How to build a stellar sales skills development program

July 9, 2018 /
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When SVG first started, we knew we wanted to be the best at everything we set out to do—data, technology, marketing, and sales. But becoming the best at anything first takes time to learn, grow, and develop. We knew we wanted to be the best place for sales professionals to grow their skills—and their bank accounts—but we didn’t have a lot of structure around what that meant.

Early on, much of our focus was about developing our sales process (we did it ourselves) and less about developing our sales people. Once we got our process down, it was time to focus on helping our small sales team realize their full potential. Now every sales person goes through an initial three-week training program to learn our process, and has on-going development meetings and resources to help them improve their skills. Here are a few things we learned along the way.

Know the difference between training and coaching

Developing skills takes a combination of different kinds of learning spread out over a period of time. It’s impossible to be great at every single aspect of any job on your very first day. Making the distinction between training and coaching is an important way to set up every employee for success—and we take both seriously when it comes to the SVG sales team.

Training is what prepares someone to do the actual process required of their role. For us, that means learning the ins and outs of the industry and the products we’re selling, how to use the software, and other details every agent needs to know to actually take a phone call.

Coaching is what we do long-term. That’s where each agent develops her own individual selling style, learns how to push through mental blocks, and builds strategies to recover a call that’s not going their way. Our VP of Sales, Lauren Guinta, tells us,

“Coaching helps someone know the why behind what they’re doing and helps build the motivation to drive their own success. We ask our agents questions and schedule regular manager meetings so we know what works to empower and motivate them as an individual. That helps us build a relationship so they know they’re supported every step of the way. If you want to help your clients, you have to understand your own values and what motivates you. That understanding backed by a strong support system is what builds the confidence to take more risks and not be afraid to try things. And that’s the most important way get better at what you do.”

Hire managers who know the roles they manage

We love promoting our own to do bigger and better things at SVG. But when we first started, we didn’t know exactly what leadership roles we needed. As we grew, some of our sales agents took on manager roles to help teach our sales process to new hires. We saw right away the value of having managers who knew and had actually done the job they were training others to do themselves.

We also developed a sales coach role that acts as a peer/manager hybrid—where seasoned sales agents help new agents overcome obstacles and improve their skills. Right away we saw a lot of value in having coaches on the sales floor, still doing sales, but also acting as a mentor to newer agents. It’s important that the people leading our sales team understand the day-to-day of the agents they’re training and coaching.

Build a playbook

Our three-week training program and ongoing manager meetings and mentoring sessions do a lot to prepare our sales people for success. But when you’re deep in sales mode, the tips and tricks you learned are easy to forget. That’s why we put together a sales playbook—to give our agents an easy way to troubleshoot a difficult call or just reference what they learned anytime they’re on the job.

The playbook is a series of lessons that help onboard new agents and overcome common problems they’re likely to face. It includes checklists for successful agents, tips on addressing client fears, how to follow up in a meaningful way, and more. It’s a combination of materials we’ve developed ourselves based on our specific industries, and articles and exercises we love made by thinkers we value.

Every year we gather feedback from agents, managers, and coaches to find out what should stay, change, or go. Then we review and update it so it stays relevant and useful. We include takeaways agents can keep up at their desk so they can see it while they’re on the phone. It’s an extremely useful and valuable tool that helps our agents do their absolute best every day.

If you’re in sales and are looking for ways to supercharge your team, take what we’ve learned and see what works. No two businesses are exactly alike, but when it comes to developing people to be their best, some things never change. Empowering your employees to develop their own skills, supporting and encouraging their growth, providing great resources, and giving them input on the process are all important to consider. Figure out where your opportunities for improvement lie and start small. Before you know it, your team will be doing things you never thought possible.

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