The New Science of Training Sales Reps

When it comes to satisfaction at work, the ability to achieve our individual and collective goals is paramount. For many professionals and teams, however, the biggest obstacle to those achievements is the lack of opportunity to develop and hone the skills that are foundational to success.

This isn’t for lack of effort on the part of leadership. Many organizations invest in sales rep training with the best of intentions, but they simply select methods that aren’t effective. Perhaps the material is outdated; perhaps the “coaches” are high-performing sales rep who don’t know the first thing about teaching (And why would they? That’s not their job). Many trainings require too much time investment, making it difficult for trainees to engage because they’re too focused on the “real” work they should be doing. Others are broken into bite-sized pieces that fit better into the workday, but they’re so generic that the results don’t last for more than a week or two.

We all agree that the right investment in sales team performance yields a powerful return. The problem is understanding what that investment should look like. There are countless tools designed to guide the selling process, teach fundamental knowledge, and prep for sales readiness. There are countless sales methodologies and organizational coaching initiatives.

These training tools fall short in two critical areas:

  1. They are built on the art of selling knowledge of the past — not on outcome-driven data on the selling behaviors that win
  2. They are delivered in one-time interventions that don’t align with the science of effective learning: spaced repetition intervals that create lasting behavioral growth and drive selling performance.

Fortunately, sales leaders now have a golden opportunity to bring in scientifically valid sales performance platforms and apply behavioral science, artificial intelligence, and data to drive improved outcomes. Especially in the new world of virtual and hybrid selling.

We like to refer to this process as the new science of sales training, and we break it down into three key components.

1. Recognizing the Gaps based on Behavioral Data at the Rep Level

It’s easy to identify which sales reps are excelling and which are struggling simply by looking at their performance against quota. But it’s not so simple to pinpoint exactly why certain reps are underperforming. They may be great assets to the team: driven, well-versed in both the product and the broader industry, and endlessly optimistic. But if they’re still missing quota more often than not, then the problem is likely the way they’re communicating with their prospects. Even if content knowledge is solid and attitude is on point, the inability to effectively connect with prospective customers will impede a sales rep’s success. Quantified’s research has found, in fact, that effective communication is just 35% content and knowledge and 65% delivery.

That means the first step is identifying those gaps in communication skills. In other words, identifying what it is about successful reps’ communication abilities that makes them so effective so that other reps can be brought up to par. How do we do that? By objectively measuring reps’ communication skills. While communication skills have traditionally been considered too subjective to measure, the Quantified platform does just that. Its foundation is the world’s most comprehensive database of human communication, all scored for its impact by diverse human audiences. We used these insights, combined with the behavioral and social science of human communication and connection, to build a model identifying the 24 key drivers of communication effectiveness across message content, vocal delivery, visual delivery, and the audience perception they create. Our human-trained, deep-learning AI then uses sight, sound, and language to assess over 1,400 behaviors in every communication to precisely quantify how effectively an individual communicates.

What does this mean for sales teams? It’s now possible to identify the skills gaps driving the inconsistencies in performance among team members — efficiently and precisely. For example, a team analysis may find that top performers are using body language that inspires trust, while low performers are using specific pronouns that make them appear less trustworthy. Or that one struggling rep’s communication behaviors are making her appear inauthentic, while another’s are undermining his proven authority on the products he’s selling.   

Once team leaders have been able to identify communication skills gaps — at individual and group levels — in more objective, granular detail than ever before, then they can start working with reps to close those gaps. Which brings us to step two.

2. Developing Improved Selling Behaviors

Training science tells us that innovative sales leaders can use two primary strategies to help their team members close their skills gaps.

Deliberate Practice

The first is simply the purposeful practice that is only possible after the detailed analysis above. While traditional evaluation methods may leave reps with the understanding that they need to “be more confident” or “capture prospects’ attention more effectively,” that feedback doesn’t lend itself to targeted practice strategies or effective behavior change. A granular, data-driven communication analysis on the other hand drills down into what, specifically, is undermining a rep’s perceived confidence or engagement (or any other gap) and highlights specific changes that will improve overall effectiveness. With this knowledge in tow, a rep can now practice each recommended micro skill deliberately — focusing on improving eye contact or eliminating filler words or using more natural hand gestures — until it becomes second nature. (To make this even easier, the Quantified platform pairs its communication analyses with deliberate practice opportunities designed to tackle each user’s unique development opportunities.)

Experiential Learning

The second key to closing skills gaps for good is experiential learning — that is, making sure sales reps have the opportunity to learn in the flow of their everyday work, rather than through time-consuming workshops or lessons built on hypothetical scenarios. The 70-20-10 Rule is a good starting point for this effort. This approach guides the combination of three types of learning: 70 percent on-the-job experience, 20 percent developmental relationships, and 10 percent coursework and training. Why place so much emphasis on on-the-job learning? In those real-life situations, employees are making important decisions, learning from their mistakes, and receiving feedback in real time, based on experiences that actually matter. In other words, the stakes are high, and it’s much easier for employees to see the difference the training is making and recognize that it matters.

At Quantified, however, we take 70-20-10 a step further. The way we see it, these learning buckets — experience, relationships, and courses — don’t have to be entirely separate. We see why it would be easy to make that assumption, of course. Learning and development programs are traditionally removed from everyday workplace challenges, lacking any real guidance for putting theories into practice. But with Quantified, we incorporate learning into existing workflows through near real-time insights on everything from sales calls to board meetings. If you can record it, Quantified can analyze it, providing insights and training support not just on hypothetical practice calls but on real, critical communication events. (And our Zoom integration and others, including Microsoft Teams, Office365, and G-Suite, make it easier than ever to bring your virtual communication coach to every meeting.)

When learning is experiential — when it’s inextricably connected to work processes and goals — that’s when the learning lasts.

3. Maintaining Growth over the Long Term

We’ve all experienced the phenomenon of cramming information into our brains so we can ace a test or impress colleagues in a key presentation, only to forget it all shortly after the big event. The same is true with behavioral changes — while we may be johnny-on-the-spot initially, we won’t retain them in the long run without repetition.

That’s where the notion of “spaced repetition” comes into play, with the idea that the more often we encounter information — or nudges toward behavioral change — the more “sticky” it becomes. That’s why communication training opportunities, like workshops, that are meant to be “one and done” encounters don’t often lead to lasting results. And it’s also why the Quantified platform supports constant feedback — from weekly Zoom meeting analyses to annual assessments to ongoing practice recommendations.

A sales rep who attends a communication workshop may see fleeting improvement, but a sales rep who embraces a virtual ride-along communication coach, receives consistent feedback tailored to evolving skills, and engages in deliberate practice on a regular basis is on track to become a truly powerful communicator.

No matter how revolutionary a product or service may be, a rep who can’t communicate its value won’t be able to sell it. But when reps are strong communicators, they can build strong customer relationships, close more deals, and set the business up for long-term success. To learn more about how the Quantified platform can help, we invite you to request a demo today. One of our experts will happily walk you through our platform and process.