What does Effective Sales Training Look Like?


As I work to lead and support the design of our forthcoming Global Sales Kickoff event, part of the work includes articulating what the fiscal year will look like for Enablement. An important part of this articulation to our executives includes making it clear: What does effective Sales Enablement pedagogy look like? If you’d like to play along at home, I’d love your input!

First, for the uninitiated, the world of Sales Enablement is an interesting corner of the sales organization. Well, any organization for that matter. Enablement usually is part of sales ops. I have a few peers who sit in the marketing organization. Though as Elay Cohen points out, sitting in any department that isn’t sales often leads to bad outcomes (Cohen attributes this to lack of buy-in and accountability for Enablement’s primary customer – the sales team).

When working well, Enablement enhances sales productivity, in part by connecting Product and Product Marketing with the field. So collaboration is a core competency of Enablement. The primary Enablement output, though, is to ensure that the field (i.e. the various components of the sales org: business development reps, sales reps, sales engineers) is (1) onboarded, (2) trained on the latest products, processes, systems, and (3) staying productive.

I bucket these and any associated activities into three primary Enablement Impact Zones:

  • Hire (e.g. hiring profile construction, onboarding to ramp, etc.)
  • Train (e.g. product training, pitch training, negotiation training, annual Sales Kick-Off, etc.)
  • Retain (e.g. productivity analysis, remediation, career progression, etc.)

Across these three impact zones, there needs to be a reliable framework, or delivery methodology, for effectively Hiring, Training, Retaining people in a repeatable (and scalable) fashion. A big component to being effective requires manager buy-in. If a new hire’s manager doesn’t respect the onboarding curriculum, neither will the new hire. If leadership doesn’t enforce ongoing training, sales teams aren’t going to willingly train themselves. So Enablement leaders must have the respect of their business partners across the organization. First and foremost, though, Enablement must have a clearly articulated plan for how they affect learning and productivity. This is known as pedagogy.

A useful comparison:
Harvard Business School pedagogy relies heavily on a case study method of instruction. This requires a great deal of peer-to-peer instruction. And the case study analogy is apt because, much like the case study approach, enablement trainings also require:

  1. real-world problem solving (presenting real situations and dilemmas);
  2. active learning (hands-on student immersion and involvement); and
  3. peer learning (learning from each other.)

In some HBS courses, course grades can be determined by upwards of 50% on the quality of your class participation. Quite a strong carrot/stick approach to facilitating engagement (carrots and sticks are important for sales reps too!). But if the HBS inmates are running the learning asylum, what are all those fancy professors doing?

For effective professors, it turns out, according to Adam Gordon, the winning principle is who is good at making connections rather than who is good at making content.

Something similar holds for a strong Sales Enablement leader. In good sales training (or any professional development or adult learning scenario for that matter) you’re going to be doing real-world problem solving (e.g. how to effectively deliver a first call deck). And the learning is going to be active (e.g. stand and deliver format, usually). And the best feedback, and the majority of the learning, is going to come from other sales reps who are out in the field delivering the same/similar decks/messages and getting real feedback on what works or not.

In reality, most Enablement leaders – unless they are in a relatively small organization – are not going to be the content experts/creators. Effective Enablement leaders are going to be the ones who can maestro leadership buy-in, accountability, peer-to-peer learning, stand and delivers, etc.

Gordon also points out: Peer learning has always been a big part of MBA and executive education, where the best teachers are not academic researchers but relative content experts whose real skill is facilitating the multiple points of knowledge in the room into a cohesive learning experience.

An Enablement Leader is going to be able to connect, manage, facilitate connections between the best of the best inside your org and outside of it. 

There are all kinds of nuances that go into being an effective Enablement leader. For example, one of the implications for your Enablement leader is that being effective also requires quite a bit of politicking skills. What I mean is it requires Enablement team members to be adept at making connections across departments, knowing how to find resources (or create them when they don’t exist), being able to “manage without power”, bringing disparate constituencies together, and so on.

But the main topic here is building credibility via clearly articulated (and proven) delivery means – i.e. your pedagogy as an Enablement leader. For me, I have articulated my practice as the 4 R’s of effective training: Rhythm, Repetition, Response, Respect (you can poke around this blog for numerous examples of what this looks like).

So taking the HBS analogy and my 4 R’s pedagogy, what does that look like in my Enablement org? One example looks like this:

  • I host weekly trainings on a specific outcome (e.g. value selling by leveraging specific content) with a small group of sales reps.
  • Attendance and participation are required by their manager.
  • The manager always attends.
  • 1-2 participants deliver the content in a “stand and deliver” format. Participants role play the prospective customer.
  • At the end of the role play, all participants provide written and oral feedback (Response).
  • The content being practiced is chosen by either the manager or the sales reps – usually identified as an area of weakness for an individual or the team.
  • We repeat the training every week (Rhythm) for 8-12 weeks (Repetition).
  • I provide specific instructions on how to structure and categorize feedback in a positive way so that we can all improve (Respect).
  • We articulate 2 things that went well and 2 things for improvement in the form of follow up actions for the presenter.

It’s one thing to “clearly articulate” your delivery means. But, Chris, what about that parenthetical? How can you show that it’s “proven”? Two words: populum primum. Start small. Onboard your first one or two people and get them to quota, fast. Then work with one manager to run trainings for her team. Build her trust. Then run a bootcamp for another sales leader. Show the impact of the program to pipeline, ramp, deal close, etc. Run each of these as a pilot. Build up your Impact Portfolio. Your proof is in the pudding.

At the end of the day, though, it comes down to putting people first – populum primum. You’re helping one new hire, one manager, one team at a time. Even once you’ve earned trust and are looking to scale whatever pedagogy you’ve developed, you’re always going to have identifiable customers – the people.

If you’re a people manager or training leader, would love to hear what’s working for you and your teams!



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