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Creating competency based sales training

I have recently been asked by a prospect if I can create sales training based on competences for specific levels of sales people.  In fact, I have done this a number of times for large global companies, but I have never documented the actual approach and methodology I followed in designing, developing and implementing this training curriculum.  So the aim of this article is to document the generic approach I would initially suggest prior to the customisation for the specific customer requirements.

Let me start with a quick definition of competences:

  • What superior performers do more often, more completely and more consistently
  • Observable behaviours that make a difference
  • The “how” of performance

So what are the steps in creating sales training based around a competency framework?

Steps in the process of creating competency based sales training

Step 1.  Understand and document the sales organisational structure including the roles and responsibilities of all the roles in the sales force.  This is so obvious, but in my experience creates a large amount of discussion and work in the client company to standardise on a number of defines sales roles and levels in each role.  For instance you may have internal sales people selling B2B to SMEs and create three levels who are assigned to bronze, silver and gold accounts.  The accounts are defined by their spend, or potential spend, and generally a sales person would have 200 bronze accounts, 80 silver accounts or 20 gold accounts reflecting the greater opportunities in the gold accounts.  This process is replicated for all the various selling groups.

Step 2.  Understand what best in class sales people look like in each of the groups.  The best starting point is a generic set of sales competences that can then be refined by observing sales people, interviewing sales managers and sales people, and understanding to sales process model for the specific roles.  The sales process model is an important part of the design because your sales people will be expected to execute their sales plans against the model to drive consistent and repeatable business.

Step 3.  From the above you can then create a competency framework of, say, 6 to 10 key competences that are appropriate across some of all of the roles.  So, building customer rapport is something that all sales people need to do, but business acumen probably isn’t a key competency for B2C sales people.  We must ensure that each competency is measurable and that we can identify levels of competency that are appropriate for the various levels of role.  Ask the question “what does good look like for this competency and how would this be demonstrated by a sales person?”  This is a very important point, any competency that we choose most be measurable in the customer’s business environment.  As an example 7 functional Sales competencies could be Selling Skills, Customer & Industry Knowledge, Business Acumen, Sales Process and Tools, Products & Services Knowledge, Planning & Organizing, Teamwork, Customer Support, and each of those 7 competencies could have 4 levels.

Taking Business Acumen as an example we could develop an agreed definition of what it is and how the four levels can be described.From there we can focus in on the best practice at each level, so as an example at Level 1 the Exemplar Behaviors could be:

  • Uses basic knowledge of business principles to achieve objectives
  • Demonstrates an understanding of basic business concepts and vocabulary
  • Uses standard business practices effectively

We could then describe potential development activities at this level as follows:

  • Ask your colleagues and your manager questions about the business and the organization. You will increase your knowledge of operations and general business issues.
  • Read the business section of your daily paper regularly. This will help you become more familiar with ongoing business issues.
  • When reading memos or internal documents, underline or highlight business terms that are unfamiliar to you. Take the time to look these terms up in a dictionary or ask someone to explain them to you. You will soon become more knowledgeable about general business principles.

Step 4.  Now we have a set of competencies and levels for each sales role, which is the competency framework for that role, we can now assess each member of the sales team against the framework.  The assessment can be carried out online, by management observation or by full assessment centres.  If time and budget allow, assessment centres are a great way to benchmark a sales person’s current competencies.  This leads to an understanding of where the sales person is today against the defined levels for each competency, as detailed against their specific role and level – hence the reason step 1 is so important.

Step 5.  This gives us an individual GAP analysis for each sales person that then allows for the creation of a personal development plan to close the GAPs, and also show what needs to be accomplished to move to the next level.  The development plan may not lead directly to traditional training in the classroom but could be shadowing a best in class sales peer, or some of the activities described above for level 1 Business Acumen.

Step 6.  The competency framework also allows us to create training programs or modules that map to the competencies.  Generally, most companies have a base-line sales training program that everyone is expected to attend, and this is often used as part of the induction process for new hires to the sales function in the company.

Each training course will have a course aim, for example for the base-line training: To enable delegates to understand the basics of telephone/face-to-face selling and building customer relationships. The course will help them to become personally more successful in their sales role. The program is suitable for people who are relatively new to selling, as well as more experienced people who wish to refresh their basic skills.

There will also be a set of objectives:

  • Understand how to build rapport with prospects
  • Explain and demonstrate the Selling and Buying Processes
  • Plan and prepare for telephone/face to face meetings
  • Develop questions in a sales context and actively listen to the customer
  • Explain how effective communication can assist them when conducting a sales interview and when building long term relationships with customers
  • Match product solutions to customers’ individual needs
  • Identify different buyer types and how to interact with them
  • Demonstrate how to gain customer commitment to the next step
  • Detail how to close a sale effectively, or gain commitment to future action


This would lead to the development of specific modules in the training course to develop the individuals in that area, so a planning module could have the following objectives – Participants will be able to:

  1. Recognize the difference between “ineffective” and “effective” selling behaviours;
  2. Demonstrate effective rapport building behaviours on the phone and face to face;
  3. Identify strategies and practice overcoming personal challenges to connecting with difficult customers;
  4. Develop and demonstrate an effective opening for different types of customers;
  5. Develop an effective Value Proposition for different customer types and situations.

A half day module for planning could have the following agenda:From this point the training developer can easily create good interactive content for the customer based on the objectives and the flow of the agenda.

Step 7.  The curriculum is developed out to include standard (mandatory) sales training courses that take account of the various levels and functions in the sales organisation.  Remember that in practice some training will be e-learning, some webinars, some reading, some classroom training and some will be on the job working with your manager or peers.  For example, for a bank that sells to personal, SME and corporate customers the framework could be

Step 8.  Finally, we must remember the logistics from a training roll out perspective:

  • Pilots will need to be run and evaluated, and changes made as required
  • The materials developed – participant workbooks, facilitator guides, slides, role plays and case studies, etc. (with language and translation considerations)
  • The trainers who are to deliver the training (possibly in multiple languages) need to be trained and certified
  • The training needs to be measurable with some pre and post course / training assessments to both monitor the effectiveness of the training and to ascertain how the individual is developing.  This is key to ensure that there is a real ROI from the program.

So to summarise, seeing the amount of work we need to do, we may want to affirm the benefits a Sales Team Com­pet­ency Frame­work:

  • It allows you to build a pro­file of what the best, ideal sales per­son looks like (do they exist already?)
  • You can bench­mark all of the sales team against this best in class model
  • Indi­vidual train­ing and devel­op­ment needs can be identified for each sales per­son based on their gaps
  • The sales leader can meas­ure pro­gress on each sales per­son’s development
  • Sales managers have a framework which they can coach to
  • Sales people have a clear understanding of the expectations and how they can develop within the organization
  • It reinforces behaviours that are consistent with the company’s mission, goals, culture and sales process
  • You can recruit people who are more likely to succeed thereby reducing costs
  • You will retain more high performers with individual development plans
  • You can deliver a trans­form­a­tional devel­op­ment pro­gram that will res­ult in greatly improved performance
  • Overall it gives you an objective roadmap for recruiting and developing successful sales people
This entry was written by John, posted on March 23, 2012 at 4:38 pm, filed under Sales Process, Training and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

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