I once wrote a series of articles about sales leaders for a publication. When I asked the salespeople why they were in sales, they told me — almost without exception — that they loved their work. They thought of themselves as being in service to their customers. They enjoyed talking to their prospects and customers, helping them solve problems, and making sure their product was right for the customer. A good salesperson, I was told, didn’t try to push a product on someone it wasn’t right for. They wanted to make sure their product solved the problems of that customer, and they’d check in regularly. One sales leader I interviewed would start his day by calling to check in on existing customers to boost his confidence before going out and trying to sell to new clients.
Salespeople are a very specific breed: they thrive on competition, but they also love people. In a way, sales is a calling. The best salespeople enjoy talking to their prospects and existing customers. They also enjoy being near one another – anyone who has ever worked in a business with a sales team knows that the salespeople tend to be gregarious. They take clients out for meals and drinks as part of their job, go out to in-person sales calls, and socialize as a group. With remote work, and so much of sales being conducted online now, the pandemic can’t be easy for salespeople.
How has selling changed in the remote work era?
Building trust and rapport is a crucial skill when it comes to sales. In person, this translates to things like a firm handshake, eye contact, or reading a person’s body language. An experienced sales pro on an in-person sales call might be able to walk into a prospect’s office, take a look at the office itself (the photos on the wall, the things on the desk), then use their people skills to make a great impression and build a connection.
Some of those skills simply don’t translate to the era of remote work. We don’t shake hands now, and it’s hard to get a read of someone’s body language (or their office) from their image during a Zoom call. Salespeople need to rely on new ways of connecting and building rapport with prospects.
Although, pre-pandemic, many sales professionals were selling via the Internet and social media, there are many still sales pros who are used to old-fashioned shoe leather selling, and many prospects who are new to being sold to online.
To be effective, sales organizations need to train new skills in their reps — and that’s another problem. Sales training has often been delivered in person.
Updating traditional sales training during the pandemic
When you think of sales training, you probably think of training delivered at an in-person event: a sales team is flown to a conference center in a major city, where they’re trained all day, taking eight-hour training sessions and listening to keynotes from top sales thought leaders. Then in the evening, there’s a social component — everyone goes to dinner and drinks, there’s entertainment and networking. After three or four days, the sales team gets on a plane and comes home with their new skills.
Those sorts of events can’t happen anymore, thanks to the pandemic. But by the same token, salespeople are social and need each other to learn. Surveys suggest that although yes, salespeople learn from training events, they tend to learn most from each other: SellingPower Magazine found that reps prefer to learn from their peers, sharing best practices with one another. Socializing with one another in the office or at training events allows salespeople to talk to one another, which means that salespeople may feel isolated and unenriched if they’re working remotely and consuming asynchronous courses and nothing else.
Salespeople also learn from their managers. Coaching is a critical component of sales training, but if the entire team is working remotely, reps may not feel they’re getting ample time with their bosses. They may have done ride-alongs with sales managers when they were visiting clients in person as part of training, but an episode of Training Industry’s Business of Learning podcast points out that inviting your boss to a Zoom call may be awkward.
Here are five tips to adapt sales training to fit the pandemic’s new interactivity requirements:
- Design training for an online format. Don’t just tape your training and throw it into the LMS. While your team might be used to attending eight hours of training at an annual conference, no one wants to sit through a full day of videos at home. Create shorter segments of training that can be consumed comfortably in chunks, rather than multi-hour courses that will have your salespeople nodding off. The new challenge for sales leaders is to design training content that recognizes that salespeople are likely at home and may have new distractions and personal challenges that make training harder.
- Add instructor-led training (ILT) to online learning. Just because they’re not at a live training doesn’t mean your team can’t attend live training at all. By adding an ILT module to your LMS, you can still train reps live, invite keynote speakers, and have your team learn from sales leaders.
- Encourage reps to talk to each other about what they’ve learned. Your reps might all be working from home, but there’s real value in having them discuss the training (e.g. they’re more likely to retain the information and it reinforces your company’s culture of learning). You want them to work as a group, communicate about training, share ideas, and talk about best practices. Consider integrating a web conferencing application like WebEx or Zoom into your LMS to host these interactive sessions.
- Incorporate coaching. By adding a module that lets sales managers offer feedback, reps receive valuable input and direction from their bosses on their sales calls, pitches, and techniques. Video Assessments are a great tool to enable this.
- Embrace continuous training. According to an old, oft-quoted stat from Sales Alliance, salespeople lose 80 to 90% of what they’ve learned in training sessions without follow-up training. You may not be able to fly everyone to an annual conference anymore, but you can help them remember what they’ve learned by requiring small amounts of online training that revisit previous topics over a longer period of time. And definitely send quizzes (or what Litmos calls “Boosts”) at specified intervals after they’ve completed a course to aide in memory retention and reinforce learned material.
By using the strengths of online learning, you can help support your team and update their skills, even if they can’t go out and learn in person right now (but hopefully not for too much longer).