Sales team training is an ongoing process because there’s always room for improvement. The preferred techniques and methodologies will change over time, and so will the needs of your prospects.
One of the hardest parts of sales team training, whether you’re working with veteran sales reps or brand new hires, is ensuring that your team retains what they’re taught and then adopts it. According to Barrett King, a previous Global Sales Training Program Manager for HubSpot’s Channel Partner Sales division, taking a TAPA approach to training can help you overcome this.
TAPA stands for theory, application, practice and assessment. When using this approach, you start by explaining the theory or the strategy. Then you demonstrate how it can be applied. That’s followed by hands-on practice so reps can get firsthand experience with the technique. Finally, you conclude with an assessment to ensure the information was retained.
“What a lot of orgs do is they say ‘Objection handling: it’s hard. Here’s a good way to go about it,’ and they never run it back and practice it. They never ground it in real-world examples,” Barrett says. “Most folks learn by doing in the sales professions, so giving them the ability to try to do and learn to do makes a big difference.”
Here are five sales team training exercises you can use to help your team practice what they’ve learned:
1. Next Best Question
For the training exercise Next Best Question, the facilitator will act as a prospect that the sales reps are trying to qualify, and the sales reps will take turns going around the room asking questions in order to learn everything they’d need to know in order to move forward in the sales process.
“As the facilitator, you should answer as the worst prospect at some times and the best prospect at others so you’re always throwing them off their game, and one of the core things it does is teach sales reps to think dynamically,” Barrett says.
On a call with a prospect, reps can’t take 10 minutes to think of their next question. They need to be thinking and responding on their feet. But, just as importantly, they need to be actively listening to the prospect and responding to what’s being said.
“Next Best Question also forces you to think dynamically in the sense that you don’t know what everyone else is going to ask, and no one else knows what you’re going to ask,” Barrett says. “So you’re always adapting to the question that was asked before you and the answer that was given.”
This exercise can help teach skills like active listening and asking qualifying questions in addition to reinforcing what your organization’s qualifying factors are.
2. Objection Handling Roleplay
Two common strategies for handling objections are LAER (listen acknowledge, explore and respond) and feel, felt found. In order to effectively leverage these techniques, sales reps need to do more than just learn what they mean. Roleplaying will help them become familiar with implementing the strategy without letting them loose with an actual prospect.
After explaining the theory, you can start by roleplaying as a large group. Maybe have another sales trainer or a more senior member of the team work with you to show how to implement the strategy correctly and what can go wrong.
Then break your team into groups of two or three and have them take turns acting as the sales rep and the prospect with an objection.
After everyone had a chance to participate in the small group roleplay, have them share their experiences with the whole group. What went wrong? What could they have done better? What question or approach did they find most effective? Were they digging deep enough to identify the root cause of the objection?
3. Film Club
On a regular basis, gather a group of sales reps together to listen and analyze actual sales calls your team has made.
A common mistake with this exercise is only involving the reps who need to improve. According to Barrett, it’s important to get your top performers to participate as well because they can offer different perspectives.
“When you think about a film club, the idea is that you get exposure to the right way to do something, and then leveraging that exposure, you grow your impact and your ability to drive change,” Barrett says.
As each call is dissected, sales reps can hear how their other team members present information to prospects and learn other ways they could have approached a conversation.
“The facilitator’s job is to encourage healthy communication, but also try and facilitate those ‘aha’ moments,” Barrett says.
You want to acknowledge what’s taking place in the call, and then try and guide your team to understand what’s working and what isn’t. If you can get them to come to the correct conclusion by themselves, it’ll stick a lot better than if you just told them what they did wrong.
4. How Would You Pitch This?
Give your team a scenario and ask them to write down how they’d pitch the value of your product or service for that prospect. Once they’ve written their pitch down, have them turn it in to you, and don’t let them change it. Once everyone is done, go around the group presenting everyone’s pitches and analyzing their strengths and weaknesses.
Part of what makes this exercise effective is that reps aren’t able to change their initial ideas based on what they’re learning from other team members’ pitches. If they had the chance, everyone after the first rep would adjust their pitch based on what they just heard.
“You lock it into them and it shows them that they each listen with a different set of ears that are driven by preconceived notions, by past experiences,” Barrett says. “What we’re trying to do is shift their focus to the lens of interpretation of what that prospect is actually looking to communicate.”
Sales team training games play into the competitive nature of sales reps. Depending on your team and what you’re trying to teach, there are numerous approaches you can take.
“Be creative in the sense that ‘what’s the topic you’re trying to communicate, and how can you make it fun?’” Barrett says.
To encourage participation in meetings when you’re teaching theory, you could create a point system for answering questions.
“We used to do Dot. So every time you stepped into a training and answered a question, the facilitator would be like ‘Alright, you get a dot, write it down.’ At the end, we’d be like ‘tally up your dots. How many do you have?’ You narrow it down until you have the person who has the most, and see who can win it,” Barrett says.
You can also adapt games like Jeopardy, Family Feud or Bingo to test knowledge retention about the specifics of your products, your buyer personas or the different sales techniques.
“Basically you can take most games that have questions in them and change the questions to something to do with your product, your service or a sales technique,” Barrett says. “At the end of the day, you’re trying to transfer knowledge from one person to another so that it sticks, and using games can yield better results because people are disarmed. They’re a little bit less threatened by it.”
Why Sales Team Training Exercises Work
“The book ‘The Power of Habit’ talks about the concept of the habit loop: every human being, just how we function psychologically, has a habit loop with a trigger, a reaction and a reward,” Barrett says.
When people are reacting to a trigger, they most commonly take the action they’ve done the most because when you do something over and over, the behavior sticks in your mind. For example, when greeting someone, you might have a conversation like:
“Hi, how are you?”
“Good how are you?”
“Great how are you?”
Because you’re so used to responding with the question “how are you?” you do it automatically even when it doesn’t make sense.
Sales training exercises aim to teach habit loops to reps so the way they instinctively react on sales calls aligns with your organization’s techniques and process.
“What the game concept does is that it breaks out from the minutia. This habit loop gets disconnected because the trigger is the same, but the setting is different. The environment is different. So the reaction is what you’re trying to program, and you do that by changing the reward,” Barrett says.
Acknowledgment, recognition and the feeling of winning all tend to be effective rewards for sales reps. So, sales team training exercises transfer knowledge to reps and improve how they react within their habit loops to triggers like an objection being raised or needing to qualify a prospect.
Quinn is a writer and copyeditor whose work ranges from journalism to travel writing to inbound marketing content.