How to train B2B sales teams in 2021

Over the past decade, B2B buyer behaviour has changed dramatically, with many purchase cycles resembling modern business to consumer interactions. Buyers are now doing more of their own research, they are using social media to make decisions, and they are reaching out to online communities for recommendations: becoming more informed than ever before, but has B2B sales training kept pace with these changes?. 

So where does the B2B sales rep sit in all of this? What is their role? More importantly, what is their value? Will we still need B2B sales representatives and Account Teams in the future or will buyers be able to manage the entire purchase process themselves? 

The good news for B2B sales teams, is that even amongst startups, the need for good quality sales personnel is still as strong as ever. In my conversations with businesses, the top priority is still: How can we recruit better sales staff? 

But you can’t just expect to recruit new staff and have them hit the floor running. Sales is an unusual job that relies on lots of different ‘types’ of knowledge:

  • Product knowledge 
  • Company knowledge
  • Sales skill knowledge 
  • Buyer behaviour knowledge
  • ‘Tribal’ industry knowledge that comes from experience working in the industry 
  • Social sales skill knowledge

Many sales training efforts just focus on product knowledge. But in an age where so many of our interactions are online, and buyers are making decisions based on comments or updates posted on social media, new sales training efforts have to encompass a more holistic approach. 

It’s about training skills in addition to content. 

The New Types of B2B Sales Training You Need in 2021

Over the next few years, the companies that will succeed are likely to have comprehensive sales enablement programs in place. By comprehensive, we don’t mean that it needs to be days and days of training, but instead, the learning portfolio for each sales rep will be comprehensive and covering a wide range of topics, across product and company data, in addition to behavioural and sales skills training. 

Here is a rundown:

Sales skill knowledge training

Most organisations recognise that they need to teach sales skills, but these training sessions typically focus around ‘closing’ or ‘negotiating’. In modern sales situations, how often are your sales reps handling these situations? 

In reality, sales reps are often tasked with generating leads or nurturing early-stage marketing prospects, topics which are often left off the table in traditional sales training. As an industry, sales training programs often focus on the same topics as they have done for the past few decades, but in 2021 and beyond, sales teams will need to understand how to develop their own personal brand on social media, and how to generate leads online. 

The line between sales and marketing roles has blurred significantly over the past few years, and in 2021, reps will need to be able to better understand customers’ online purchasing journeys and will be expected to engage with common marketing tools like Hubspot to track their leads and prospects. 

Sales skill requirements for most businesses have changed significantly over the past few years and this change will accelerate in 2021 as budgets tighten and ROI from new sales hires have to be achieved quicker than ever. 

Buyer behaviour training

Where are your buyers? The likelihood is that many of them are first engaging with your company or product online, so is your sales training reflecting this change in how prospects are coming to you? 

And, even if the majority of the sale is conducted offline, buyer behaviour in general has changed, but has your sales training content?  (If your training content needs updating, check out our downloadable Sales Playbook Template pack).

Buyers today are a different generation to the buyers for which a lot of sales training programs in circulation today were built for. Generation X buys in a completely different way to millenials. For example, 65% of younger millennials say social media scores highly as a preference for learning about new products and services, compared with 56% of Generation X (Check out the Big Big Cloud Report). Do your sales teams know how to alter their approach based on your buyers’ generation and purchasing behaviour? 

Sales training needs to step up its game and incorporate more advanced buyer behaviour training. And, behaviour training needs to be tailored to industries and buyer roles. How you sell to procurement in the pharmaceutical industry is going to vary from how to target IT teams in the manufacturing sector. Our training needs to be more specific and relevant in the future, based on company-acquired learning about target customers, rather than just being based on industry-generic training which isn’t always relevant in a live sales situation. 

Companies will likely have to develop their own individual training content in this area to really get reps skilled up on how to approach and engage customers in their target sectors. 

Tribal industry knowledge 

Tribal knowledge is that innate knowledge and information you pick up from time working in a specific industry. It’s those little snippets of information that are difficult to train someone on, but that are integral to doing your job. 

It could be a general understanding of your competitors and their products in your industry or knowing about the internal processes that need to be followed in your company to ‘get things done’. 

This intangible knowledge is becoming increasingly important : it’s often where your credibility and experience are demonstrated, so it will be interesting to see how companies respond to the need for this type of training, as this info is the context and foundation for wider training topics. Without this tribal, intangible knowledge, other training doesn’t have the same impact. 

The difficulty in passing on this type of information and knowledge is the reason why it impacts companies so much when valued staff members leave. If it were as simple as sending new employees on a week long training course about products and processes then staff retention would no longer be a concern. Unfortunately, the value in existing staff is their tribal knowledge of how things are done which is very difficult to replace.

Social sales skills knowledge 

Social selling has often sat in the marketing team’s jurisdiction, however, it’s becoming increasingly expected that sales reps build their own individual brands on social media platforms. Whereas sales teams might once have relied on their marketing counterparts to provide them with content to publish or to even ghostwrite articles and social posts on their behalf, sales personnel are now creating their own content and connecting with prospects across LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and more. 

As more companies develop a broader social media presence on platforms such as Instagram, their employees are now creating content on these platforms to better align with buyers’ personal profiles. 

But social selling goes beyond just creating content. It’s about using content to create a brand on social media, connect with prospects and engage with their posts and social media activity and then to monitor and track leads from social media through to qualified prospects who are ready to buy via marketing tools. 

Sales reps are expected to have a greater understanding of how to nurture leads from connecting with a prospect online through to moving that prospect to having a formal sales call or meeting. Many sales reps today still haven’t had training about how to move these leads along the funnel as many reps are used to leads being developed by cold calling telesales teams or by appointment setting companies where leads are often more developed and further along the sales cycle. In social selling, lead development can take a more indirect route before a lead turns into a qualified prospect. 

Many B2B sales reps who are more familiar with traditional sales methods may need refresher training on how to now add social selling techniques into their established sales toolkit. Like any sales method, social selling on its own won’t close the deal, but it forms an integral part of many B2B sales engagements today.

How will you train sales product knowledge?

Despite these different types of knowledge and training techniques, salespeople will still need training on how to sell your products and services.

They will need to understand how to:

  • Position your product in the current market
  • Understand your customers’ common business challenges and how to help solve them
  • Respond to objections with credibility
  • Upsell to other service offerings
  • Progress a sale
  • Present your product pitch to customers
  • Open up the conversation about your product with new customers
  • Sell on value, rather than product detail

If you don’t already have one, sales playbooks underpin sales training programs by providing the content foundation for in-person and online sales training, delivering a consistent message across all sales training collateral.

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They can be tailored to fit your individual company’s needs and tweaked to match your sales teams’ skill level. If you’re dealing with a team of highly experienced Account Managers then maybe you can skip the market positioning content in your playbook. On the other hand, if you’re working with a young team of new telesales reps then it could be useful to go into more detail about common customer challenges, to educate them about their customers’ industry.

Our Sales Playbook Template has everything that corporate sales teams need to create their own dynamic sales playbook – complete with templates in six different color options, available in Microsoft Word and PowerPoint formats, and a 60 page ebook guiding you through creating your playbook.

Find out more: Access the Playbook Template Pack.

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