5 Steps to Buying Sales Training

climbing steps of training success

Around 18 months ago, we published an article on how to purchase sales training. There, we described the three factors you should take into consideration when buying sales training: content, process, and methodology. I began thinking about all this in early 2000 when I met a sharp HR executive who reminded me she bought millions in training each year — and promptly told me how to sell it.

Over the last year and a half, we’ve had good response to this article, so I wanted to update it a little bit for 2017. We’ll start in the same place we started the last version: content.

How To Buy Sales Training: The Role And Value Of Content

When it comes to the intersection of sales training and content, you’ve usually got two big buckets of companies; they reside on opposite ends of the spectrum.

In one case, you’ve got training companies that basically act as a big content house. They specialize in the latest trends and thought leadership around sales execution, and they expect you to implement.

The other case is someone with a PowerPoint full of opinions and broad generalizations about sales. Sure, they may have some experience in sales management. But if there is no formal training, organizational development, or understanding of adult learning and behavioral change, then you aren’t going to see the result you are paying for.

There are shops that fall between these two extremes, but these two are most of what you’ll encounter in the market.

In any business, the bedrock of a good strategy lies in asking strong, intelligent questions. If you encounter either of these buckets when buying sales training, start with questions focused on the following areas:

  • Customization. Is the content customized to your sales team’s needs and learning styles? Or is it a one-size-fits-all deal?
  • Design. Is the content put together by someone with an instructional design background?
  • Tested. Is the content tested prior to being used on your team? Or are your people guinea pigs?
  • Accessories. Are there learning aids and manuals to accompany the training?

This is how you approach the content phase of buying sales training. It’s a “trust but verify” tactic.

The Process Side Of Buying Sales Training

There are two main decision points around process when evaluating different training options.

The first is a simple, yet profound question: is this training company trying to teach you how they sell, or how to sell? Sounds the same, but it’s not. Their approach might not work for your team. But teaching a team how to sell — well, that works for all teams.  

Are they molding training to your team, or your team to their training? There is an important difference.

Second, you need to know the difference between whether the person you are bringing in is going to educate your team (teach something new), or whether you’re bringing in someone to train your team (enhance and take action). These two processes are vastly different and knowing this is crucial to your team.  

Education is knowing something different. Training is doing something different.

What questions can you ask to evaluate process better?

  • How many steps is their sales process?
  • How many steps to the actual close?
  • Is there a separate process for negotiations or presenting?
  • Can your trainer and the process withstand other industries and unique situations — or is it the same every time?

Now we have a roadmap on how to think about content and process. Let’s knock out methodology and iron out the last wrinkle.

Evaluating Methodology When You Buy Sales Training

The methodology is how the trainer is going to deliver the content to the participants. A good trainer should create a positive change (the buzzword is “delta”) in your team that ultimately leads to better results. There are two tiers to this: delivery and assessment

There are more than 15 ways to change behavior.  What will they use?

In terms of delivery, you need to understand the basics. For example: how will the trainer deliver the content? Will they be educating your team, or actually trying to create some change and drive results for your team?

This all needs to begin from a place of assessment or profiles. How can a sales trainer come in and solve the challenges of your team if they don’t know where to start? That’s why you need to assess any team you train.So when you evaluate trainers, ask them this question upfront. How are you going to assess my team? If they say “We come in and work with them,” get off the phone. That probably means their approach is cookie-cutter

Once you have an answer on assessment, you need to know more about customization. You’re about to buy a sales training, right? So you have some idea (or a very good idea) of how this trainer will assess your team. Now you need to know: once the assessment is done, how are you going to customize the content to my team’s challenges? Are learning styles being taken into account?

The New Bucket: Adaptability

Ask yourself this. Why are some trainers on the scene for maybe 1-2 years and work with sales teams once or twice and that’s it? And then, why are there some trainers who work with a given company for 15+ years?

The answer is adaptability. Good sales training companies can adapt. They know the team (their client) has grown and regressed since the last training in different ways. They assess, they customize, they have a process that tailors content, and they deliver a new training to meet the sales reps where they’re at now. The best sales training companies constantly adapt and meet clients in the present; the worst sales trainers are one-stop shops with cookie-cutter solutions. The latter type usually flames out.

When evaluating a sales training option, how do you distinguish between the two types of trainers? Consider these questions:

  • Do they offer other training curriculum or modules?
  • Are there programs like negotiations and presentations outside of the standard sales training?
  • Do they offer train the trainer or coaching modules?
  • Do they have sales management programs?

Usually the trainers who offer more, or are willing to change/shift with what you tell them, are going to be the adaptable ones.

When You’re Buying Sales Training, Consider How You Got Sold

This is a little bit meta, but it’s important to consider: how did this company sell you on being a client? The process they worked with you often says a lot about how they will train your team. For example:

  • How did they resolve objections?
    • Sales guys that can’t resolve objections usually can’t train others very well either.
  • Are they the cheapest option?
    • (Ask yourself: do you really want your team in the hands of the cheapest option on the market?
  • Do they offer big ‘price cuts’ or ‘buy now : $199 a session’-type discounts?
    • Simply put, guys who do this are usually chasing leads and not really interested in the outcome after they work with your team.)
  • Did they educate you in the sales process or are they pushing a product?
    • In a way, we all push product, but you can push with value or you can just push. The former is who you want for sales training.
  • How did they present their information?
    • Context? Transparency? Or buzzwords and BS?
  • How did they communicated with you?
    • This is crucial because it speaks to both levels of adaptability — they meet you where you’re at — and levels of respect, and both of those show up in the training process as well.)

Essentially, are they selling in a way that you want your salespeople to sell?

So What’s The Bottom Line On Buying Sales Training?

The four buckets above — content, process, methodology, and adaptability — are the major buckets you need use when evaluating vendors. Hopefully these guiding questions are helpful for you. Definitely feel free to reach out if you’re wondering how best to evaluate some of the market options.

I will reiterate, absolutely do not make your selection based on price in this space. Even if it’s low cost, bad sales training is always a waste of money.  Maybe your boss gave you a target or a range to spend on sales training, and that’s understandable. You need to stay within reason there. But competing on price works in some industries, although usually not with person-to-person tactics and strategy sessions like a sales training. There, you need the best, and the best usually costs a little bit more.

Buying sales training and empowering your team is a big decision. But if you think through the steps above, you will find the right option for you, your team, and your organization.