How to Train Salespeople

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There are two types of training that fall under the umbrella of “sales training.” The first is teaching the basic mechanics of sales: how to go about selling in the general sense, with an emphasis perhaps on the sales techniques that work best for your industry or your class of customer. The second type is company-specific training: details about your products and services, the sales process that your team is expected to use, tools and resources, etc.

Every salesperson, no matter how experienced, can benefit from both types of sales training. Learning how to sell is an ongoing process. There are always new strategies and new technologies that your team must learn in order to sell effectively.

When you bring a new salesperson on board, the priority will be to complete company-specific training. Unless your new employee is a rank beginner he’ll have at least a basic grasp of the mechanics of selling, but it’s likely he won’t know much about your own products or how your particular sales process works.

Getting Started

The easiest way to get started is often to sit the new salesperson down with your customer service team. The customer service folks are intimately familiar with your products and will know what existing customers like most (and least) about them. Let the new salesperson listen in on a few customer service calls, and give him access to documentation about the products (user guides, brochures, websites, etc.).

Once your new employee is familiar with your product line, pair him up with an experienced salesperson. Listening to phone calls and riding along on appointments gives a new employee an idea of how the process works. Ideally, he’ll get to see at least one sale go through the entire process.

Finally, switch roles and have the new salesperson make calls and take appointments with a senior salesperson (or sales manager) observing.

Not only will you find out how well he absorbed your company information, you’ll also get a look at his general sales knowledge. Now you’ll know how much “mechanical” sales training your new employee needs.

Training Internally or Externally

If your new salesperson demonstrates weaknesses in particular areas (for example, he's great at getting appointments but chokes at the close) then it might be time for some basic training. You can either train internally (do it yourself or assign a senior salesperson) or externally (signing your new employee up for a sales training class, for example).

Internal training is cheaper and you can customize it perfectly to your employee's needs, but it is time-consuming – and can end up costing you more in the long run if your best salesperson is spending hours training instead of making sales! An alternative is to combine both approaches: sign the new salesperson up for an external class, then arrange for him to practice internally by setting up roleplaying sessions or sending them out on appointments.

New team members are not the only ones who will need sales training. Any time you add a new product or service, your salespeople need to know about it. If you change the sales process (for example, adding an ecommerce component to your website) your sales team needs to know about that, too.

And if you have the resources it’s a great idea to periodically set up training for your salespeople, so they can learn new sales skills and hone existing skills.