While many sales teams have defined plans and processes for onboarding and training new hires, there is also a less-discussed need for continued skill development among the veteran sellers already on the team. These are the tenured, generally successful sellers who generate the company’s revenue day in and day out. In this article, I’ll discuss how to approach training veteran members of a sales team.
Shifts in customer behavior require that sellers shift from the approaches that were designed around a traditional purchase model and may not be as relevant now. What really sets top performers apart today? It’s not necessarily what worked in the past, when buyers depended on salespeople more as a technical resource as opposed to now. Instead, today’s top sellers bring a more outcome-oriented, value-driven approach to every customer interaction.
To get the most out of seasoned sales teams, continued skill development should be a part of every sales force’s sales growth strategy.
You Can Teach Old Dogs New Tricks
Okay, so maybe we shouldn’t characterize successful, veteran sales reps as “old dogs,” but the point is there is almost always room for improvement, even for the most successful sellers. If you offer the right kind of training your veteran salespeople need and position it in a way that appeals to them, the idea of continued development will be welcome.
Is it worth the effort? If you have doubts about the need for continued skill development for your sales team, consider what kind of training the veteran reps have had. How long ago were they trained? What were they taught? A lot has changed about buying behavior in recent years, forcing shifts in sales behavior as well. Were your veterans trained on sales approaches that are designed to work in the 1990s or the 2020s?
We’ve seen many times over that veteran salespeople can be driven to improve, they just need to be guided in the right direction.
Choose the Right Topics for Sales Training
When selecting training topics in which you want to focus with your experienced sales professionals, start by considering your high-level goals. Specifically, are you working to fix something that’s broken, improve an area that needs support, or fine-tune high performers to push for even better results?
Depending on your goals, you may consider more general sales skills training that’s appropriate for your sales situations and current with today’s best practices. Or, if you are in fine-tuning mode, you may opt to focus on niche skill sets that can push your “B+ players” to become “A players.”
Consider some form of skill or competency assessment. This can be a basic self-evaluation paired with a sales manager’s input, or it could be an objective, formal assessment. In either case, this is an opportunity to target areas where individuals have specific needs.
With today’s widely available virtual training, often available in targeted, modular topics, you don’t need to fill up a classroom of reps who are all hearing the same message. Personalized learning delivers impressive results, but you need to know where the areas of need are for each individual in order to give them what they need most.
Communicate Clear Expectations to Your Salespeople and Front-Line Sales Managers
In getting your veteran sales reps on board with training, set and communication clear expectations about training with them. As human beings, salespeople can be defensive to perceived criticism. As such, the idea of training can seem like it’s more correctional than aspirational if it’s suggested without proper context and positioning. It’s important to communicate clearly that on-going development training is not remedial or designed to be punishment in anyway. In fact, it’s an investment in the continued success of a salesperson.
When you launch a training initiative for existing, veteran sales professionals, communicate the reasons and goals of it directly. Think of this as the ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’:
- What skills training topics we have chosen to focus on?
- Why we chose this particular set of topics?
- How we will apply these approaches to our everyday situations?
Be sure to set and communicate clear expectations about sales training for front-line managers as well. Managers play a critical role in the success of any training initiative but can be particularly important when communicating a training initiative to veteran reps. Be sure that your managers are aware of, and bought into, the training program before the reps ever hear about it. Front-line managers can be your champions in the trenches and will also be responsible for seeing that the newly developed skill sets transfer into daily activities.
Maintain the Sales Training Momentum
Even the best training evaporates in the dark. Up-front communication is only the beginning of successful on-going sales training. Build skill development into the regular cadence of daily, weekly and monthly operations. Follow-up and follow through. This means managers should facilitate on-going discussions around the key topics, role playing new skills. Coach your salespeople’s actual customer interactions with a focus on bringing the training into everyday habits.
Aside from front-line managers, it’s also helpful to make training a social event across the team. This assumes that team members are taking the same program, of course, but it can help everyone stand a better chance at changing behavior. Sales teams with a great training foundation keep it social in whatever way is familiar and comfortable to them. This could include conversations through:
- Regular team huddles
- Dedicated discussions planned around the training specifically
- Text message or email chains
- Social learning platforms
In particular, when the new approaches or tactics play a role in a success story, socializing it can be a huge contributor to confidence and credibility for the training.
Make the Most of Training with Your Veteran Reps
A lot has changed in recent years and sales teams need to adapt accordingly. Getting more from your existing salespeople, specifically your veteran reps, is an easy path to growth. With the right training delivered the right way, you can truly change selling behavior for the better.
No matter what skill sets you see as priorities on the horizon for your veteran reps, be sure that you communicate your plans clearly and support the initiative organizationally. Don’t let training be a side project or a perceived distraction to everyday sales activities.
For a simple process to implement sales training successfully, download our free infographic, “5 Stages to Ensure Your Sales Training Sticks.” And, if you’re interested in upskilling your team with sales approaches built to help you excel with today’s buyers, explore our Modern Sales Foundations program.