How far in advance do you perform sales training so that the sales force is competent by the launch date? We have a sales team of 12. How do you validate sales competency?
There's no quick answer here, but I'd consider the following factors when deciding how far in advance to enable the sales team. I would also caveat that this is less about how far in advance you train and more about how much repetition you offer to the sales team to learn about the thing.
- How complex is the thing that is launching? More complexity requires more repeated training so I would suggest training earlier than later.
- How familiar is the sales team with the thing that is launching? If you're selling new technology or to a new buyer or in a new market, your sales team is going to need more time to receive training.
- How much does your sales team care? Are you launching something that is "nice to know" or will learning about it close the quarter for them? The more it's tied to their incentives, the faster they will learn. Bringing in a sales team member as part of the creation of your sales training, and having them actively present as part of enablement, will typically also increase the amount of attention the broader sales organization pays to you. Bonus points if you have a field sales rep already validate your approach and assets with an actual customer.
- How ready are you? The best run launches are tied up in a bow well ahead of the launch date but I have rarely seen a launch without some small hiccup. You want to be at least 85% confirmed on the thing you are presenting to the sales organization because you do not want to lose their confidence.
Generally you should always assume that the first time you train very little is actually absorbed. Trainings should be consistent and build on each other. You should expect to repeat yourself often, I've heard 7 times, before it sticks.
In terms of assessing sales competency, the proof is in deals closed and speeding up the time to close. If you have the time, you can have "pitch off" assessments where a sales rep will pitch back to a subject matter expert and have a mock customer meeting for feedback. Or they could even record those pitches and have them assessed asynchronously. That might be sustainable with a team of 12 reps.
This depends when the product is being launched. Its hard to be competent if they have not “sold” the product. So usually 1-2 weeks ahead of large product launches. This also gives us time to collect questions, ensure we are answering as many FAQs as possible and preparing proper objection handling for the sales teams. Also we know it will take more than 1 training session to build up knowledge and capability. So repeating and doing follow up office hours or sharing snippets of wins from fellow sales will always be helpful to build confidence.
When it comes to sales competency, there are a few things we can do,
- Having short tests/quizzes
- Sitting in calls with them to support any product questions in the early days so they understand how we would manage questions from clients
The more time, the better! We just had a Tier 1 launch at the end of January, and we had our first enablement session back in October! Our GTM Crew always wants to know more information, earlier, so we always try to start early and include a steady drip of enablement sessions up until launch day. Depending on how big the launch is, you could have an enablement session every 4-6 weeks with topics like (1) Kick-off: [New product launch], (2) Messaging & Competitive, (3) Product demo & resources. Then a few days or a week before launch day, you can follow up with an email reminder which has a summary of everything covered thus far, internal/external-facing materials, and links out to more info.
This time around, we also had everyone in Sales/Success submit a quick 10-min product demo on the new feature. The sales leads and I would then judge who had the best demo, with a $$ gift card to the best demo.
I’d say post-launch, it would be good to listen in on sales calls and see how sales is talking about the new feature, and follow-up with training as needed. Gong and Chorus are great for this!
The more time in advance you can provide the sales team, the better. But you also don’t want to sit on new products / features that are ready to go, especially when you’re at a small and nimble company like yours. The key question is, when is the product far enough along that you know the final feature set, can demo it, and have certainty around the best positioning and sales narrative? That’s the earliest you could possibly host the training.
I’ve found that doing training a week before a launch is a good balance. Then you can provide the slides, recording, and sometimes even an FAQ for them to dig into on their own. Sending a 30-second feedback survey after is a must, so you can learn where people still have questions and address them before the launch. If the launch is sizeable and you’re adding a new product line and/or entering a new market, even more lead time is better and you may need a series of trainings.
Validating sales competency can happen in a number of ways. Regardless of how you do it, it’s important to get sales leadership on board first. Nobody likes to be “tested,” so you need buy-in that certification is necessary, or nobody will do it.
The simplest method I’ve used is requiring attendance at a roadmap training before being able to present it to customers. On the more sophisticated end of the spectrum, I’ve worked with the sales leadership team at a few companies to run formal certifications on new pitches. That involved the sales rep’s manager, plus someone from product marketing or sales enablement on the call, filling out a rubric and delivering a pass / fail grade. As prep for that, we had a seasoned, successful account executive record his pitch for everyone to model theirs after. It helped the Sales team feel like a good pitch would drive their success, versus being something that product marketing was forcing on them.
Something I’ve also tried is a learning management system (LMS). They provide a handy way to upload mini-courses consisting of slides, videos, and quizzes that reps can complete on their own time. Then you can get an aggregate view of who has completed the course and how they did on the quiz.
As a rule of thumb, I suggest matching the scope of the launch to the lead time and complexity of the training and certification.
When planning sales training for a launch, the timeline can vary based on factors like the complexity of the product and the experience level of your sales team. However, a rough guideline is as follows:
Early Awareness (2-3 months before launch): Start introducing the upcoming product, its purpose, and its potential impact. This helps create anticipation and lays the groundwork for more in-depth training.
Product Knowledge (1-2 months before launch): Dive into the specifics of the product – features, benefits, use cases, and how it addresses customer pain points. This is when you build their foundational knowledge.
Skill Building (1 month before launch): Focus on developing sales skills related to the new product. This includes objection handling, value proposition communication, and effective demo techniques.
Practice and Refinement (2-3 weeks before launch): Give your sales team ample time to practice their pitches, conduct mock demos, and address any uncertainties. Fine-tune their approaches based on feedback.
Final Prep (1 week before launch): Conduct a comprehensive review of the product's details, messaging, and competitive differentiators. Ensure everyone is aligned and confident in their knowledge.
Regarding validating sales competency, especially with a team of 12:
Assessments: Conduct regular assessments throughout the training process. These can be quizzes, tests, or scenario-based evaluations to measure their understanding and retention.
Role-Playing: Organize role-playing exercises where sales reps simulate customer interactions. This helps assess their ability to communicate value, address objections, and handle various situations.
Demo Presentations: Have each sales rep perform mock product demos. Evaluate their proficiency in showcasing features, benefits, and responding to potential customer queries.
Certification: Introduce a certification program where sales reps must demonstrate their mastery of the product knowledge, objection handling, and pitching techniques.
Peer Reviews: Encourage peer-to-peer feedback and reviews. Sales reps can learn from one another and offer constructive insights to enhance each other's pitches.
Manager Evaluation: Involve sales managers in the validation process. They can observe live interactions, provide feedback, and assess overall competency.
Customer Simulations: Create scenarios that emulate real customer interactions. Analyze how sales reps respond, address objections, and effectively communicate value.
Post-Launch Performance: Monitor the sales team's performance after the launch. Effective engagement, objection handling, and deal closures indicate their competency with the new product.
By combining these validation methods, you can ensure that your sales team is competent and well-prepared to successfully launch and sell the new product. Adjust the timing and methods as needed based on your team's progress and the unique characteristics of your product.