| Feb 12, 2019 | | 14 min read

How to Train your Sales Team

You may know all too well that sales training can be a daunting task, but behind every successful company is a team of salespeople who are equipped with the skills and abilities to get prospects through the sales pipeline.

Accenture has found that, on average, 47.5% of salespeople take at least 10 months to contribute to company goals, even after they have received sales training. That means most organizations are not adequately preparing their salespeople for the floor.

Now, you want to avoid having that 47.5 % of salespeople on your team. If you’re like most sales managers, you probably have some questions:

  • How can I create a sales training model to get salespeople to funnel leads into paying customers?
  • What are sales training and product training ideas that won’t result in a snooze-fest?
  • How do I ensure that my new salespeople are ready for the sales floor?

And just in case that isn’t overwhelming enough,

  • How do I keep my salespeople up to date on the latest product knowledge, especially in the fast-paced digital space?

Alec Baldwin is not going to come into every office to give his motivational (if highly intimidating) Glengarry Glen Ross speech. Instead, you can apply the following tactics to mold your sales team to be the deadliest team they can be.

What Makes the Best Salespeople?

The best salespeople build customer relationships, understand customer needs, and sell products that will lead to customer success. Specific qualities in salespeople will be subjective to your company goals and culture.

Before we hop into sales training steps, it’s important to identify what you think makes a salesperson great so you can get a clear idea of who you’re training your salespeople to be. The “Best Salesperson” Model will be a guideline to what you, the sales manager, and the company as a whole expect.

Take a second and write down a few qualities that make a salesperson great.

Got it?

We did the same thing. Our list looks something like this:

  • Confident
  • Knowledgeable
  • Honest
  • Empathetic
  • Adaptable
  • Driven
  • Competitive

Your list might look pretty similar. If not, don’t sweat it, the qualities should be unique to your company. That being said, here’s why we chose these ones.

First and foremost, having the base knowledge to be able to sell the product is crucial. To add another level, the salesperson should be confident in their ability to relay information. Confidence is about being personally secure, as well as being confident in the product being sold. Customers respond to a salesperson who is passionate about what they are selling. If the salesperson is confident in the product and that shines through, the customer is far more likely to believe it and in turn, want the product.

On the subject of believing it: honesty is the best policy. The honesty of your salespeople will help to reduce churn and ultimately keep your company in the customer’s good books.

In an episode of the Conquer Local podcast with Rand Fishkin, Fishkin says that “oftentimes the most shameless salespeople are not the best ones”. No one likes being lied to, and in the end, the truth always comes out.

Instead of lying to the customer to get the sale, the best salespeople will use empathy to reach the customer. Did you know only 13% of customers believe a salesperson can understand their needs? Listening to the explicitly-stated needs and the unknown needs of the customer is the key to success. The best salespeople are great listeners that can steer a conversation toward meeting the needs of each unique customer. After all, sales is a two-way street. Get your salespeople to put themselves in the customer's shoes to really get it. Get it?

Be a chameleon. See what’s going on in every situation and adapt on the fly all the time. If you don’t and you’re just particularly one way, you’re not going to sell as much if you’re not able to morph into who you’re trying to sell to. Recognize different signals that they’re giving you and try to interpret that into how you can speak your pitch.

Myron Kindrachuk

Business Development Representative, Vendasta

Your salespeople should be driven to succeed. Sales takes perseverance, determination, and resilience to reach sales goals. Being competitive helps too. The best salespeople are focused on continuous development and dedicated to closing good deals. Salespeople have to be hungry for success and ready to put in the work to get there.

The “Best Salesperson Model” will be unique to your company, but it should be the foundation of your sales training. So how do you get them there?

Sales Training

Training salespeople can be done with these four steps:

  1. Product knowledge training
  2. Shadowing
  3. Trial by fire
  4. Continuous improvement

You might be asking yourself, how will these steps shape your new trainee into the killer closer you want them to be? Your organization should use sales training techniques that leverage a salesperson’s existing personal qualities. A lot of sales training is about identifying and building the strengths, personality traits, and experience of each salesperson, and helping them to use their unique skill set to efficiently close deals. This list of need-to-know sales training steps and sales training ideas will help you develop and prepare your people for the sales floor.

Product Knowledge Training

We’ve already covered how important it is for salespeople to know what they are talking about. After all, product training is the first step to developing competent salespeople. Salespeople need to know what the product is—and the problems it solves—in order to form their own opinion about it and deliver endearing, truthful, and candid pitches.

Here at Vendasta, every new hire goes through a 3-day Vendasta University curriculum to learn the ins and outs of the company history, the products and services we offer, and our company culture. Though this training is not exclusive to salespeople, it stresses the importance of product knowledge training for all Vendastians (yes, it’s a real word).

Product knowledge sounds great. The salespeople can learn about what they are selling and go with it, right? However, it’s not always a matter of knowing everything: the Vendasta Marketplace has over 100 different product offerings. Your company might be in a similar situation. How is product knowledge training supposed to cover that much material?!

It’s unrealistic to expect your sales team to be experts on the ins and outs of every product (unless your salesperson is Rain Man). Todd Roberts, our Director of Sales, says it is important for your sales team to know “enough to be dangerous”. Product training for salespeople should be about getting an understanding of what the product can do for their customer to the point that they can craft a compelling script.

Product Training Ideas:

Feeling lost with how to communicate products to your salespeople without overloading them with information? Here are some effective and engaging product training ideas for new salespeople:

  • Traditional online training is widely used by companies in all industries. With online training curricula, you can guide trainees through with webinars, videos, readings, and audio clips, often followed by quizzes. This can be an inexpensive and effective product training method and can work with any number of new trainees.
  • Use the product! Go through the ins and outs of your product with the trainee. Walk through all of the features, and show them in action by working through different use cases. Keep the questions flowing both ways to encourage conversation about the product and maintain engagement and interest.
  • Game-based training. If you want a super creative way to engage your competitive salespeople, this one way to go. You’ll want to create a game that is not too easy, not too challenging, but annoyingly addictive. Keep in mind that games that rely on rewards to reinforce learning are most effective. Try using a virtual game show, or model the training into one of your favorite game shows. This training is best used when training a group, or when there’s time for experienced salespeople to get involved.

First time incorporating digital? Check out more tips and tricks in our Guide to Adding Digital to Traditional Sales to overcome the main obstacles and challenges you may face.

The key to being proficient in the product you offer is to put the work in to know it. Your salespeople should be driven to know about the products to improve their own performance. They should be passionate about staying up to date about the continuous developments. Try hosting lunch and learns and webinars to get everyone together when there are new product launches or changes to existing products to keep everyone on the ball.

Get them to Shadow

Once a salesperson has the necessary product knowledge, have them watch what experienced salespeople do. This will give inexperienced, training salespeople the opportunity to refine their scripts beyond what they develop in the product training stage, and will help to develop relationships with other team members.

The mentorship-focused approach is beneficial for both the new and seasoned salesperson. The newbie will be willing to share their previous experiences and use their recently-obtained product knowledge, while the seasoned salesperson will often perform at their peak performance to show off. As Phil Collins said, “In learning, you will teach / and in teaching, you will learn”. Shadowing is a great way to foster continuous development within your team.

In developing the shadowing procedures, create a checklist of topics that should be covered. The contents of the checklist will be unique to your company and should be a working document that changes with the company and products. The advantage of creating a checklist is that it gives the mentor a structured training plan to lead the new salesperson with purpose and direction.

One of the downsides of shadowing, however, is that inexperienced salespeople may pick up some less-than-desirable habits. This can be mitigated by having the trainee shadow multiple people. The new salesperson will experience different approaches to selling, while also learning about what is and what isn’t acceptable. Plus, you, as the sales manager, will reap the benefit of identifying and correcting bad habits that may have gone under the radar before.

The length of time the new salesperson spends shadowing will depend on the experience they have in sales and the time it takes for them to learn. For some, it may be a week, and for others, it might be a month, but the important thing is to make sure they are gradually getting more involved in the process. This can be taking sales notes and inputting them into whatever CRM system used, asking questions about the specific call, or discussing what they liked and didn’t like.

When in person shadowing isn’t an option, iConnect Online suggests getting one of the salespeople who have been consistently meeting targets to record one of their calls to show as an example. The sales manager can go over the video or audio recordings with the new salesperson to point out best practices and discuss what they liked and didn’t like about the call to simulate a shadowing experience.

Trial by Fire

So, your trainee has product knowledge and has lived a day in the life of a salesperson. Now it’s their turn. Put your budding salesperson through a simulated sales call with an experienced team member. They try to sell the product using their own script and style, while employing the sales tactics they learned in the shadowing phase. Make sure they are asked a lot of FAQs and thrown a couple objections to get them to think on their feet and direct the conversation where they need it to go. Think of this as the training wheel stage—don’t be too tough on the newbie, but help them learn by making the sales call realistic.

This is a great time to go back to the “Best Salesperson” Model and assess what qualities the trainee can continue to work on. Make sure to give constructive feedback with clear, actionable opportunities for improvement and genuine reinforcement to build up the trainee’s confidence.

Once your trainee has mastered simulated calls and proven their knowledge, have the trainee lead their own call with the sales manager or an experienced salesperson. Again, detailed feedback is crucial here. Highlight areas for improvement, and your salesperson’s skills will develop exponentially in a short period of time. Soon your new salesperson will be on the floor closing deals like the pro they are.

The trial by fire approach is based on experiential learning, a concept that has been all the rage recently—and for good reason. Experiential learning is tied to reflection and personally figuring out what works and what doesn’t. The learner also engages using emotion, which is directly tied to memory. If you’re not convinced, check out all 10 reasons Why Experiential Learning Should be a Part of Your Employee Training.

Encourage Continuous Development

Sales is often compared to professional sports. It’s competitive, not everyone makes it, and outcomes are directly related to performance. Just like in sports, salespeople have to focus on continuous development and practice. Wayne Gretzky didn’t just hop on the ice and hope for the best, and neither can your salespeople (but instead of the ice, it’s the sales floor).

As discussed, salespeople have to be driven to keep up with the latest industry news and advances. The more they know about the industry, the more credible they will be to customers. Salespeople who invest their time into learning set themselves up to succeed.

A way to encourage continuous development without solely relying on the personal initiative is to set up a weekly or bi-weekly “show and tell” to get your salespeople talking about the latest article, sales-focused podcast (like our very own Conquer Local), blog post, book, or other resource they may have found. This will help to create a culture of continuous development and encourage knowledge sharing. These meetings can also be in the form of a lunch and learn or can be a more casual setting.

Aside from staying up to date with industry developments, personal growth should be made a priority. As the sales manager, ensuring a formal testing or auditing system is put in place is crucial to maintaining the sales team performance. Listening in on calls, sending out online quizzes, and requesting customer feedback can be a great way to monitor the knowledge and conduct of your team. With the information you gather, it is important to work with each individual one-on-one to help them grow.

A part of continuous development is taking feedback and criticism and using it to grow. Encourage salespeople to take advice and learn from others around them.

If you’re not taking advice and realizing you can learn something from everybody, that will really topple you. Be open to criticism, negative and positive. You can learn from anybody, whether it's the George Leith or its a guy off the street, everyone’s got something to teach you.

Todd Roberts

Director of Sales, Vendasta

By following these four steps, your sales team will be on the way to being effective in a timely and sustainable way.

How to Measure Success in Your Sales Team

The first metric of success for a salesperson is often how much money they bring in—think Jerry Maguire in the unforgettable “SHOW ME THE MONEY” scene.

In reality, while dollars won is an important quantitative figure, customer relationship-building and effort are just as important and should be treated as such. These two qualitative measures are the building blocks of a solid revenue foundation.

Strong customer relationships will foster trust, making your prospects far more likely to seek out your company for the solutions they need when they are ready to buy. Strong customer relationships also lead to positive reviews and increased word-of-mouth. Train your sales team to think customer-first, and measure customer relationships regularly through review and referral monitoring and call audits. Celebrate customer relationships and the salespeople who help them to flourish.

Examples of sales metrics to measure the success of your sales team include:

    • Total revenue (daily, weekly, monthly reporting)
  • Effort and Customer Relationship Building
    • Calls made
    • Customer stickiness (how many products purchased)
    • Customer churn (identify the reason for churn)
    • Reviews
  • Product Knowledge
    • Product knowledge quiz results

Find what metrics work for your team and ensure your salespeople are aware of their results.

With more than revenue brought in as a key performance indicator, your salespeople can be accurately judged on performance, while keeping a customer-focus.


With a good plan in place, sales training does not have to make your head spin. Once your company has tailored the training techniques and desired outcomes to its unique needs, you will be able to build an unstoppable team who can’t help but close.

Looking for more sales training ideas and something to bring to your next continuous development meeting? Check out the Conquer Local podcast with Vendasta CRO George Leith for expert advice from special guests and the host himself.

About the Author

A busy bee that you can find spending time at the gym, reading, hanging out with her black lab Joey, or visiting the newest restaurants in town. Alyssa is a former marketing intern and onboarding success specialist with Vendasta.

Share This