When it comes to sales training, you're spoilt for choices.
Hiring the right team is just the start. Now, you've got to train them. Sales training is expensive - we spend more on training our sales folks than any other function in the business. However, as with everything else about our businesses, tools help.
Tools can help us get more out of training overall, and use our trainers much more effectively. Having in-house trainers is great if you can afford it. But if you don't, then a good LMS or Microlearning platform combined with a consultant who comes in and trains as and when the need arises might give you a much better ROI.
Sales process and soft skills training aside, product training can also be made a breeze with Authoring Tools and my Saas baby, SmartCue. These methods give your sales reps the confidence that comes from handling the products themselves: the information isn't just in the form of videos and text, but also kinesthetically in their bodies. Doing something takes a whole different set of memory muscles - it's the difference between reading about pottery and making that first ashtray. It's worlds apart.
As someone who has run the gamut of sales roles and is now in the process of building my sales team for my very own startup, I'm very clued into training right now! Here then, is the list of tools I'm looking into. This isn't an exhaustive list, of course. I'm evaluating these strategies and tools for the long and short-term horizon at SmartCue, so of course, all the recommendations are from a Startup lens.
However, even if you're a sales leader in an enterprise-sized business, I'm sure there are tools here you'd love to try out.
Learning Management Systems
Sales have their own schedule - reps often work overtime and at SmartCue, I prefer if my folks choose their own hours. If my SE prefers to create demos after he's put the kids to bed at 9pm, then so be it. If my sales reps are morning people and do their best meetings and demos before 2pm, so be it. Everyone knows what their most effective hours are, and they work accordingly.
Moreover, my team isn't co-located anymore. The biggest benefit of the pandemic has been the ability to hire stellar people from different locations, who still work together as a virtual team. We broke the mindset that needed us to come together in a physical space to get work done.
So how do I get these people into a room at the same time for the classroom training? I don't. This is the magic of asynchronous training and an LMS system to deliver it. A good LMS system will work across devices, giving my people the freedom to do training whenever and wherever convenient. It functions as a repository and lets my people go back and revisit lessons as and when they see fit. It also tracks progress and gives me and my trainers intelligence on what is working and what isn't. It has a built-in assessment module. Some of the best out there also offer gamification.
For my trainers, this is gold. They are able to design training modules, tweak them on the basis of feedback, and keep office hours a few times a month where my staff have access to them for any questions or feedback they may have. No more having to deliver the same training program over and over. They get to do more value-added work by building on the level of understanding their LMS lessons have already built. We still do a virtual training session every now and then, and it isn't greeted by groans from my extremely busy sales staff because it is a training need they've identified in the first place!
Tools I really like right now:
Talent LMS offers ready-made sales courses. If you don’t have any training content developed yet, it can help jumpstart your e-learning program with a library of readymade courses on soft skills. This is great for when you're bringing in inexperienced salespeople who need to build foundational skills. What I love about this product is that they have a free version, so my people can give it a go before I take the plunge with the paid version.
iSpring Learn offers, among many other cool features, a conversation simulator. I can't tell you how much this excites me - imagine being able to role-play the various objections from all kinds of buyer personas, and getting feedback in real-time. Now imagine being able to do that for your entire batch of sales recruits one-on-one and on demand. My trainer and I are chomping at the bit to build this one out. And yes, it has a trial version.
Adobe Captivate Prime lets sales reps install a desktop app to record videos and share them with fellow salespeople. This unlocks so many possibilities! Having the app record demos by my best people helps me create a library of content that my newbies can watch and learn from through immersion. This is in addition to the ability to tailor learning journeys with a little help from AI and ML-driven recommendations. Plus, they have a huge content library to pull from. Also, did I mention it allows gamification? And that it has a trial version?
Mindtickle is probably the LMS that is most popular with my clients. It offers a single, integrated platform to encapsulate the entire journey from identifying training needs, aligning content, delivering it in personalized and targeted packages, coaching, and skills assessment in real-world buyer interactions. Also, it allows gamification. (Training journeys are called missions!)
ExpertusONE's integrated LMS video conferencing is a neat little add-on to what is a very decent LMS product. Videoconferencing, whiteboarding, and chat add-ons are great ways to improve training engagement. Also, for those who use Salesforce, this one integrates with it to provide sales training inside Salesforce. However, this one feels a little ambitious for me - in my mind, this one is better suited to mid to large companies.
A few years ago I did a course called Learning How to Learn by Prof Barbara Oakley and Dr Terrence Sejnowski. They blew my mind. I wish this course had existed back when I was working my way towards an engineering degree or the MBA that followed. I learned many, many things and I could probably fill up at least three blog posts on just what I actively apply to my daily life from that course, but I digress.
The technique that is most pertinent to the topic at hand, is chunking. Every single one of us has walked out of a really detailed, well-laid-out lecture or talk or seminar… with only the barest outline of what was discussed, because it was too much to take in, in too little time. Breaks are important. Breaking information down into smaller chunks leads to easy digestion. We know this.
However, just breaking a piece of learning into smaller bits isn't the magic bullet, breaking it a particular way is. Thankfully, this is something most trainers already know and apply. The idea here is to build on prior knowledge, to do it in small, logical chunks that follow one another in a sequence that builds. Also, recall is a very important part of learning - so each chunk should ideally be followed by a recap by the learner in their own words.
This is where microlearning platforms shine. Microlearning can accelerate training by as much as 300%, whether onboarding new hires or deepening the skillsets of long-term employees. For microlearning to be successful, the content and delivery must play to the format’s strengths, and be available across the learners' devices for easy access.
Microlearning platforms tend to focus more on content creation and distribution, rather than administering large L&D programs. They are great at mobile optimisation, have templates that allow trainers to create content quickly, provide options for inline media that allows learners to deep dive as needed, and of course, they are great at gamification. There's nothing like a leaderboard to get the team enthused about training.
Tools I really like right now:
EdApp is a great microlearning platform that helps trainers create content in minutes. It delivers targeted learning bursts that are easy to grasp and retain. It also uses a spaced repetition tool called Brain Boost which automatically spreads out your course content into a series of follow-up quizzes. Spaced repetition is possibly the most effective memory hack I've ever come across - another gift from the LHTL course I still cherish today. The tool has a freemium plan with limited features that can easily work for small startups like mine, but the paid version scales well as and when teams (and their needs) grow.
7taps has a clean, simple, streamlined interface designed to be able to push quality content out the door quickly. This is a tool your trainers will love. The tool boasts of cutting-edge AI text-to-speech videos and the ability to pull in GIFs, images, and quiz questions. And really, it does only take 7 taps! Moreover, no installations are required at the learner's end - it works on a browser. It does have a free version, but if you're planning to run more than one course, you'll need to upgrade.
TalentCards is as simple as you can get. These are flashcards that are upgraded with images, videos, hyperlinks, and other enhancements. They are very, very simple to set up, and incredibly easy to consume. However, I would only use this model for compliance training - stuff where people need spaced repetition to memorize things. I may be wrong, but for me, 7Taps and EdApp make for richer content delivery in a sales environment. Yes, it has a free version.
Authoring Tools (for Product Walkthroughs)
A little background, if you're not well versed with training methodology. Sharable Content Object Reference Model or SCORM is a set of technical standards for eLearning products. It provides the communication method and data models that allow eLearning content and LMSs to work together.
A SCORM authoring tool is course development software that enables you to design eLearning content and convert it into an online format so you can deliver later by way of a learning management system. Authoring tools offer different capabilities, but the essential features are similar. They allow you to:
Create courses for training
Build assessments: interactive quizzes with drag-and-drop questions, hot spots, audio, and more.
Record screencasts and video-based lessons: Screencasts are a great way to help them figure out how your app or technology works – record step-by-step video guides with a highlighted cursor, system sounds, voice-over, and more.
Basically, a SCORM authoring tool is what you need to feed content into your LMS.
Tools I really like right now:
For product walkthroughs, I really like Intercom, HelpHero and WalkMe.
HelpHero helps you build interactive, easy-to-follow product tours that help engage users and speed up feature adoption. The best part? No coding or design experience is required. Also, the pricing plans are really friendly.
WalkMe is another tool that my clients are talking about. What it does is intelligently combine training with contextual guidance, task automation and proactive support. This means that whatever tools you're training your people to use, WalkMe can help.
Intercom lets your training team create interactive product tours. The UI is simple, and it enables trainers to build these tours without any coding. These walkthroughs, while aimed at customers can also work great internally. Of course, Intercom has a larger suite of offerings, that product tours are a small part of.
When it comes to SCORM tools that let you create content overall, I really like Captivate. It's a great way to turn your existing training material in PowerPoint into interactive videos. It also has its own bank of slides you can pull from. More importantly, it has a Talking-head Screencast and Application Simulation feature which lets you create video demonstrations.
I like this one a LOT, and I can see myself using it along with SmartCue to turn out some great product walkthroughs. SmartCue, as you probably know, wears a lot of hats. My clients have been using it not just for product demos and for sales training, but also to create train-the-trainer modules for their clients! That's right, my SaaS clients made walkthroughs for their tools, for their clients, on SmartCue.
So, of course, I'm going to recommend that you do too. SmartCue makes it really easy to make custom demos quickly. It allows your salespeople to build contextual, smart cues into demos, instead of having to walk into the room with a memorized script. It cues the presenter based on where their mouse pointer is, and on the tool, they're demonstrating.
As you can imagine, this makes it a great tool to get hands-on demo training on! What better way to build trainee confidence, than with contextual cues?
By deploying SmartCue in your training environment, you give guided access to your trainees and salespeople to sharpen their presentation skills, without having to worry about missing anything critical. SmartCue also manages the agenda - allowing salespeople to follow a prospect when they want to explore this screen or that, and then return to pick up where they left off. When trainees train this way, they come across much more confidently and appear far more knowledgeable to your prospects than a sales rep who has trained using a script and a PPT full of notes.
Sales Enablement Platforms
A sales enablement tool allows you to follow the sales process from start to finish, tracking analytics and content usage to determine what works and what doesn’t. It connects your content to marketing to sales. You can think of sales enablement software as a dashboard for your sales funnel: your marketing, content, and sales analytics are easy to find, track, and cross-reference.
Of course, these tools aren't training tools. Enablement is a larger umbrella which encapsulates training. These are the sort of tools that you grow into. At SmartCue, we are yet to invest in (and hence research about) these tools. When the time comes, apart from checking the bigwigs (read: expensive full suite offerings) like Walnut.io, DealHub, Salesforce, etc, I will dig through Product hunt and G2 to understand smaller (read: customisable, agile) solutions that will work for a smaller company like mine. In the meanwhile, I am using SaaS-based Zoho for my sales enablement needs, but not for training.
In sales, as in life, learning never stops. Sales training is an ongoing process. It also needs to be two-way. A good training process takes its cues from the people who are the boots on the ground. Sales reps and sales engineers feed into training increasingly difficult scenarios and objections and demand from training the latest in effective communication tools and trends.
The best salespeople are self-starters who have an inner drive for improvement. However small your organization is, you need to harness that drive and feed it with the right training and coaching. Salespeople who aren't being invested in don't stick around very long. So, invest in your people and in their growth.
They are the engine that powers your business, after all. When they grow, it is because you do too.