics-driven enablement dashboards to reduce ramp time from 69 days to 52 days.
- Integrace Health: Leveraged manager dashboards and certification programs to win up to 82% sales rep approval ratings and reduce onboarding times from 22 to five days.
- MongoDB: Implemented a 30-60-90 day onboarding program to reduce ramp time by 45%.
Plus, check out this case study from Wiley Publishing:
Get sales-ready with the right training programs
The right sales certification program can take your new hires from good to great. This is your chance to start them off on the right foot — not just for their own sake, but for the rest of their team, the company overall, and even the customers they’ll someday serve. Don’t forget that sales training certification programs benefit leaders and coaches with rich insights and valuable data, too.
Ready to get started? Request Mindtickle demo today.
This post was originally published in February 2016 and was updated in April 2023.