woman on sales call following sales training techniques

Sales Training Techniques for the Modern Manager

Daniel WeissLast updated on December 4, 2023
11 min

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Sales is a paradoxical profession. It's always changing, but the fundamentals remain the same.

For managers, that means balancing sales training techniques to promote both time-tested methods and promising new approaches.

This guide will cover the strategies, tips, and structures you'll need to ensure your sales team is engaged, prepared, and poised to win deals.

  • Tips for training new sales reps

  • Creating a mentor program for new hires

  • Ongoing sales training tips

  • Checking in with your sales reps

Sales training tips for new reps

  • In-house Training: using internal expertise for team-focused sessions

  • Hands-on Experience: new reps practice using the product

  • Shadowing: learning through observation and questions

  • Mentorship: assigning mentors for guidance

  • External Resources: offering industry reading to enhance knowledge

Before we get into specifics, it's important to acknowledge the different ways sales training can be structured. Old or new, all these methods are smart ways to train your sales department's newcomers.

What are the different types of sales training?

  • In-house Training: using internal expertise for team-focused sessions

  • Hands-on Experience: new reps practice using the product

  • Shadowing: learning through observation and questions

  • Mentorship: assigning mentors for guidance

  • External Resources: offering industry reading to enhance knowledge

What are the best ways to train new sales reps?

1. In-house:

Sometimes, the best—and definitely the most accessible—sources of knowledge come from within your own sales team. In-house training can take many forms. Sessions on team best practices organized by sales managers or department leaders are the most obvious type of in-house training.

But also, you shouldn't let your individual contributors' talents go unnoticed. If sales managers observe one employee excelling in a particular area, why not encourage them to share their observations in a formal setting? (ex. Samantha will be presenting “How to Scan LinkedIn for Ideal Customer Profiles.”

2. Hands-on:

One proven way to teach your new sales employees about the product they'll be selling is to have them use it themselves. If you're selling software, have a company training account set up—someplace where mistakes can be made without consequences.

There is a break-in period where new employees can learn about the sales automation tools your team uses to conduct sales operations. Novice sales representatives should also work in a “sandbox” environment, where they can experiment with those tools without fear of disturbing active sales deals.

3. Shadowing:

Watching an experienced sales professional at work is definitely a great way to learn the ropes. New employees get more than a  “fly-on-the-wall” perspective and should use this opportunity to ask follow-up questions based on what they've observed — after cold calls or sales calls, in between meetings, or during scheduled one-on-ones.

4. Mentors:

Onboarding and training new employees goes much smoother when each hire has a direct point of contact for questions, concerns, and examples. A mentor should be an experienced sales professional on your team and can either coach an individual or a pod team (where multiple sales reps report to the same team leader).

5. External Resources:

Onboarding and training new sales employees is as much about immersing them in the culture of sales as it is teaching them how your specific team operates. Give all new employees a set sales reading list for their first few months on the job. Maybe even give them a “book report” assignment where they have to list 10 interesting takeaways from each resource.

Sales managers should also recommend blogs and podcasts to help new reps continuously hone their sales skills. They're likely to be more engaged in their work (and become successful salespeople) when immersed in the right environment.

6. Quizzes:

New salespeople can be asked to take formal quizzes when important information has been communicated to them during the onboarding process. The subject of these tests can vary, but good areas to focus on include:

  • Team structure and processes

  • CRM or sales tool specifics

Create a mentoring program for your new salespeople:

Why should you use mentors to help train new sales employees?

New hires will require the most attention from a sales training standpoint. With so many processes, names, and faces to learn, it's easy to see how they could become overwhelmed. This detracts from the training spirit and will hurt the end results.

By assigning a mentor to each new employee, you give them a reference point for questions and guidance. Many parts of your sales training program can be automated, but the mentor-mentee relationship humanizes the beginning of a new role.

Furthermore, consulting with a deskmate often creates the fastest feedback loop. Slack is a great way to communicate across teams, but indirect forms of communication can still be isolating for new employees. Assigning mentors within the same team avoids delayed messages and prevents roadblocks during the onboarding process.

How do you choose the best mentors for sales training and onboarding?

Sales mentors need to possess certain characteristics that are not naturally present in everyone. That is to say, your whole sales team should be knowledgeable, persuasive, and welcoming. Sales mentors, however, must be able to provide useful insight into the workplace culture and best practices. In addition to being good teachers, sales mentors will need to:

Be Top Performers:

Naturally, you'll want new employees to emulate the best practices and sales strategies of your top performers. Furthermore, these high-achievers will seek knowledge and tips outside of working hours. They'll listen to sales podcasts and read professional literature to gain insights. If new employees take on the same desire for advancement and sales training, coaching will be much easier.

Be Articulate:

It's often taken for granted — we assume just because somebody is good at what they do that they'll naturally be able to communicate their processes and thoughts. However, this isn't always the case. Good mentors should be able to break down what they do (and most importantly, how they do it) into digestible and measurable steps. Your sales reps don't need law degrees, but they do need to present a coherent case for your sales system.

Enjoy the Success of Others:

The best salespeople are competitive. They see each other succeed, and they want to perform as well as or better than their teammates. So long as sabotage and trickery aren't in their operating vocabulary, this competition can be healthy and productive.

However, the best sales mentors will want to succeed alongside their colleagues. They should be energized by their students' success — not nervous, jealous, or threatened. Closing big deals makes them happy, but so does seeing their students succeed.

Be Patient:

Some new sales reps will turn into high-achieving team members in no time while others might need some nudging in the right direction. Learning curves vary between employees, and your sales mentors should be able to identify problem areas and work through them without resentment or impatience.

How to match sales mentors with less experienced salespeople

There should be no incompatible mentor-mentee matches within your organization, so long as you hire amicable individuals and everyone goes through the same onboarding process.

When a structure is already in place, your sales staff is far more likely to buy into the mentor system. You can try to match new employees with more experienced ones based on personality, but this subjective system could be seen as unfair or biased.

Another possible mentoring structure is some type of pod system, whereby new sales hires report directly to a team leader. These sales leaders can be either account executives, or more experienced development reps, depending on your current sales team structure.

This sales mentoring system has three key benefits:

  1. It gives new hires direct access to more experienced sales reps during their onboarding and first months on the job.

  2. It fosters a sense of community and competition amongst your sales team. When both individual and team performance are rewarded, sales reps will be encouraged to go out of their ways to help each other out.

  3. It gives lower-level sales employees a goal to pursue. Without a clear promotion structure to aim for, energy and morale can quickly slide in the wrong direction. If sales are successful and the team grows, reps will have more chances to move into these positions.

Each individual contributor can be rewarded according to quota attainment, but the teams can also compete in internal sales competitions that incentivize overall team success.

Pod leaders can meet with team members on a regular basis, which encourages candid discussions of sales performance and constructive criticism for the immediate future.

Ongoing sales training methods and encouragement

Sales training is a continuous process and should go beyond the onboarding phase, otherwise your squad will struggle to stay on top of industry trends. What's more, performing the same tasks repeatedly with no variation or progress could lead to burnout. This is why training has to be an ongoing objective for your sales team.

What are the best ways to conduct ongoing training?

Sales Events:

Local, regional or national conferences are a great learning resource for sales reps. A lot of these events focus on tactics, motivation, new sales tools, and secrets for success. Outreach.io, RainMaker and SaaStr are some of the most popular ones, but there are many more must-attend sales conferences to go to.

Local events are also a reliable way to stay up to date on sales trends and meet your peers from other companies. These professional relationships are an experienced sales professional's greatest resource, as they open the door to sales opportunities and promote the sharing of industry knowledge.

Teach to Learn:

A lot of times, the best way to absorb and retain information is to teach what you have learned to others. In order to cover a subject entirely—and prepare for potential questions from students—the teacher must fully dive into the content.

For experienced sales reps, they can be assigned a specific subject area from within the business to teach when onboarding new employees. This subject can rotate quarterly between representatives (and all your company's employees, in fact) and helps keep everyone aware of what's relevant and changing with the product and business.

Outside Experts.

These don't have to be professional motivational speakers. While everyone loves leaving a presentation feeling like they can take on the world, the practical value of these pep-talks varies widely. Cultures tend to assimilate, and bringing in outside knowledge can help bring new ideas and best practices into your core sales structure.

Speakers don't need to be industry all-stars. Draw from your own network of sales managers and top performers. Presentations can be as simple as describing another company's sales process. What do they do for sales contests? How do they divide their workload? Inspiration can come from anywhere, and a diversity of viewpoints will help this process.

Keeping your sales team motivated

Promotions:

Your sales team should be structured in a way that allows for upward mobility. From sales development rep to account executive, but also from junior to senior SDR. Non-title promotions could also take the form of incremental pay increases. The important thing is to let your sales reps know their hard work and achievements will be acknowledged appropriately.

Contests:

Sales professionals are competitive by nature. Internal contests provide sales reps with a short-term goal which compliments their long-term ones (e.g. raises, promotions, etc.).

Even better is when those contests promote camaraderie across your team. Tip: start by creating small groups pairing experienced and new sales professionals. Give each team member an individual target, as well as a shared goal. The winner is the team that generates the most qualified leads in a month, and the reward should be something worthy that even promotes sales productivity. (e.g. each member gets a $100 gift card to a local coffee shop.)

Fair Compensation:

Salespeople have the potential to earn a high income. If your team doesn't feel they're being compensated fairly, you'll have a hard time convincing them to stay with the organization — let alone do their best work.

Fair sales commission will vary according to location, industry, and deal dynamics. To get a good idea of sales industry standards, you can do a salary research online. But the best way is to reach out to your close industry contacts (preferably at successful sales-oriented companies) and get a candid idea of how they structure their pay models.

Team Offsites and Outings:

Sometimes, a change of scenery will help sales reps regain momentum. These outings can take educational or celebratory forms, such as:

  • A trip to a local sales meetup or networking event

  • A team dinner following a strong performance

  • A training session hosted at a cool or unconventional location

Check in with your sales reps

Every sales training strategy starts long before your team is sitting in a room together. To organize and plan an effective training schedule, sales managers need to keep their ears to the ground and find out which aspects of their approach could be improved.

How do you maintain good communication with your sales reps?

A culture of transparency. Pain points and professional weaknesses should be the focus of your sales training, but if your workplace culture antagonizes poor performance, your reps won't readily admit their flaws. Transparency, in this sense, means your employees aren't afraid to tell you when they're struggling to meet quota or perform expected tasks.

This philosophy, of course, starts at the top. Managers will receive more constructive feedback if they acknowledge the difficulties of the profession and assist, rather than punish, their teams when objectives are not met. This will ultimately lead to better results.

Conduct short, recurring meetings. Transparency can't be obtained if you're not talking with your sales reps regularly — reviewing their potential deals and identifying blockers.

It's important to show your entire team you're available and willing to speak, but once the organization grows too large, it's unfeasible to meet with every individual employee under your guidance.

If your team is structured into smaller pods of representatives, you only need to meet with the pod leader each week. Furthermore, these meetings should be concise, lasting no more than 20-30 minutes. The schedule and agenda are pre-determined, and team leaders should come prepared to present relevant information.

If you're presented with an issue that deserves more time, be sure to set up an ad hoc meeting and schedule enough time to discuss it.

To recap, a career in sales comes down to being able to adapt in the moment and in the long term. The best “technique” sales managers can adopt is to create an environment where teammates want to help one another succeed, and everyone feels comfortable sharing their thoughts with the leadership.

It is when those two main goals are met that it becomes much easier to provide technology-specific training and share common best practices. Investing time in training and coaching will improve your sales performance and help your team achieve your sales goals.

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Published on December 4, 2023.

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