Sales Training: Getting Back to Basics

Sales training is not just for new hires and salespeople struggling to meet their numbers. The most successful sales managers understand the importance of “getting back to basics” for everyone, and they make refreshers part of their regular process.

We’ll use ourselves as an example here: Recently, we set out to hire a new head of sales. We wanted to find someone with both the skills and the “fit” with our culture...which takes time to do correctly. In the meantime, we wanted our sales reps to know that we valued them and cared about their success—they wouldn’t be “abandoned” until the new head of sales came on board.

So the leadership team and I decided to do some “back to basics” sales training ourselves. Using our own sales training courses, we were able to quickly put together a program that reviewed critical skills in a collaborative way (see our blog post on “blended learning” for more about this approach).

And what did we cover?

Thinking Through Buyer Personas

As a first step, we worked through the DISC profiles with the sales and marketing teams and then used these, together with voice of customer information, to create buyer personas.

Why do this first? Everyone is motivated by different goals—and fearful of different kinds of risk. Some of these stem from people’s roles, managers or culture. Some are a matter of personality and their desire to succeed or fear of failure. Understanding these motivators helps sales teams speak to goals while meeting objections based on their fears.

We worked with our sales and marketing team to create several buyer personas, and we realized something: Although they have similar training goals, each is motivated by different hopes, fears, and expectations. Our salespeople are now on the same page when it comes to dealing with each type.

Doing this exercise also reminded us that, without having buying personas, it is easy to tell the same, generic story to everyone. Now we are able to customize our content to better address the unmet needs.

Uncovering Needs

When communicating with prospects, the first job of sales is to uncover their unmet needs. How do you know what to sell and who to sell it to?

Successful salespeople plan out questions ahead of time. We did this with our sales team, emphasizing that the questions were a way to start a dialogue—not part of an interrogation! In fact, some of the most successful questions aren’t questions at all, but simply a request for information. For example:

  • “What do you like/dislike about your current training?”
  • “Are you getting your targeted results?”
  • “Explain to me how your process works.”


Working with Objections

Even with personas and questions in hand, and even when the dialogue is going well, your salespeople will face objections. These objections can come from different places: Misunderstanding, doubt, indifference, or a true negative about your product or brand. We reviewed our courses on all four.

It is important to understand where potential objections might come from and then to discuss different responses. Our leadership team led a discussion about common objections and documented the best responses for our salespeople to use with the correct buyer persona.

As a bonus, this exercise also helped our marketing team with ideas for new content to address these common objections. This provided sales with more useful tools (whitepapers, blog posts, and emails) to support their discovery conversations with prospects.

The Demo Contest

Planning is important, but so is actual practice. To cement what the reps had learned, we had them contact Kathy, our head of operations, to do a mock demo session—with Kathy pretending to be the client.

We even made it a contest. While running the demo, each salesperson was evaluated and scored based on how well they used the above information. For example, we scored how well they:

  • Used messaging appropriate to the persona Kathy was adapting
  • Worked to uncover the prospect’s needs, both at the start of the call and through the entire demo
  • Handled objections
  • Made use of the marketing materials provided during post demo activities


Finally, we also recorded each session and let the reps score each other. This kind of peer feedback is great: Not only do the salespeople take the ratings and feedback more seriously, but the peers rating them have another opportunity to apply and cement their knowledge.

The Results?

It will take a while to see all the fruits of this hard work, but some of the results are already apparent. The discussions and demo contest were good team-building exercises. The reps learned from each other and shared their best ideas. This has done wonderful things for their confidence as well, and you can see it in the energy they have during sales presentations, or when on the phone with a prospect.

The main takeaway here is that there is always room for a refresher on the basics. It does not have to be complicated and involved. Sometimes just reviewing basic skills and practicing them with each other can yield tremendous benefit.

You can preview some of the videos from our award-winning selling skills training library (which we used ourselves!) to jumpstart the process. You can also see all of the titles on DISC, uncovering needs and advanced questioning techniques, and handling objections in our course library. And if you find yourself wanting to see more, you can always sign up for a free trial for complete access of our full library.

Note: The timing of our demo contest was perfect and our new sales leader was able to participate in the evaluations.

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