Sales are the lifeblood of any business. Product or service, high price point or low, sales fuel an organization. The best-tuned sports car in the world stands still without an ongoing supply of fuel. While some basic sales skills are universal and accessible via general sales training programs, the most successful organizations and their high-performing sales teams rely on custom sales training programs to consistently grow revenues.
Unlike some jobs with very narrow training needs, the most successful salespeople have a wide range of skills. Many organizations provide general training or sales training courses that address basic, yet essential skills like interpersonal communication, goal setting, customer service, presentation skills, and use of related technology.
Other critical skills such as prospecting and negotiation are usually offered in custom sales training that teaches salespeople the techniques in the context of their unique products or services. Prospecting for leads for corporate advertising, for example, is very different from prospecting for potential buyers of office furniture. Negotiating a high price point consulting service takes different skills than negotiating bulk purchase terms for a wholesale supply purchase. Custom sales training ensures salespeople can implement the skills they learn directly into their work. Of course, any sales training must also give salespeople an in-depth knowledge of the products or services they represent.
Beyond having a full complement of skills and product knowledge, truly successful salespeople are able to think quickly and know when and how to employ the various skills they possess. Sales training programs must help salespeople develop the emotional intelligence to read the room or the prospect in order to adapt the experience to the current situation.
The most effective approach to equipping salespeople is to offer all of these skills, even the most basic ones, in a customized sales training program that connects everything they learn directly to their unique sales environments.
Custom Sales Training Checklist:
- Interpersonal communication
- Goal setting
- Customer service
- Presentation skills
- Related technology
- Product knowledge
- Emotional intelligence
How much does sales training cost?
While there’s no simple formula to calculate the cost of sales training, there are three different approaches to consider, each with its own cost drivers. First, there are plenty of off-the-shelf sales training courses available in a variety of formats. While these are considered the least expensive, be sure to account for potential hidden costs that come with lower trainee engagement, as well as trial and error in the field as trainees experiment with the general concepts. Also, anticipate the need for extra coaching and/or additional training to reinforce or provide application. The price tag for a ready-made sales training course likely won’t represent your actual cost, so be sure to budget accordingly.
Some organizations find success using a combination of general or even industry-related off-the-shelf training in combination with some elements of custom sales training. This more tailored approach attempts to capture the lower cost of generic training while also acknowledging the need for at least some training specific to the organization. Costs fall somewhere in the mid-range, as do results. You should probably budget for some additional coaching or follow-up training.
You’d expect to pay more for a custom-built home than you would for a spec home because your custom home is exactly what you want. The same is true of custom sales training. It is built for your salespeople, who are selling your product or service, to your prospects and clients. Application for the salespeople is clear and implementation is direct. Actual cost will depend on format, length, degree of customization desired, and more. This approach carries a higher price tag, but by virtue of being customized, it is far less likely to need additional funding to see desired results.
Regardless of the sales training approach you choose, consider format as a way to reduce your per session or per trainee costs. For example, sending salespeople to seminars costs every time it happens. Buying training subscriptions has both per person and per cycle ongoing costs. When investing in custom sales training development, consider an online asynchronous format that can be delivered repeatedly without additional cost.
As with any significant investment, the best metric to use is potential returns. Assuming you are vetting quality for whichever approach you choose, it’s safe to assume the more you can invest, the greater your return will be. While a custom sales training program will carry a higher price tag, it will also likely bring a faster and higher return in the form of increased revenues.
Are sales training courses really worth the cost?
If investing in custom sales training feels like a stretch or you’re tempted to put it off, consider the cost of not providing high-quality sales training. Of course, the opportunity cost of forgoing development for your sales team is reflected in flat sales and perpetually missed goals. However, the even bigger risk could be in the cost of excessive discounting, unnecessary concessions, missed upsells, and especially lost sales. A sales rep who lacks relevant training may very well lose an important sale to the competition or simply be unable to close a significant deal. What was the value of that deal? What was the value of the repeat business it represented? What was the value of the referrals it could have generated? Before you opt for an inexpensive generic sales training course (or worse yet, pass on training altogether!), use the lifetime value of a customer to run the numbers across your sales team to fully evaluate the financial risk of underinvestment in sales training.
How do custom sales training programs improve your bottom line?
Perhaps more than any other type of employee development efforts, sales training programs can and should have a direct connection to your organization’s bottom line.
The primary result of any sales training should very simply be higher revenues, which is why strategic investment is warranted. There are a number of ways sales training courses can achieve this outcome.
Custom sales training courses are tailored to meet the training needs of your business and individual sales reps.
Imagine a large office building with numerous tenants--all with salespeople. Would all of them benefit equally from the same sales training program or strategy? Of course not! Some might sell products and others might offer services. Some might have a few highly specialized products while others might have broad catalogs. Though each business would enjoy improved sales, the impact of any sales training programs would be directly tied to how closely the sales training applied to the unique aspects of each business.
Beyond the differences between the businesses in that hypothetical office building, think about how their sales forces likely differ. Teaching product presentation skills should be done entirely differently for an inside sales rep compared to an outside account manager. A newer salesperson needs a different approach to negotiation skills than a seasoned one.
Because every business is different and every sales team is unique, custom sales training is essential to seeing the biggest return on your training dollars.
Sales training courses can be used to identify and address knowledge gaps.
It would be great if every missed sale or lost opportunity could be pinned to the same basic performance gap. The reality, of course, is that even on the same team, there are a variety of reasons salespeople miss their goals. And even for the same person, performance may suffer at different points for different reasons. Because knowledge gaps are a moving target, sales training programs can be built around assessments that help the learners and their managers target the right training elements at the right time.
Custom sales training can provide paths to address specific gaps in real time. E-learning solutions are particularly adept at using assessments in combination with branching logic to customize the learner's path based on specific responses. What’s more, because custom programs can continue to be adapted, if you find that certain aspects are needing increased (or decreased) attention, your sales training programs can be further tailored.
Custom sales training is more relevant and therefore more engaging for salespeople.
The very best and most effective training, regardless of topic, is one that engages the learner. No matter how smart the trainer or how erudite the words on the page or screen, if the learner doesn’t get involved, very little learning takes place. It doesn’t matter how big your sales training budget is, or how many sales training programs you offer. If your salespeople don’t engage, their skills won’t improve. And, keep in mind that salespeople would much rather be in front of prospects and clients than taking training.
A key ingredient for engaging all learners is content that is highly relevant to them, their sales struggles, their field experiences, etc. That requires content that reflects their products or services, their prospects and customers, the things they're negotiating, the objections they’re facing, the experiences they’ve had (or not). They’ll be able to negotiate better terms or longer contracts when the training reflects the terms and contracts they work with every day. Custom sales training is really the only way to truly engage your salespeople with content that meets them right where they are.
Relevant, engaging, custom training courses can lead to a direct improvement in the field.
Of all the various aspects of an organization’s training strategy, it is the sales training programs that can demonstrate the most direct-to-the-bottom-line impact. Quite simply, better-performing salespeople generate more revenue. So why doesn’t sales training always translate so directly to the bottom line? Usually, it’s because the people taking the training have difficulty applying what they are learning directly in the field. That happens when generalized training leaves learners with the obligation to figure out how to translate content to their own real-world situations. The solution is simple: Translate the burden of content application from the learner to the training.
Custom sales training does that heavy lifting. When learners engage with relevant, customized content that reflects their own realities, the improvement in the field can be immediate and direct. The salesperson responsible for introducing a new product line will be far more effective (and quicker to goals!) having taken sales training about that actual line, its features and benefits, specific potential objections, unique offers available within the line, etc. It’s also important to note that in an e-learning format, that same product training could continue to be used with new hires, and also easily adapted for reuse with future product rollouts.
Custom sales training can be updated over time.
A common fear of those unfamiliar with custom training is that its shelf life is limited. True, generic sales training can sit around indefinitely because the general nature of its content never really goes out of date. Of course, that lack of current relevance is precisely why its effectiveness is also limited in the first place!
Fortunately, custom sales training offers both benefits. In addition to being highly relevant at inception, continued customization ensures that it stays relevant. When sales processes change, new contract terms are implemented, or products get refreshed, update those aspects of your custom training accordingly. The effort to revise a custom sales training course is often minimal. Some companies like Artisan E-Learning offer retainer options for ongoing course updates and even provide source files for you to do the work yourself if desired.
How do you create custom sales training?
Some companies assign internal resources to produce custom sales training, though many find it more efficient and cost effective to outsource. Either option has associated expense, but outsourcing often allows organizations to launch custom sales training far faster by leveraging dedicated teams who also specialize in such projects. There are some commonalities to both approaches.
Review existing sales training content.
Chances are, your organization has at least some aspects of sales training right now. That could be anything from formal courses and manuals, to field trainers, or even just strong salespeople who are natural coaches. In most cases, some of the best existing content is actually in people’s heads so be sure to include interviews on your content gathering checklist.
Rounding up all the versions of existing content can be time consuming, but it’s only part of this phase. The key is to evaluate all of it. Determine what to keep, what to toss, what to expand, and what to add. Talk with trainers and managers about what seems to be most effective. Find out what top salespeople learned and implemented (or didn’t learn and had to figure out!). See what lower performers wish training had done for them.
Remember, all of this is to establish foundations for crafting new, updated, and highly customized sales training content.
Define goals and KPIs for your custom sales training.
It’s tempting to just tweak the existing content you’ve been reviewing, but not so fast! Whether you’re building in house or outsourcing, for your custom sales training to have full impact, the starting point is to decide what will happen after the training. Not just the goal(s) but the outcomes.
The instructional designers at Artisan E-Learning are constantly asking clients, “What do you want your learners to do differently after completing this course?” Clients often say things like, “I want them to understand how to negotiate price better.” Sure, that’s okay, but when building your custom sales training, you want actual behavioral change outcomes that grow your sales. That earlier client statement could be elevated to “I want my people to use new negotiating skills to increase their average contract value by 10%.” Whoever is responsible for building your custom sales training courses must design every aspect of the course to accomplish your overall goals as well as very specific outcomes you identify upfront.
Spice up your sales training with interactive elements.
Beyond having relevant content and using realistic examples and scenarios, your custom sales training should engage learners in frequent interactions and practice. Traditional classroom training often uses small group discussions and role plays, but with the ongoing shift to custom e-learning, the opportunities for engagement continue to expand. That might be anything from having the learner practice product knowledge by designing bundles for specific client types, to critiquing audio samples of sales presentations. If your sales process involves more consultation than order taking, branching technology can take a salesperson down a custom path based on choices at key points in a simulated sales cycle.
Use scenarios and simulations to empower salespeople to practice soft skills.
Regardless of format, good sales training courses should be packed with examples and real-life scenarios, just like what your salespeople are experiencing as they interact with prospects and clients. This is especially important in teaching soft skills and is where the power of custom sales training really shines. Take communication skills for example. Working through a procurement office is very different from selling directly to the president of a company, so simulations should match the kinds of conversations your salespeople are having. If responding to requests for proposals takes a lot of your salespeople’s time (and determines a lot of their success) the training should teach the specific writing skills needed to win a proposal bid.
Use microlearning to highlight the core components of your sales strategy.
Microlearning is used to target something very specific such as a skill, technique, or circumstance. For example, while your full sales training program likely addresses how to answer objections, microlearning lessons could be developed to give salespeople additional skills for handling the top one or two objections they are likely to encounter.
Microlearning is also an excellent strategy for allowing learners to further customize their experiences, or for giving managers extra tools to use on a case-by-case basis. Using the same example, you might choose to have microlearning developed for a number of potential prospect objections. The salesperson who struggled with a price objection, could take the microlearning lesson on that exact topic and perform better the very next day!
Work with an e-learning content development company.
Because they know all the ins and outs of their own products, clients, sales processes, etc., companies often assume that it’s easiest to create their own sales training programs. The reality is that knowledge of the sales particulars isn’t the most difficult part of building custom training programs. The bigger challenge often lies in pushing all that content into compelling, state-of-the-art, effective training. Custom e-learning development is deceivingly difficult and requires an entirely different expertise. This is doubly true as companies of all sizes are moving the bulk of their training over to online delivery platforms.
Artisan E-Learning has compiled an excellent list of companies that offer various forms of e-learning content development. The Artisan E-Learning philosophy is that the very best sales training is a marriage of their client’s subject-matter expertise with Artisan’s instructional design and technology expertise.
A company can have impressive facilities, well-staffed departments, excellent technology, and great culture, but without steady and increasing revenue-producing sales, it cannot succeed. It needs the ongoing fuel of a dynamic sales effort to thrive.
Though development of salespeople is often relegated to generic soft skills training, high-producing sales organizations depend on custom sales training programs to deliver targeted, impactful training. Partners like Artisan E-Learning can help you build your perfect custom solution for equipping your unique sales team to exceed their goals and grow your revenue.
To learn more about the benefits of custom training courses, explore the following additional resources:
- Custom E-Learning Development. Explore our process for creating custom e-learning courses at Artisan E-Learning.
- E-Learning Content Development Companies & Strategy Partners. To find a partner for all of your e-learning content development needs and more, check out this comprehensive list.
- Microlearning: A Comprehensive Guide & Tips for Your Courses. Microlearning is trending in e-learning development, but is it the right tool for your team? Learn more in this guide.