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Sales Training in the Age of the Modern Seller

Posted in:  Sales and Marketing Management, Sales Training, Coaching, and Onboarding

Plutarch, famed philosopher of Ancient Greece, was an expert critic. He had something to say about the study of poetry, friendship, ideal dinner conversation — pretty much everything. Among his most useful critiques, Plutarch offered his contemporaries a takedown of education, and specifically the way things are taught.

Plutarch believed lectures and other one-way knowledge transfers didn’t provide the emotional, inspirational context students needed to perform. In fact, he’s frequently quoted as saying, “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.”

Eons later, Plutarch’s critique remains incredibly relevant, particularly for sales training. The legacy methods that most businesses rely on don’t give working modern reps the learning environment they need to succeed.

The Evolution of Sales Training Teaches Us to Learn

Despite many changes to sales and marketing in the past decade, from marketing automation to social selling, onboarding and training have remained largely the same: Nearly three in four organizations use classroom formats as their primary way to train salespeople. For many, including my team at Hootsuite, this poses a challenge.

We’re a global organization with sales teams geographically dispersed across many different countries and often outside of our regional offices. Periodic in-person training or even remote sessions are simply not dynamic enough to meet our reps needs. Ultimately, classroom training leaves sales teams unprepared.

Reps reckon with this every day. A lack of training makes it difficult to overcome challenges in the field, where 42% of sellers struggle to convey urgency — a frequent barrier to closing deals.

Reps need both the right tools and information to generate revenue. However, neither tools nor information will make an impact if training doesn’t make it easy for reps to consume and engage with them.

High-Performing Sales Teams Don’t Train the Way You Do

Classroom training is no more effective for sales reps now than it was for the Greeks 2,000 years ago.

Instead, today’s high-performing sales teams use self-guided, role-specific, and point-of-sale training. In fact, high performing teams are twice as likely to provide ongoing training. That’s because just-in-time training modules keep reps engaged with the content.

It’s not too dissimilar from the way people can most easily learn a new language — immersion through a constant stream of educational touches woven into everyday life.

At Hootsuite, we do this by teaching reps in their actual work environments. That means serving training content inside the tools our reps use daily; in our case, this is Highspot. There, we provide reps with tailored, role-based training they can access via self-service modules — conveniently located alongside the content they use to close deals.

This has proven to be highly successful, especially for our global reps. A field rep recently told me that, “Being a remote Owl, I often have small questions that I need answers to and I can’t just nudge my neighbor for the answer. So, I turn to Highspot on a daily basis.” This feedback clearly validates the importance of self-service, just-in-time training.

Applying Sales Training Best Practices in the Real World

Today, our training includes:

  • Facilitated workshops
  • On-demand learning in micro-video modules
  • Dynamic content repositories organized to mirror how sellers consume information

These three elements create a blended learning experience that gives reps of different learning styles and time zones access to content they need when they need it.

After implementing this approach, we examined what makes a great Hootsuite seller using a combination of performance data and qualitative feedback.

Building this “high-performing rep” profile went beyond simply measuring the revenue they generate. Highspot data revealed what content reps engaged with, down to the training modules they accessed before closing a deal. From this intel, we’ve mapped out several success patterns that we can then build into new modules. And so the cycle continues.

The end result is incredible — our active Highspot users closed 70% more revenue than less active users.

Sales Reps Are Not Empty Vessels to Be Filled

Were Plutarch still alive today, I believe that he’d appreciate our modern sales training program simply for the way it sparks a fire in our reps via immersive, tailored learning environments.

After all, reps aren’t vessels to be filled; they’re bright minds that can be ignited with easy access to dynamic training. Trained well, a rep is a powerful force, closing deals with true insight — not sheer luck.

To understand exactly what goes into building a modern sales training program and measuring its outcomes, please join me at the SiriusDecisions Summit in May where I will be presenting in the Austin Convention Center Convention Center, Room 16B.