Sales Training: It’s Not a Game of Telephone

Growing up, the party-game “Telephone” was always popular in my elementary school. Teachers started the game by lining us up and whispering a phrase to the first student in line. The goal of the game was for each of us to whisper the same phrase to the next person, and then the last person to hear it would say it out loud.

Of course, we never accomplished that goal — someone in line, either by design or by accident, would change a few words, and the end result rarely resembled the original phrase.

These days, I am constantly reminded of Telephone when I discuss internal sales training programs (or, more precisely, the need for sales training programs) with my peers. Telephone in that context isn’t nearly as amusing.

When there’s no formal process for onboarding reps, managers make a lot of mistakes training new hires, which leads the newbies to piece together their own training from what everyone else is doing. The final sales process and talk track they end up with is a hodgepodge of different approaches, and often completely different from what the VP and managers hope for.

Top-performing sales teams are consistent with the sales process they follow and the message they deliver — but consistent sales performance is a pipe-dream unless every member of the sales team receives the same training, follows the same plays, and is measured the same way.

The World Without a Sales Training Program

If your company doesn’t put serious thought into your sales training program, you stunt its potential for growth. Inconsistency in the onboarding process leads to these problems (among others):

1. Ramping takes longer: Companies can get by without a formal sales training program early on in their growth. Senior sales reps take new hires under their wings and push them along. But once you add headcount, you run into trouble. Without proper onboarding, new hires revert to old habits, pick up bad new habits, work outside the established sales process, and take longer to ramp.

2. You can’t measure improvement: Without a framework for onboarding and training, you can’t fairly assess how well new hires are improving. It’s comparing apples to oranges — some new hires will get lucky with a mentor on the team and succeed, the others will miss out on key skills they need to master and struggle as a result.

3. Staying current is impossible: Every new hire brings different experience to the table. If they’re not trained with the same skills and taught the same process, they all end up doing things their own way. Those inconsistencies add up and put a serious dent in sales productivity.

4. Scaling is a nightmare: Without a consistent sales process, forget about predictive analysis and hiring plans. Ramp time will vary wildly between individuals, and sales performance will become erratic. That causes constant headaches as you plan out your company’s growth trajectory.


So what goes into an effective training program?

The principle of an optimal training program is simple: identify the 3-4 core competencies of the job you train for, and develop a program to improve the skills of your team in those areas.

For example, if your focus is training BDRs, the four core skills might be:

  • Competency on the phone
  • Prospecting strategy and ability
  • Time management
  • CRM/Sales tool proficiency

Simplicity is key to an effective training program. If you add in too much, you simply draw out the process, and reduce the effectiveness of your training.

By hammering on the core skills that your salespeople will need to be successful, you ensure that the foundation is there, and let them build out the rest of what they need through on-the-job experience.

The Goal of Sales Training

The purpose of the formalized training program is to condense the chaos of onboarding (even when you’re doing it right, it’s still chaos) into as short a time period as possible.

At the end of that time period, your reps should all be certified in the key skills they need to succeed, and ready to meet the performance quotas management sets for the sales team. The consistency in the quality of training leads to smoother, more predictable sales performance, makes it easier to scale the sales team, and contributes to steady revenue growth.

You need consistent sales performance if you want any hope of developing steady revenue growth and securing long term growth for your business. The first step to getting there is to kill the “Telephone” approach to sales training, and implementing a structured training program.

Believe me, now that we’re all grown up, Telephone isn’t fun anymore.