Whether you’re welcoming a new person to your sales team or helping develop skills among your current staff, sales training is a very important part of fostering a successful sales program.
Studies show that sales teams who complete highly-rated sales training programs see a 10% higher win rate and are at least 10% more likely to hit quota.
Regardless of what sales training program you implement at your organization, there’s one key factor you should consider when choosing what’s best for your team: inclusivity.
Outside of sharpening sales skills, mastering the customer journey, and boosting win rates, your sales training should also foster an inclusive learning environment that helps your team forge relationships and create a culture of its own.
To better understand what an inclusive sales training program looks like, I spoke with three HubSpot Sales leaders who’ve championed inclusivity among their teams: Michelle Benfer, Mintis Hankerson, and Elle Fening. Below, they share their advice on how to improve inclusivity in your sales training.
Before we dive in, let’s define what inclusive means in the context of sales training.
What is inclusive sales training?
Inclusivity is the process considering the identities and preferences of people that might otherwise be excluded, marginalized, or simply overlooked. This can refer to both demographic and psychographic identities, including but not limited to race, age, and sexual orientation as well as personality types, learning styles, and motivations.
One way to do this in the context of sales training is to genuinely know your team members — in doing so, you’ll be able to make individual reps feel as though you’re speaking directly to them even while in a group setting.
She encourages sales leaders to understand their team members and get to know them and their backgrounds. As for her own team, Benfer avoids using analogies that would speak only to the interests of a particular group (such as sports, which is typically referenced in traditional sales environments). Instead, she works to understand the interests of the people on her team.
Hankerson defines inclusive sales training similarly: "I think it's a training that caters to multiple learning styles and allows people to learn in multiple different methods." (Hankerson recently wrote a HubSpot blog post on how her team hit their sales quota every month for a year.)
How to Make Your Sales Training More Inclusive
As you can see, both demographic and psychographic differences should be taken into account when cultivating inclusivity among your sales team and sales training. Let’s unpack some inclusive sales training best practices as shared by our sales experts.
1. Understand how your sales team learns.
The purpose of sales training is to educate and equip your sales team. If they can’t absorb or apply the sales training information, then it’s not worth their time — or yours. How can you ensure your sales training is valuable? Understand how your team prefers to be trained.
"Ask about everyone's preferred learning methods," Hankerson proposes. "I would actually gather some data around the different ways we learn and how we can diversify our teaching and training to accommodate the fact that some methods are more efficient and effective than others."
One method that Hankerson warns against? PowerPoint. "I would absolutely make sure that your training does not involve just PowerPoint because that doesn’t allow it to sink in." This isn’t to warn against the platform itself; it’s more a reminder that your sales training shouldn’t just be endless slides, long presentations, and — essentially — hours of people-watching.
In fact, Hankerson shared an anecdote with me about a member of her team who faced this exact problem: she was approached by a rep who preferred to learn by reading and doing instead of listening. She couldn’t tell the rep not to attend the training as it was obligatory, so instead, she encouraged them to complete written exercises afterwards to help with comprehension and application.
By understanding how your sales team learns, you consider how your team can actually apply what they’re learning — not just training for the sake of training. Moreover, you can save the time and energy of your team (and yourself).
Lastly, Hankerson suggests that truly inclusive training allows salespeople to try what they’ve learned. After training her team, she asks them to go test what they’ve learned and bring back examples of what worked. She then conducts a feedback session to not only understand how her team performed but also how she could improve the training aspect.
"This helps me think about what I’m trying to train and how I can actually reinforce it," she said.
2. Include members of your sales team.
Just as it’s important to understand how your sales team learns, it’s also important to include them in the broader planning and inclusivity discussions. After all, they’re the ones who will be receiving the sales training.
"It’s hard to be inclusive from within a vacuum, so it’s relevant to include others in the brainstorming and design process to check for your own biases," said Fening.
When asked about her tactics and techniques for infusing inclusivity into her training, Benfer shared something similar: "I think it's giving everyone a chance to give an example of what makes them unique."
One thing she does to onboard new hires is run a welcome session during which she does an icebreaker. Their latest prompt? Describe yourself in the eighth grade. "We ask people to include their interests, the music they listened to, and the clothing that they wore," Benfer described. "I find that it's a pretty great equalizer because one of the things you notice is that some people who might look the same have completely different backgrounds, whether it's where they're from geographically, what their interests were, and who they were then versus who they've since become."
Icebreakers, especially non-work-related ones, are great conversation starters when looking to connect with your team and help them connect with each other.
Another way to involve your team is by conducting a survey. Ask questions like:
What motivates you?
How do you like to receive feedback?
How do you like to communicate?
What is one thing I should know about you and the way you work?
This is a way for managers to understand how their team members like to be praised, acknowledged, and motivated — all important factors of sales training beyond the scope of how salespeople prefer to learn.
"We really try to get to know individuals and make sure we communicate with them and speak with them how they prefer," Benfer commented. "We don't always nail it, but I think the fact that we ask how each individual likes to work is a way we try to make that inclusive."
3. Focus on skills beyond sales.
There are countless invaluable sales skills, including identifying needs, articulating value, negotiating, and pitching. But there are plenty of other types of skills that are just as important.
"Train the team on implicit biases and do activities that allow everyone to gain new empathy and insight into the perspective of someone different than their own," shared Fening.
Benfer also conducts bias training with her team: "We work hard to acknowledge where there are biases in our everyday lives and how we can be cognizant of them and try to mitigate those biases." This refers to biases about race and gender as well as previous employers and even educational backgrounds.
4. Consider creating your own sales training program.
There are hundreds of impressive and effective sales training programs on the market. But these programs weren’t built with your team in mind. When you craft your own internal sales training program, you can build it from the ground up with a multitude of perspectives.
Not only does a custom-built training program or in-house sales trainer allow you to consider how your team learns, but it also allows you to include visuals, illustrations, and photographs that feature varying types of people. "This signals to participants of all kinds that the content includes them and is applicable also to them," shared Fening.
"Consider the cultural, language, or regional nuances that attribute to the learning process and how you can support these individuals along the way," Fening said. "Moreover, plan ahead to integrate these nuanced experiences into the training itself. Highlight and celebrate these differences so that the team can see this inclusion model and replicate it in their own practices."
Sales training is only as effective as its audience, and its audience can only learn as much as is tailored to them. Apply the best practices discussed in this article to make your sales training more inclusive and help your sales team be as successful as possible.
Originally published Sep 29, 2020 7:30:00 AM, updated September 29 2020