How to Build a Sales Training Program

At high-growth SaaS companies, sales training is almost universally underestimated.

These companies are often moving so fast, they hardly have time to train reps for more than a few days. Many sales leaders think a training program is as simple as handing out a sales playbook, having a few training sessions, and sitting in on a few calls. However, they are severely mistaken — truly effective sales training requires a much greater investment of resources and time. When speed is more important than preparation, newly hired sales reps lack the skills they need to succeed in the role. Many companies are sacrificing effective training for the perceived benefit of a rep working the phones today which results in large foundational gaps in the sales skills necessary for early success. Because of this, Investing in effective sales training is worth the sacrifice.

I was hired by InsightSquared last year specifically to build a powerful and streamlined training program for our growing sales team. At the time, there was no formal sales training program to speak of, and no one person devoting their complete attention to training. My task was to create a more structured, organized process to effectively train new reps, and continue to educate and improve the performance of existing reps.

When speed is more important than preparation, newly hired sales reps lack the skills they need.

In just a few short months, InsightSquared saw huge improvements. We found that with the training program in place, we decreased the ramp for business development from roughly 6 months down to 3 months. And once reps were fully ramped, they were hitting their quota in less time and consistently hitting their quota thereafter. Interested in achieving these powerful results for your team? Here’s how you can create a solid sales training program that will drive huge gains in sales revenue.

Outline a Solid Plan

You have to start at the bottom when building an effective sales training program. The first step is to outline a complete list of skills and competencies sales reps on your team need to succeed. Talk to your top reps, and try to categorize and identify what makes them stand out from the pack. Then, create a list of the skills every sales rep needs. In my system, there are 3 core areas of development during training:

  • Sales
  • Product
  • Systems and Process

There are also 3 different levels of achievement in each area:

  • Foundation/Beginner
  • Intermediate
  • Advanced

The goal is to reach the Advanced level in all 3 skills, where reps reach the point of “Unconscious Competence” — in other words, reps can do the most important sales tasks without really thinking about it. This is an incredibly tough level to reach, and most reps on the team will simply advance from Foundation to Intermediate. But even that small advancement in skills can make a huge difference in your results. Unfortunately, you can’t create a team of Michael Jordans — even with the best sales training program. My goal is simply to build a team where every rep fully understands the basic fundamentals and are put in a position to hone their craft, rather than relying on a few superstar sales reps to carry the whole team.

The Vital Skills for Success

Within each of those 3 core areas of skills are many smaller, more detailed skills that every rep needs.

1. Sales

This section includes skills like:

  • Sales methodology
  • Psychology of sales
  • Objection handling
  • Pre-call planning
  • Meeting and Demo best practices
  • Target customer profile

2. Product

This section includes specifics about the product your team is selling, including:

  • The origin story of the product
  • Functionality, including features and benefits
  • The target market
  • The product value for customers
  • The key business cases
  • Competitor landscape

3. Systems/Process

The section gets into the nitty gritty of the sales process, which is vital for sales success. At a company that lacks sales training, you can ask each person how they execute part of the sales process, and they would all give you a different answer. This section includes standardizing:

  • Sales process through the funnel
  • CRM data entry
  • Use of the technology stack
  • Executing a proof of concept
  • Onboarding a new customer
  • A central repository for sales enablement

All of this training should obviously be tailored to the role and experience level of the reps you’re training. For example, a Business Development Rep with zero sales experience should be offered different training from an AE with 3 to 5 years of sales experience. It also depends on whether you’re promoting AE’s from within the company, or hiring from outside, or both. You have to separate groups into different training tracks in order to offer the right skills at the right time. However, at the beginning, all new sales reps should start at the same level. Bring in new sales reps in a large group, or class, and then train them as a group. Split the group up as you move forward, and go more in-depth on specific skills. Here is an outline of training through the first 3 months, until reps are fully ramped and ready to sell.

The First 30 Days

The first month is all about reps getting assimilated into the company and learning the high-level information about the product, the systems, and more. For an AE, they should have all the foundational sales skills already, but BDRs may need more training. You should assess every rep’s abilities through role playing and sales calls. In the first month, you want to make sure that every rep reaches a basic foundation level in the 3 key areas. They should also know product basics, CRM basics, sales process basics, and company positioning. All of this shouldn’t be too overwhelming for new reps. However, that doesn’t mean they’re doing nothing but training. Reps need to get on the phones at the end of week 1 to start practicing their pitch and working on their selling skills. Their job is to talk to people, and so that should start almost right away. By using their newly-learned sales methodology, product knowledge and processes, it will reinforce the training program as they progress.

60 Days In

At this point, reps should be checking off specific training milestones. They should be learning from their experiences and start creating real sales opportunities for the pipeline. During this period, the sales trainer should do a lot of call shadowing and role playing exercises with new reps. Based on performance in these situations, you should give reps targeted training and keep testing them for the vital skills they need to succeed. I track certain KPIs reps need to be successful at InsightSquared, according to the skills I’ve outlined, and the steps it takes to achieve competency. During this period, the goal isn’t just for reps to talk to prospects. At this point, reps should be able to close one or 2 deals, depending on your industry and type of company. If you have a longer sales cycle, focus instead on rep’s activity levels and pipeline generation. If a rep is behind where you expect in terms of activity or KPIs, it’s up to you to intervene and offer concrete training to improve his skills.

Training Completed in 90 Days

By this point, reps should be fully ramped and prepared to execute the agreed-upon role responsibilities. During this period, it’s time for you to offer more targeted training, and check in on specific progress against KPIs. You’re looking for not just competence, but progress and improvement throughout the training process. You want to see reps that have noticeably absorbed your feedback and training to improve their skills. The best reps keep tweaking, adjusting and reiterating as they progress through the training program. I recommend a 90 day assessment on each new hire cohort for 2 reasons: 1. To get training feedback on pace, relevance, mediums, and more. 2. This is a true indication of who is going to be successful. If there is a glaring red flag, this milestone will weed them out. Regardless of a strong the initial interview, there is still a 1 to 3 month evaluation of a new hire. This ramping period is really an extension of their interview. It might sound harsh, but if they’re not fulfilling our goals within 90 days, the best thing to do is to let them move on. You’ll know right away which reps are coachable, and will continue to learn and improve as they go on. Those reps are the most valuable for your team, and should stay and grow along with your business.

Training is really never over.

After the 90 days, training isn’t over. Training is really never over. You should also offer ongoing training to help reps improve their skills over time. Part of that training should be internal career advancement. I implemented a BDR to AE training track, so BDRs can plan for their future career path and be armed with the necessary skills to be successful.

You should also create an ongoing training calendar so everyone knows when the next ongoing training session is and can join in. At InsightSquared, I’ve created a certification program, so reps receive a badge with each course they complete. Our program is continuing to grow and change even today, and I’m sure it will never stop changing. As you can tell from this lengthy post, sales training is nothing if not complicated. But if you’re serious about improving your sales team, training is the key to scaling sales success and driving repeatable results. Invest in sales training today, and you’ll see impressive results on your team in the coming months and years.

Looking for more content? Here are seven tips from our friends at ezCater on how to fuel and organize multi-day training workshops.