Are you struggling to find, or have you run out of sales training ideas to motivate and improve the performance of your sales team?
Many trainers and organizations run out of ideas to keep salespeople at the top of their game…if they even reach the top in the first place.
There is a great saying:
“The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in battle.”
And in the world of sales and selling, many organizations fail to train their salespeople intensely enough to prepare them to face the most challenging customers, to handle the workload required to maintain the edge over the competition, and smash the sales targets set by the most demanding CEOs and VPs of sales.
I started my career at the sharp end of selling — knocking doors trying to convince homeowners to buy home improvement products while I was studying at college to earn extra money.
Over the years, I worked my way up to selling into the boardrooms of some of the world’s leading companies and it led me to devise my own system of learning and teaching the art of sales, which I have done to hundreds of successful salespeople around the globe…and I still practice what I preach today.
There is a global shortage of good, consistent salespeople and I believe it all stems from a lack of the right training.
Take a look at this article from HubSpot to get a view as to why and I have my own ideas which I cover in much more detail in my article:
In this article, I want to share with you how I keep my sales training ideas both fresh and unlimited but be warned, this is not the usual type of sales training you may be used to, so keep an open mind and be prepared to “unlearn.”
Sales Training Ideas: My 3 defining moments
Apart from constantly being out in the field selling, both as a salesman in my early career and also when growing my companies, there were 3 defining moments that shaped my sales philosophy:
- Having children.
- Trying to learn Spanish.
- Russian martial arts.
Let me walk you through each of those to set the scene:
I go a little deeper into this aspect in the next section, but let me tell you that when I started to observe my children from a very early age, I could see the freedom in their expression and movement.
Sometimes you have to look back to go forward and there is no doubt that for me, I learned a lot about human behavior from my own children — I had a passion for philosophy and psychology from an early age, which has stayed with me for life, but my children allowed me to put that passion into action.
Trying to learn Spanish
I was never a great academic and I believe because I couldn’t easily adapt to the school learning system, but I made up for that later in life and now I am obsessed with learning!
I wanted to learn Spanish simply because I had always taken vacations in Spain and in my business career I worked a lot in Spain and Latin America.
Like most people, I started by getting a few books and then decided to take it more seriously and hired a few teachers. None of them could seem to understand my learning limitations except for one — Marian Gutierrez and she helped me learn Spanish by relating it to me personally.
Unfortunately, she moved from London (where I was living at the time) to New Zealand and I already knew the difficulty of finding good teachers, so I tried something new.
I found a learning system by Michel Thomas, who had a reputation for teaching students in record times, many of who were famous and also for making the experience fun and exciting.
I listened to his program in the car and that was because he demanded that students do not take notes, never try to remember the lesson content, and simply join in with the two students he was teaching on the recordings.
I made rapid progress and unknowingly, I would be learning some of the more complicated verbs and techniques of the language by simply using them in conversation and later learning how those verbs and phrases were structured differently from the more common ones.
It was as though I was “tricked” into learning the language.
Russian martial arts
I had been studying martial arts for twenty years before I encountered Russian martial arts and to describe the learning as a “shock to the system,” would be a total understatement.
The traditional or Eastern way of learning the arts is based upon hierarchy and systems, where the student progresses through a series of “grades” in order to be competent and also to be able to teach the art.
You also wear a uniform and classes are mainly strict and disciplined, with the student “bowing” to the instructor as a form of respect to both the instructor and the art.
This systematic way of learning can take years, with the more advanced techniques only being taught as you progress to the higher grades within the art, also you do not have a free and open aspect to the “masters” until you reach those higher grades.
The Russian system was the complete opposite — there were classes, but you attended them if you wished and there was no problem if you wanted to leave to take a phone call for example.
There were no uniforms, no grades, and no formalized learning structure, you simply attended and learned what was shown to you including how to defend yourself from guns, knives, sticks, and of course people — techniques that you would have to wait years to learn in the traditional manner of the Eastern arts.
You were also taught about biomechanics and encouraged to develop your own solutions to problems, but you were also taught how to strengthen and heal the body, plus your mind!
I learned a tremendous amount from Russian martial arts…not just about self-defense, but about life in general and about the human psyche.
It was the experiences above that re-shaped my philosophy as to how you can teach the art of selling, to anyone and to create exciting programs or workshops as I like to describe them that encourage you to relax, absorb and apply the knowledge that mainly resides within you.
Next, I created some principles that would serve as a framework to develop and apply the knowledge.
My 3 Core Principles
Let me start by outlining what I describe as my framework for sales success and when you break each component down, you can see how you have so much knowledge that is already within you, and rather than trying to teach you something you already know, you simply need to discover that knowledge and learn to apply it.
- You are born with all of the qualities we need to become successful in sales.
- You learn more in a relaxed, informal, and interactive environment.
- Commercial awareness is the driving force of successful selling.
You were born with the qualities you need
Children are naturally bold, inquisitive, self-confident, expressive, creative, and most importantly…instinctive. How many times have you seen a child that is happy and comfortable with certain people, but will refuse to be in the company of some?
Yet nobody taught them…just as nobody taught a child to walk!
The more we can re-connect with our childhood qualities, the more we can learn to remove the one thing that consistently seems to hold us back in life — fear.
You learn more in a relaxed, informal, and interactive environment
When you first start school, you begin to experience a learning environment that is alien to you, at least in my belief and from learning in your home environment where you are comfortable and one that you trust, you are now thrown into a new dimension, which for many people, especially me, created a level of anxiety that would accompany me throughout most of my school life.
I remember dreading certain lessons because the teachers would single people out in class to answer questions, that were sometimes so simple to answer, yet I froze.
The best teachers would relax me and never force me to answer a question…rather they would encourage me by starting the answer for me and guiding me through the process of answering confidently.
Commercial awareness is the driving force of successful selling
Rather than focussing on outdated and outmoded sales techniques, I believe you should take every opportunity to learn about how business works.
It’s not to say that I don’t teach the elements of selling such as:
- Lead generation/prospecting.
- Objection handling.
- Closing or completing the deal (I hate the term “closing” by the way).
But I integrate them into the framework of commercial awareness and in a way that they are natural to understand.
I teach people how global industries were created, how the global stock markets work, how companies are created financed, led, and managed, plus the components of business — sales, marketing, technology, finance, support, etc.
I have had far more success by teaching salespeople what is “behind the scenes” of the business world…plus the dark side, or when things go wrong and why.
You will dramatically increase the confidence and capability of your salespeople, plus you will re-enforce the process of making sure they connect with the right people in your target and existing customers…the ones who can make the ultimate decisions.
My 5 Sales Training Ideas
Now it’s time to look at ways you can use my ideas in your organization and it’s really very simple:
1. Create a workshop style learning environment
Nobody really likes formal training environments where they feel they have to attend, so if your audience is not a trainee one, then don’t force anyone to attend.
You want people who genuinely want to be in your workshops and because they genuinely want to learn and develop and if your style is good, word will spread fast.
Learn from Michel Thomas and base the learning on discussion and interaction rather than a lecture and note-taking style. I found that people do not absorb as much information when taking notes — don’t be too concerned about them remembering what you say, because once you have defined your content, then it will be about repetition.
Get everyone involved and make sure you listen to everyone’s opinion — you may well be the leader of the workshop, but every opinion counts.
Create a “knowledge-sharing and helping” environment, where stronger and more knowledgeable people will help others.
2. Get the workshop members to present to each other
You need your salespeople to be super confident and the best way to start building confidence is to get them present to each other in the group…but…only on a subject they know and are passionate about.
I always ask people to pick a subject they are passionate about and then to deliver a short presentation to the group (and in some cases senior executives to “pressurize” the situation) about that subject and you would be amazed as to the difference you get when compared to making a sales presentation about a product or service they have little understanding about.
Get the audience to interact by asking questions and even interrupting — the more you can tailor this to real-life selling, the better.
When people talk with passion, they transfer that passion to the audience, and answering questions is a great way for the presenter to prepare for the objection handling phase of selling.
Doing this with senior and experienced salespeople often shows a side to them that you are not aware of!
When you do this frequently, you will build confidence as I have explained, and then it is all about making sure they have the right knowledge.
3. Relate all of the training to real life
To make a sale, there has to be a purchase, and professional salespeople and buyers must learn to know the thought processes and roles of each other.
I always start my training sessions by explaining to the attendees that they must be able to “jump into the shoes” of buyers.
And if I am coaching a buyer, the reverse would apply.
The good news is that almost all of us are natural salespeople and buyers — we have all purchased candy from a store and other more significant purchases throughout our lives, just as we have tried to convince others to see or do things in our way.
In fact, we have been doing this naturally since the creation of mankind and in my opinion, we would not have developed or survived if we didn’t possess the skills related to bartering.
And if you work through some specific examples, which your audience will happily provide for you, then you will be able to work out the reasons why people buy and sell — why you need to create training manuals to turn what effectively is human nature, into a structured course, is beyond me.
You cannot teach people what they already know.
Once you know the reasons behind selling and buying, then you can start to look at the reasons as to why people do not buy and the emotion and intent behind it.
You can also talk about disappointment and rejection when you relate them to real life, plus you will touch emotional points with your audience through them realizing the relationship to their own personal experiences.
I’m scratching the surface here…but you get the idea.
The more you can relate the concepts of selling to real life, then the more chance you have of your audience being able to understand and apply that information.
4. Pressure test everything
Most people crumble under pressure, at least in their early sales careers, so the more pressure you can put them under in training, the better they will perform in a real-life situation.
But you must understand that you have to build this aspect in stages — take the time to introduce tasks that involve some thought and planning and then cut short the timescales for delivery of the task, which will create the pressure!
I used to give people 3-4 days to prepare a presentation, only to change the timescale to the same amount of hours — you are not looking for perfection here, just the willingness to complete the task no matter what…or at least to have a go.
Your customers will create pressure for sure, so make sure you prepare your salespeople accordingly.
You have to use your imagination here and on another occasion, I turned the heating off in our meeting room and opened up all of the windows in the middle of a UK winter — it was in response to a presentation I had to give in Eastern Europe one day when the conditions were the same!
But, I had no sympathy from my audience who were dressed up in what looked like fifty layers of clothing — now why did I think that it was deliberate!
5. Interject commercial awareness training into each session
Here is the most important component — we are in a business environment and the entire sales success process is to make sure you deliver what I call a compelling value or “no brainer” proposition to your customer.
That is the goal and if you have done it correctly, then you will have no need to “sell” anything, rather you will compel your customer to buy from you.
There is a huge difference.
The best salespeople are business-savvy — they know the impact of what they are selling in business terms and they can easily focus on the customer outcome of the purchasing of their products and/or services, rather than the features and benefits.
It is important to interject business training into each sales training workshop and this is where you will give your salespeople a huge advantage over their competition.
I will give you 2 real examples — I had many salespeople who were fearful of contacting CEOs and executive leaders and it wasn’t until I explained the precise roles of each executive in the business that they understood that senior executives have the most motivation to ensure the success of their companies…because their livelihoods depend on it, more so than other employees.
And they will listen to anyone who can help them succeed…but you have to approach them in the right way and with the right understanding, by specifically tailoring your compelling value proposition to their needs and in their language.
I also had a very disgruntled salesperson who was losing deals to the competition on an almost daily basis because they were undercutting our prices.
I had to draw up a chart to explain the math behind each and every deal and how they were losing money on each and every deal. This did nothing to ease the pain of losing deals and ultimately commissions, but when the agency went out of business because they ran out of cash, it showed the reasoning for our own margins and why we were not going to reduce them simply due to a few cost-leadership focussed companies.
Again, use your imagination and make the experience exciting and fun!
Once you step away from the normal realms and processes of sales training, you should never run out of ideas.
Salespeople are born…we are all born with the ability to enjoy the greatest success in sales, or any other discipline that we choose — it is up to the individual to supply the passion for learning and the teacher, although I hate the use of the term, to make the experience both exciting and enjoyable.
From my own life experiences, I have to say that I have learned more when I was relaxed and the training sessions were informal, just like my experiences in learning Russian martial arts and Spanish than I have in structured learning environments.
But I also cannot say that disciplined and structured environments don’t work, because I started from that perspective.
Whatever your views, try the ideas I have put forward in this article and let me know how you get on.
If you need help with training your staff and in any aspect of sales, then please get in touch with me:
Last modified: June 7, 2021