Training JournalSalespeople are like any group that needs training, just more so.

They’ve been there and done it, they don’t have time, and everybody needs it except them. And, of course, they will quickly revert to old behaviours.

I’ll explore the wider change process in a later article, but for now, let’s talk about how to break down those barriers and get salespeople to learn new skills. I’ve always found David Kolb’s experiential learning cycle to be a very effective model for skill development:

If you’re familiar with Kolb, you’ll see that I’ve added ‘Rigorous Coaching’. More on that in a moment.

The problem is that too much training, whether e-learning or classroom-based, doesn’t follow Kolb’s approach. Above all, it usually starts with theory (abstract conceptualisation) instead of with an initial experience. This is a mistake, especially for salespeople, who often need to be ‘shaken loose’ from unconscious incompetence, and brought to a more receptive state.

So best-practice sales training, as with any skill, starts with an experience, not slides or a flip-chart exercise.


At Imparta we sometimes use longer simulations at the beginning of a programme, but increasingly we take a modular approach and begin each module with a shorter experience.
These experiences might be real or role-played conversations (uncovering needs, reframing the decision process, bringing insight, building momentum, etc.) or activities such as planning an entry strategy or developing a stakeholder plan.


During each focused experience, salespeople will hit a number of predictable failure points, which are a perfect foundation for discussion and reflection. This process should be led by coaches in small groups in a classroom, or coach-bots in the case of e-Learning.

Abstract Conceptualisation

A facilitator can then ‘pull’ the theory organically in a plenary session, rather than read slides from a PowerPoint deck. That is a skill that many ‘facilitators’ need to re-learn.


Finally, attendees should have a chance to experiment: to try the same exercise again, equipped with the new approach. During this second run, it’s important to use trained coaches (or some other mechanism such as actors or video feedback), to enforce high standards. Rigour is part of the ‘secret sauce’ in selling, and this is a perfect time to reinforce it.

Continuing the Cycle

Rigorous coaching should, of course, extend well beyond the initial learning. That is easier said than done, though, as coaching is a skill that itself needs to be coached. Coaching metrics play an important role in enabling coach-the-coach sessions, and driving a coaching culture.

One particularly powerful way of embedding coaching is to run Deal Coaching sessions on your ‘must-win’ deals. These provide a role-model of coaching best practice for sales managers while delivering immediate returns through increased deal sizes and improved win rates.


Author, Richard Barkey is the founder & CEO of Imparta Ltd., global sales and service training company. Richard is an expert in sales and learning, and a pioneer in the field of business simulations. To discuss any of these issues, please contact us.