Beyond the Classroom: Matching Skills Training to the Selling Moment


B2B sales training could be nearing a tipping point. Investment in classroom-based training is set to remain flat in the years ahead, while investment in virtual training is poised to rise, according to a Corporate Visions survey of sales leaders. As companies struggle with challenges around training access, the increased interest in virtual training suggests sales leaders believe some training is better than no training. But what features should a modern skills training program include as companies make the shift “beyond the classroom,” relying less on scheduled training events, and more on a just-in-time, situational model? That’s what Tim Riesterer, Chief Strategy Officer at Corporate Visions, discusses in this interview with Jonathan Farrington of Top Sales World Magazine.

Q: You are co-author of “The Three Value Conversations,” a book we named top sales and marketing book last year. Can you first explain what the three value conversations are?

Tim: In show business, top performers are often praised for being the “triple threat,” meaning they can act, sing and dance. In selling there’s a triple threat skillset your salespeople must master to be a top performer – Pipeline, Proposals and Profits. And, each of these is driven by one of the three value conversations we wrote about:

Create Value, where salespeople must be able to tell a story that overcomes their prospects’ status quo bias and differentiates you from the competition in a way that builds more pipeline.

Elevate value that requires them to build proposals connecting external factors and strategic initiatives to your solutions in a business case that passes muster with executive-level decision makers.

Capture Value™ by avoiding profit leaks that occur throughout the buying process and managing the tension during negotiations to protect your margins.

These three skills can form the foundation of a competency-based training model tied to actual, measurable outcomes.

Q: What in your mind is the biggest skills training challenge B2B companies face today?

Tim: Time out of field is the first obvious challenge. In a recent survey we conducted, four out of five companies said they are not able to train as many salespeople on the skills they need each year. And, the top reason was the pressure to not take salespeople out of the field. It came in 20 percent higher than budget as a limiting factor.

Arbitrary learning paths is the second challenge. In the same survey, companies said they rely on managers to choose the training for their reps, which may have some correlation to the time-out-of-field challenge since managers feel the pressure to keep salespeople in the field. And, they rely most often on generic training paths based on rep tenure and role versus any type of performance indicators or needs assessment.

Q: Time out of the field is a valid concern for sales leaders. What can companies do to limit time out of the field without sacrificing necessary training?

Tim: The market appears to be showing increased interest in virtual training formats, but it’s conflicted, according to our survey. We found that 65 percent of companies plan to increase spending on virtual skills training, while classroom training investments will be flat.

However, those same respondents said they believe classroom training to be the most effective at changing behaviors and virtual training to be significantly less effective. It’s hard for anyone to argue this. Which means people are having to choose efficiency over effectiveness. The big breakthrough will be if companies can find a way to more effectively deploy virtual training so you can get the desired time savings and uptick in performance.

Q: What does more effective virtual training look like?

I will be the first to grant you that workshop-based training, which includes role play, stand and deliver, coaching and feedback experiences, has tremendous advantages for creating behavior change.

Virtual training is not going to be a 1-1 replacement. So, you have to think differently when it comes to applying online training for increased impact. It starts with replacing arbitrary learning paths such as rep tenure and role and manager training choice with custom learning paths.

Here we see four possibilities for using the efficiency of virtual training to gain effectiveness advantages:

Performance-based training – This starts with available data from your sales systems. The information exists to help you identify reps who are struggling in each triple threat area, such as those who are not creating enough pipeline; the reps whose pipelines are constipated with unapproved proposals stuck in the middle of the funnel; and those sellers who are unscrupulously discounting and leaking profits. Now, that you know who is struggling with either pipeline, proposals or profits, imagine being able to push them targeted, online sales training modules with competencies designed to improve their specific performance challenges.

Needs-based training – Relying on manager or even sales rep intuition regarding which training is most necessary can be very subjective and can now be replaced with a fluency assessment. Imagine a behavioral outcomes survey that can identify the strengths and weaknesses of salespeople across the triple threat skills and match that to specific competency modules that can be “kitted up” for a personalized learning journey tailored to their needs.

Situationally relevant training – One area every company is looking to reinforce is a consistent sales process. Just putting the steps in place and formalizing your CRM to prompt the sales administrative tasks doesn’t mean your salespeople will do each stage well. What if you could align specific skills training modules to each step of your sales process and present those online at each opportunity stage of your CRM?

Integrated Play-based training – As you launch products and promote go-to-market strategies in sales “plays,” you create a tremendous opportunity for something we call embedded skills training. In addition to the sales messages and assets and tools in a sales play, imagine the appropriate skills training modules included right there in the play. Each play may require different selling skills. For example, you may be trying to sell a disruptive solution in one play, which requires unique skills to overcome the status quo. Or, you may have a play to sell a highly complex, integrated solution that requires executive and financial acumen skills as well as consensus-building skills. Or, you may have a play for a commoditized portfolio where your salespeople need the skills to differentiate and protect margins.

Each of these four is only made possible with the availability of flexible, virtual training modules. And, each of these four scenarios offers ways to make virtual training more effective. This becomes even more powerful if the online library is based on a tested and proven competency library.

Check out Corporate Visions’ State of the Conversation Report, “Beyond the Classroom: Trends in B2b Sales Training,” to learn more about what’s next for skills training.

As originally featured in Top Sales Magazine, November 2016

Tim Riesterer

Tim Riesterer

Chief Strategy Officer

Tim Riesterer has dedicated his career to improving the conversations marketers and salespeople have with prospects and customers. His books, “Customer Message Management”, “Conversations that Win the Complex Sale”, “Three Value Conversations”, and "The Expansion Sale", focus on improving market-ready messages and tools that marketers and salespeople can use to win more deals. As chief strategy and research officer for Corporate Visions, he sets the direction and develops products for this leading marketing and sales messaging, content and training company.

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