Whether it’s onboarding for new hires or long-term support for your seasoned sellers, you have no shortage of training topics to provide to your team. Virtually every company provides detailed technical and application training content related to their products, and many are intentional about teaching street-level insights related to various markets and customers.
But what about skill development? While many companies have tinkered with a few workshops, surprisingly few have formalized their skills training in the same way they have for product application, customers, and markets. To build a future-proof sales team, sales leaders must think beyond the present and ensure their teams are equipped to succeed in the ever-changing business landscape. This involves recognizing that the skills and strategies that worked in the past may not be sufficient to meet the challenges of the future.
While certain individuals may possess some innate sales aptitude, the most successful are those who continuously invest in honing their skills and adapting to evolving customer needs. In this article, we’ll discuss specific skills that are critical in today’s sales environment and how to ensure your sales training is successful in improving them.
Sales Skills Training: What They’re Worth
It’s surprising that skills training takes a back seat to other topics for many companies. After all, what other profession assumes that someone’s natural abilities are enough to propel them to be a top producer in their role? Certainly not sports, where even top athletes train daily. Not medicine, where professionals complete continual education on an annual basis. Not education. Not engineering. Not finance. All of these career paths require an appropriate level of knowledge and skill development beyond someone’s natural abilities.
When you recognize that reality, it’s quite ironic that sales is often viewed as a have-it-or-don’t profession, particularly because sales is the function in business where on-the-job improvement is most closely tied to your overall company performance.
Does investment in sales skills produce a return? In our experience, absolutely. We’ve measured several companies and found that core sales skills training has been shown to produce a double-digit percentage increase in revenue, commonly between 10-20%. Similarly, companies who have completed our negotiation training have experienced reductions in discounting worth millions of dollars each year to the bottom line. Sales execution drives both your company’s growth and profitability.
So, while knowledge of your products, applications, customers, and markets is necessary, developing sales skills pays off significantly as well.
Sales Skills to Master Today
Today, as information is more or less commoditized, and AI continues to expand its applications, buyers generally don’t need to rely on sellers for simple answers or even application-specific information. While the ability to provide this type of insight once represented a ton of value for buyers, they are now basic requirements of sellers. Instead, buyers are now looking to sellers to make sense of complex situations, build confidence in purchase decisions, and resolve concerns throughout the buying process.
You may have best-in-class product, application, and market-level training, but do your sellers have the human-to-human skills to deliver what today’s buyers uniquely need? Below, we’ll dive into a few core selling skills that differentiate today’s top sellers.
While the term has been thrown around a lot over the years, and in some cases redefined, the core tenets of consultative selling are as important today as they’ve ever been. Fundamentally, consultative selling is about capturing a clear understanding of a buyer’s current and future state and then using your expertise to effectively align an ideal solution to the buyer’s needs.
Communicating Specific Value
Somehow, selling on value might be more overestimated in sales today than consultative selling is, with virtually every seller and manager professing to be doing it often and with excellence. The reality? Buyer research suggests that less than half of sellers are actually communicating meaningful value that’s relevant to their buyers. To truly sell on value, sellers must understand individual buyers’ value drivers – how they perceive value – and effectively message their solution’s value in a personalized way tied to those value drivers.
One of the primary reasons buyers engage sellers in the first place is to gain confidence in their decision to buy, which obviously includes some level of resolving concerns. The problem? Too many sellers view authentic buyer concerns as “objections” and react defensively to them, seeing them as a barrier to winning the sale. Instead, the most effective salespeople seek to truly understand buyer concerns, acknowledge them, and respond to them tactfully. The goal is to address the root cause of the concern. After all, buyers will only buy if their concerns are addressed, and don’t really care to have their “objections overcome.”
Playbook for Successful Skills Training
When we talk to companies who are hesitant to invest in skills training for their sellers, one of the most common reasons we hear is that they’ve tried it in the past and didn’t see an impact. Maybe it was a flavor-of-the-month that was not given enough attention, or maybe their well-intentioned efforts didn’t result in any measurable improvement.
The reality is that simply teaching sales skills or techniques isn’t enough. Skills need to be reinforced, practiced, applied, and coached. That’s why seminar-style full day classroom events rarely make an impact. It’s a great way to check the box that training has been completed, but it’s unlikely to change habits or seller behavior.
While we could dive deep into each of these items (and do so when we engage with clients), here is a very brief overview of the playbook for skills training that we’ve seen work the best. Doing this well gives your training efforts the best chances of generating a significant ROI and powering your company’s profitable growth.
Organizational Alignment. The companies we’ve seen excel the most when rolling out skills training have senior leaders actively involved in its planning, rollout, and follow-through. This signals the importance of the initiative and ensures it is taken seriously.
Topics that Target Important Gaps. Relevance is important, of course. Be sure that you are diagnosing to identify specific areas where your sales team is consistently underperforming. The better you are at addressing key gaps, the more likely you are to generate a meaningful return on investment.
Communication and Expectations. Picking up on the first point above, clear communication differentiates companies who excel at training deployment, or really any important strategic initiative. Be sure that your front-line sellers and sales managers clearly understand the what, why, when, and how of the plan… especially the why.
Support from Sales Managers. Sales managers can often make or break a well-intentioned sales training initiative. While managers are often the busiest folks in your company, their active participation (and even ownership, to some degree) in the process is critical to its success. Once the smoke clears and the core learning is done, managers uniquely influence how the new skills are applied through ongoing reinforcement and coaching in everyday interactions with sellers.
Alignment with Everyday Systems and Processes. Sales methodologies or skills shouldn’t be presented in a vacuum. Where can you integrate the terminology and frameworks your team is learning so that it can be reinforced and applied daily? Within your CRM and any sales enablement platform you may use is a great starting point.
Developing sales skills is more important than ever in today’s competitive sales environment, where the role of the seller has shifted and buyers are expecting more. While there is no shortage of competing priorities, other training topics, and maybe even scar tissue from past skills training efforts, developing sales skills can deliver significant impacts on team performance, revenue growth, and customer satisfaction.
Be sure that you choose high-value, relevant topics, and stage the deployment in a way that gives your team the ability to successfully learn and apply these new skills. Then, incorporate these new ideas into everyday sales conversations, coaching conversations, and your sales tech stack.