The Art of Effective Sales Training

If sales is an art, salespeople are most certainly the artists. While Pablo Picasso and Norman Rockwell both practiced the same discipline, they used different techniques and materials to express their respective messages. And just as there are multiple ways to produce a painted masterpiece, it’s worth considering that different salespeople have various styles.

In an effort to understand and quantify this “palette” of a successful sales organization, Harvard Business Review conducted a study of nearly 800 sales professionals in live sales meetings. After testing and analyzing the reps for a range of 23 different sales skills, it became clear that only 7 of those particular skills had a significant impact on success. According to HBR, those seven skills are:

  1. Meeting prep
  2. Customer interaction
  3. Company presentation
  4. Presentation & rapport
  5. The sales pitch
  6. Storytelling
  7. Rising to the challenge

The study also clearly revealed 8 distinct types of salespeople, each with different strengths and weaknesses, and suggested that 3 of those 8 types—Experts, Closers, and Focusers—are consistently the most effective reps on any sales team. The sales teams that rise to the top are the ones that figure out how to create effective sales training for every type of sales person they have.

Techniques for every style of sales

Experts are the only archetype to show well-rounded performance in all seven skills areas. From there, the other archetypes have more pronounced strengths and weaknesses. And after identifying reps’ strengths and weaknesses, the most important thing sales managers can do is to focus training to best address their team’s (and each rep’s) weaknesses.

Take Closers, for example, who have strengths in “rising to the challenge, customer interaction, the sales pitch, and presentation & rapport,” but also have weaknesses in “storytelling and company presentation.” On one hand, Closers are often able to pull of some very big deals and effectively counter customer objections. On the other hand, their smooth-talking style can put some customers off. Helping these Closers with light-touch mentoring is exactly what sales managers need to do, but that doesn’t necessarily work across the board.

Focusers are salespeople who “know their products cold and believe deeply in them, but lack in confidence.” Effective training for these salespeople involves building better listening skills and improving customer interactions. There are five other types of salespeople as noted by HBR’s study, but their deficiencies in sales are larger than these three core archetypes. This isn’t to say that the other types of salespeople are bad, but they were less effective in meeting significant sales milestones when surveyed by HBR. This is why, as tempting as it might be to train an entire sales team on the same points, different styles—and different weaknesses—need different coaching to flourish.

Effective sales training for different sales strengths

So how then do sales managers train on the strengths and weaknesses of their teams? One tactic is to democratize the effort of building effective sales training. HBR suggests harnessing the information and insights that sales team Experts have, for the benefit of the rest of the team:

Experts should mentor up-and-comers, help less effective sales staff, and spread best practices throughout the company. If sales managers can find a way to encourage their Experts to do this, maybe more meetings will result in closed deals.

What might this look in practice? Two of the sales skills that Experts have a large advantage in is “Meeting Prep” and “Storytelling.” Sales managers might sit down and interview their team Experts on how they prepare for a meeting with a client. Putting this information together in a Lesson and sharing it with the rest of the team is an easy way to translate the strong practices of top performers to an entire sales team. This is what we like to call democratized content, and it has proven to be effective on many occasions.

Sales advice written by a rep often comes across as more approachable and helpful as well, but it can be difficult to deploy in a timely manner—without the right solution. For Riskalyze, Lessonly’s team learning software was that solution. Using Lessonly’s easy Lesson builder and sharing tools, Riskalyze created sales onboarding content with the help and insights of 19 people. The resulting Lessons helped cut onboarding time for their sales team down to 10 days, showing the impact that democratized learning content can have when it’s properly implemented.

Democratizing learning is just one option that sales managers have in their toolboxes, but as the demands on sales teams continue to grow, personalized and accessible learning will become more and more important.

Train stronger salespeople with Lessonly

Competitive sales teams use Lessonly’s team learning software to develop effective sales training. Take the first step toward more closed deals with a self-guided tour of Lessonly. Sign up today.

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