How to Train Salespeople

Businessman talking to co-workers in conference room
Paul Bradbury/OJO Images/Getty Images

Two types of training fall under the umbrella of sales training. The first is teaching the basic mechanics of sales—how to sell in the general sense, with an emphasis on the best sales techniques for your industry or customer base. The second type is company-specific training—addressing details about your products and services, the sales process that your team uses, and the tools and resources used by your company.

Every salesperson, no matter how experienced, can benefit from both types of sales training because learning how to sell is an ongoing process. Salespeople always have new strategies and new technologies to learn in order to sell effectively.

When you bring a new salesperson on board, the priority will be to complete company-specific training. Unless your new employee is a rank beginner, that person will have at least a basic grasp of the mechanics of selling. However, it’s likely the new salesperson won’t know much about your company's products or how the company's sales process works.

Getting Started

The easiest way to get started is to sit the new salesperson down with your customer service team. The customer service people are intimately familiar with your products and know what existing customers like the most—or the least. Let the new salesperson listen in on a few customer service calls, and give the new hire access to as much documentation about the products as possible. Documentation ranges from user guides to brochures to your websites.

Once familiar with your product line, partner the new person up with an experienced member of the sales team. Listening to phone calls and riding along on appointments gives a new employee an idea of how the process works. Just experiencing one sale—from beginning to end—can have a lasting impact.

Training Internally or Externally

If your new salesperson demonstrates weaknesses in a particular area (for example, she is great at getting appointments but chokes at the close) then it's time for some basic training. You can either train internally (that is, do it yourself or assign a senior salesperson) or externally (for example, signing your new employee up for formal training such as a sales training class).

Internal training is cheaper and you can customize it to your employee's needs, but it's time-consuming. It can end up costing you more in the long run if your best salesperson spends valuable time doing the training instead of making sales. An alternative is to combine both approaches: sign the new employee up for an external class, then arrange for that person to practice internally by arranging role-playing sessions or sending him out on appointments.

Regarding seasoned salespeople, any time you add a new product or service, all of your salespeople need to know about it, not just the novices. 

4 Universal Training Tips

  1. Use Empathy. Any good salesperson is a good problem-solver. If a salesperson puts themselves in their prospect's shoes, there's a good chance they'll understand the prospect's problem—and hopefully, a problem the prospects not aware of. A good salesperson has the ability to look ahead. They can say to a prospect, "Down the road (in two or three months from now) you're going to encounter a problem with XYZ." Once you identify a problem the customer wasn't aware of (and you offer a solution), you become valuable.
  2. Craft a Script. Make sure your sales force has a solid foundation to stand on. Meaning, without sounding like a robot, make sure your team knows the basics of what they're selling. You want their script, so to speak, to become second nature when talking to a customer. This way, they're not bogged down with having to remember the background information and can focus on the specific needs of the particular client.
  3. Identify the Bad Customer. Spotting the tell-tale signs of a customer who's window shopping or the chronic complainer who'll just end up returning the product is important. Two red flags that you can pass on to your salespeople include prospects who are rude during the sales process (and aren't worth the aggravation) and needy prospects that'll email you five times a day (and aren't worth the time). Help your salespeople spot the bad customers so they can focus on selling to the good customers because they're the ones that will keep your sales numbers up.
  4. Overcoming Fear. Especially when it comes to less experienced salespeople, you need to help them overcome fear. For starters, most people have a fear of rejection—and rejection comes with every sales job. Let your salespeople know that they will get rejected—a lot. And remember, even the most social people have a fear of public speaking. To help prepare them, have each member of your team practice making presentations to other sales members so they (slowly) overcome their fear of performance.

Top Sales Training Techniques

Here's a round-up of the most common formats for delivering sales training:

Courses. The typical course format, either in person or online, is a great way to transfer your sales knowledge to teammates. Also, the course format allows your salespeople to do their training on a schedule that works for them while allowing you to keep track of their progress.

In-person workshops. Short in-person workshops break up the work day and are a good way to build excitement surrounding your ongoing sales training. 

Hiring outside consultants. If you have too many people to train, or you can’t deliver effective in-house training, it's time to look at hiring an outside consultant to come in and do the training. An experienced consultant can add a lot of value based on a wealth of experience, valuable market information, and the ability to customize your sales tools. It can also help you get buy-in by bringing in an expert.

Conferences. Conferences allow employees to learn from proven leaders and get a pulse on what’s trending in your market. Conferences also present the opportunity to engage your entire team so that everyone gets the benefit of attending industry training.

Internal team testing. Sometimes the best way to learn is by being thrown into the deep end. Conducting an audit of past sales cycles, both successful and unsuccessful, is a great way to train a salesperson by using real-world applications.

Field training feedback is key. Most talent development happens in the field. However, the analysis and feedback a salesperson receives after a call are what resonates. If you emphasize listening to clients and understanding client needs in a real sales situation and then provide specific feedback (good and bad), you'll impact a person's ability to sell.

Training Tips

Use e-learning to educate. If your sales team doesn’t know your product front to back, even the best listeners will fall short in closing a sale. Salespeople, especially new recruits, need to understand product details to boost their confidence when selling. With sufficient product training, they can identify specific client issues and understand products’ details well enough to position the product as the perfect solution.

E-learning allows sales teams to brush up on their product knowledge wherever they are. Through online videos and modules, you can also track progress to ensure that everyone has viewed the necessary materials.

Try micro-learning. Salespeople are just like everyone else: in general, they can’t retain a huge amount of information at one time.

Most multi-day sales training events are essentially a waste of money because participants suffer from something called the MEGO effect ("my eyes glaze over"). Keep all training sessions short and pace them out so that employees have time to absorb and test them. 

Reward specific achievements. Salespeople are driven by goals (probably more so than other employees), which makes an achievement-based training program another excellent option.

However, don't generalize your team's success. A much more effective sales training technique is to tell people they are doing a good job because they exceeded their quarterly goal by a certain percentage or to recognize their performance in closing a particularly difficult sale.

Share success stories. According to the National Business Research Institute, employee attitude affects 40 to 80 percent of customer satisfaction.

High employee engagement and morale has a direct impact on the bottom line. Sharing mutual successes also instills a sense of unity in your salespeople and encourages them to work harder and smarter.