Most sales organizations assume that “Sales Training” primarily refers to onboarding training and orientation. Similar to an iceberg, where only 10% of its volume is visible above water, onboarding sales training just scratches the surface. The bulk of the learning process is in ongoing training enrichment.
Our Onboarding Sales training needs have focused primarily around the essentials: product knowledge, client personas, and sales skills. As the market changed and grew, the needs of our clients became more diverse and our training strategy grew to support our customers and our Sales Executives (SEs). By the end of the first half of the year (H1), the “gut feeling” from SMB Management was that further training enrichment was needed to adjust to the changes and as a data company, we turned to the powers of data for insight and guidance.
Assessing the Data
In July, I sent a survey to the SMB Sales team (SEs and Management). The survey asked for feedback and insights on training received in H1. It also asked SEs and Sales Managers to rate their level of understanding for each phase of our Sales Funnel and to identify areas within the Funnel where training enrichment would be most beneficial. It was important to me to ask the Sales Managers for their feedback on their team’s SEs, this way we gained a complete 360° view on training needs from the perspective of the individual SE and from the perspective of the manager.
Question 1: “Where do you feel most confident in the sales process?
Question 2: “Where do you feel is your largest need for enrichment?”
Based on this data, an updated training plan of action was needed. I interviewed professional Training colleagues from four leading SaaS companies (Hubspot, Marketo, Getty Images and Layon) who had successfully navigated through a hyper growth process with their own Sales teams. I prepared a list of 10 questions asked to each Trainer. The process was interesting and hugely beneficial; it was also comforting to learn that other teams had struggled through similar challenges.
Here’s some leading takeaways I learned:
- “LiveFire Training”: Onboarding and Ramp Up Training needs to include live engagement with customers from multiple stages in the funnel. Start with low qualified leads to build confidence in product knowledge and objective handling skills. For example:
- Top of the Funnel: work with SDRs and lead qualification
- Middle of the Funnel: lead client demos (start with low qualified leads)
- Bottom of the Funnel: shadow closing calls
- Value Sale: All companies were facing challenges around SE engagement skills and ability to construct and manage a “Value Based Sale”. All felt the need for ongoing training around Discovery and effective Drill Down skills which reveal the client’s needs and pain points. All noted that listening, negotiating and closing skills were areas identified for improvement. One Sales Trainer stated: “We don’t want to learn about our customers, we want to understand our customers…it’s about communication.”
- Sales Manager Training: It’s vital that Sales Managers review details and actively participate in the Sales Training program in order to understand and affirm skills/lessons. Each Trainer I interviewed expressed frustration over SE skills which were reviewed and affirmed during the training process but not enforced in the live sales environment; thereby becoming unused and lost. Be aware of the difference between Sales Training and Sales Management, ensure that both are aligned with concepts and approach.
With data and insights in hand, we could now build our H2 Action Plan for Sales Enrichment. We recognized three stages of the Sales Funnel for enrichment:
- Validating SimilarWeb Value (“Value Sale”) – how to demo and show product value to our clients. Increase the “Wow” factor
- Negotiation and Closing – how to drive a strong opportunity through to the close and win the sale
- Discovery and Qualification – engagement skills with the client
For each stage in the funnel, we built a 3 phased training enrichment plan, each plan scheduled in 2 month intervals. To maintain a strong impact, each phase is scheduled in weekly intervals, this way we can quickly measure success and make the necessary adjustments.
Here are the 3 phases:
- Phase I – Frontal workshop and discussion: discuss the specific funnel stage in small groups of 5-6 SEs (with manager present). Brainstorm goals for the funnel stage and how to overcome likely challenges.
- Phase II – Practical Role Play: work with the group in small settings to role play and practice phase-specific objection handling and smooth transition to the next phase in the cycle.
- Phase III – “Live Fire” shadowing of client engagement calls and demos with feedback review sessions. Record sessions for review with the SE and track results to align with the Sales Manager. For example, our Demo Shadowing Spreadsheet provides feedback on the SE’s demo and covers multiple areas: Professional Approach, Agenda, Personal, Our Company and Methodology, Showing an Immediate WOW Effect, Clear Examples, Value Sell, Product Knowledge, Use of Open and Engaging Questions, Objection Handling, and Closing Next Steps
* In addition, the Sales Manager should hold ongoing reviews to measure results and ensure skills are being implemented. Open communication between the Sales Trainer and Sales Manager are an important part of the success.
We kicked off Q2 implementing training enrichment sessions for Phase I and Phase II of Validating SimilarWeb Value (“Value Sale”). Feedback from the SE’s was strong and we see improvement in the manner SE’s prepare and manage the sales process with new leads. Fingers crossed, we’re looking forward to a strong H2 and a great close to the year.