What is Sales Training? 

people doing sales training with Mindtickle

It’s a tough time for sales leaders: as budgets are cut, sales teams are expected to do more with less. (Yes, you’re probably sick of hearing that by now.) Sales enablement leaders are faced asking themselves: what is the best sales training and how can I ensure my current sellers have what they need to meet revenue goals this quarter?

Simply hiring more sellers is not the solution. As a sales enablement leader, you need to build up a program that’s both scalable and personalized. You’ve got to provide training to ensure each of your reps is always prepared for whatever comes their way in the field.

Mindtickle 2022-2023 Sales Enablement Outlook Report

But what exactly is sales training? And if you’ve hired great fit sellers, why does it even matter?

Read on to explore what it is, why it’s a key piece of the sales readiness puzzle, and what you can do to improve its effectiveness at your organization.

  1. Sales training: What it is and why it matters
  2. Benefits of sales training
  3. Tips for more effective sales training
  4. Sales training vs. sales coaching: What is the difference?

Sales training: What it is and why it matters

Sales training is the practice of ensuring your sellers have the knowledge, skills, and competencies they need to be ready for every step of the sales journey – from prospecting to closing the deal.

Go beyond sales onboarding

At most organizations, the sales training journey starts with onboarding. Sales onboarding is an important way to get new reps up to speed with your organization, products, and goals – as well as the role they’ll play in achieving those goals. It makes sense why organizations invest in sales onboarding. When it’s effective, onboarding can have a large impact on key business outcomes.

But all too often, it ends at onboarding. Per Aberdeen Research, a mere 37% of companies extend their programs beyond the first month.

However, sales training shouldn’t stop there. Why? There are a few important reasons.

For starters, sellers are thrown a lot of information during sales onboarding. Even if you’ve built a great, engaging sales onboarding program, new reps are going to forget some of what they’ve learned. In fact, they’re going to forget most of it. Per Gartner, sellers forget 70% of the information they learn within just one week of training. Ongoing training (what we at Mindtickle refer to as “everboarding”) ensures learning sticks – and that sales reps are actually applying what they’ve learned to drive sales.

In addition, it’s important to remember that change is the only constant – both in life and in sales. Products, markets, competitors, and priorities are constantly changing. All reps – from the newest to the most seasoned – need ongoing training to ensure they’re up to speed on these changes and ready for whatever comes at them in the field.

The key benefits of sales training

There are many benefits of sales training. Here are two of the most important.

1. It positively impacts sales growth

Today, many sales leaders buy into the 80/20 rule, which is the outdated notion that 80% of sales will be driven by 20% of your reps. That means the vast majority of your reps will miss their sales quotas quarter after quarter.

But this is a myth.

With a strong program, you can create an entire team of sellers that are equipped to close deals and meet quota. Of course, when more sellers are closing more deals, that’s going to lead to more revenue growth.

In fact, research from Heinz Marketing and Mindtickle found that 78.6% of companies with an effective program meet 100% of their selling quota.

2. It improves seller engagement and retention

When a great rep decides to leave, it’s costly to your company. For starters, you’re losing revenue the rep would have generated. Plus, you have to factor in the costs of recruiting, hiring, and training a new rep to replace them. It adds up! In fact, according to research from DePaul University, it costs nearly $115,000 to replace a sales rep.

So when you find great reps, it’s important to do what you can to retain them.

Providing ongoing sales training is a great way to engage your sales reps. According to Spotio, 65% of employees indicate that the quality of training available to them positively influences their engagement. What’s more, 71% of respondents to a Gallup survey said job training and development increased their job satisfaction.

Those engaged, satisfied sales reps are likely to stick around long-term – saving you the headache and costs of filling vacant roles.

Six tips for more effective sales training

The potential benefits of sales training are clear. However, claiming to deliver sales training isn’t enough to see the benefits. In fact, research tells us that 85% of sales training fails.

What is it that sets great sales training apart from the rest?

Here are six tips to improve the effectiveness of your sales training program.

Tip #1: Don’t stop at onboarding

We’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: sales training shouldn’t stop at sales onboarding.

Sellers forget the vast majority of what they learned during onboarding. What’s more, products, markets, and selling landscapes are constantly changing and evolving.

Ongoing sales training is a key component to ensuring all of your reps are ready to sell. The truth is, sales training should be delivered on a regular basis for maximum impact. According to a Heinz Marketing and Mindtickle report, among respondents who hit 75% or more of their quota, 90% participate in sales training on a monthly basis.

Tip #2: Define excellence

The aim of sales training is to create more, great sellers. But first, you have to determine what a great seller looks like.

Chances are, you have an ideal customer profile (ICP), which outlines what a good fit customer looks like for your business. But it’s just as important to define your ideal rep profile (IRP), which is the set of skills and competencies a seller needs to be successful in your organization.

Then, you can plan out sales training courses and programs that map to each of these key areas. That way, you can be sure your sales training is helping sellers boost the skills and competencies they need.

Tip #3: Make it personal

Imagine you have two sellers in the same room. One is a veteran seller, and has been with your company for a few years. The other is a recent college grad with big potential – but only a year of sales experience. Does it make sense to deliver the same sales training to those two sales reps?

Absolutely not. The newer seller likely needs more sales training on how to be a great seller. But if you deliver that same training to the veteran seller, they’re going to get bored and disengaged.

Of course, there will be certain sales training all sellers need to complete. But as a general rule, sales training shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all. Instead, sales leaders must work to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each seller. The best way to do this is to measure each rep against your ideal rep profile. By doing so, you’ll see where they’re shining and where there are gaps. Then, personalized training can be delivered to each rep to close gaps – and improve sales performance.

Tip #4: Reinforce training

It’s disappointing, but it’s true: sellers will quickly forget what they learned in sales training. If you want that learning to stick (who doesn’t?), you’ve got to reinforce it.

Be sure to incorporate reinforcement exercises into your sales training strategy. For example, assign a quiz to your sellers after a training session. If they earn a low score, assign them bite-sized video modules that reinforce the concepts presented during the training session.

It’s a best practice to house all sales training materials within a single sales training platform. That way, reps have a one-stop-shop for everything they need related to sales training.

Tip #5: Mix up the format

The phrase “sales training” might conjure images of an instructor standing at the front of a room filled with sales reps. Sure, real-time training sessions – whether in-person or via video – are an important part of sales training. However, it also makes sense to incorporate other types of training.

For example, you might assign bite–sized training modules for sales reps to complete on their own time. Or, you might assign a quiz to test knowledge. Another idea is to assign role-plays to allow reps to practice their new skills and get feedback from either their manager or their peers (or both).

Again, it’s important to ensure all training material is housed within a single platform so reps can easily find what they need.

Tip #6: Measure the impact

You can’t improve what you don’t measure. And without regular measurement, it’s impossible to determine what (if any) impact your sales training is having on reps’ performance.

Many organizations measure completion of sales training. While this is important, it doesn’t tell the whole story. A seller may fly through all of their assigned sales training, but fail to perform while interacting with buyers.

As such, it’s key to measure how your sales training is impacting key business outcomes, such as quota attainment and win rates. In addition, be sure to continuously measure your reps against your ideal rep profile. That way, you can understand how sales training is positively impacting skills and in-field behaviors.

Sales training vs. sales coaching: What is the difference?

Sales training and sales coaching are both key components of a sales readiness strategy. Oftentimes, these phrases are used interchangeably. Sales training and sales coaching are two pieces of the same puzzle, but they’re not the same thing.

At each organization, there are a certain set of skills and competencies a seller needs to be successful throughout the sales cycle. Sales training is focused on delivering knowledge to help reps learn those skills and competencies. Sales training classes and modules can be focused on any number of things, including (but not limited to):

  • Product knowledge
  • Sales methodology
  • Ideal customer profiles
  • Pitch delivery
  • Objection handling
  • Use of tools, including CRM

Sales coaching, like sales training, is aimed at improving sales performance. However, the delivery method and tactics are different. The goal of sales coaching is to improve sales performance through strategies including:

  • Relationship-building
  • Knowing and analyzing what’s happening in the field
  • Delivering individualized plans to improve deal outcomes and build key skills for each sales rep

When it’s done well, sales coaching can extend the impact of sales training and have a big impact on sales results. Heinz Marketing and Mindtickle research found that 8 out of 10 teams who have effective coaching practices hit greater than 75% of sales quotas. What’s more, research from CSO Insights found that dynamic sales coaching leads to 21.3% higher quota attainment and 19% higher win rates than average.

What exactly does sales coaching look like?

The most effective managers work closely with each sales rep to understand their unique strengths and weaknesses. In addition, they leverage meeting intelligence to see firsthand how reps are performing in the field. Armed with these insights, sales managers can deliver sales coaching that helps reps capitalize on strengths and improve weaker skills and competencies.

Oftentimes, sales coaching is limited to deal coaching. In other words, a rep and manager regularly review in-flight deals and determine how to move them forward. However, it’s also important to provide coaching on skills. Skill coaching drives long-term behavior change – and helps reps hone the skills they need to close deals.

At the end of the day, sales training and sales coaching shouldn’t be viewed as an either/or choice. Instead, both sales training and sales coaching are key to ensuring reps are ready to move deals through the funnel and eventually, close them.

Ongoing sales training is key to creating a team of winning sales reps

Oftentimes, sales leaders buy into the notion that a rep either has what it takes, or they don’t. But the reality is, personalized, ongoing sales training helps ensure each rep on your team has the skills and competencies needed to close more deals.