Five Trends in B2B Sales Learning and Development

For 2016

As we approach the end of the year, we’ve been thinking about what 2016 will bring for L&D teams delivering performance improvement in B2B sales training.

For many companies, the dominant trends in B2B sales L&D spending in 2013 and early 2014 were defensive, reflecting the ongoing damage to investment confidence caused by the recession.

The inexorable rise in status of the procurement department has been mirrored in many companies by a decline in budgets and in the number of L&D professionals.

However, in the second half of 2015 we’ve seen a significant breakthrough from this gloom, with businesses recognising the need to reinvest in their sales teams to drive growth and rebuild their L&D teams to achieve this growth.

As a result, we’ve been working on some fascinating large-scale projects. Clients are not looking for more of the same training they invested in five years ago; their needs have developed, and suppliers have to respond to this. Here are some of the trends we have seen emerging and expect to become more prominent in 2016:

1. Spend up – with more focus

The days of running standard sales training courses to use up a preallocated budget are behind us. B2B sales training is now about problem solving and taking advantage of opportunities. Spend will have to be justified in clearly articulated commercial terms, with more involvement from senior sales leaders and procurement teams. There will be an increased emphasis on ROI metrics and demand for training to make a sustained positive impact on performance. This means L&D investment decisions may take longer to negotiate, but once in place there will be higher commitment.

2. Tailored and relevant B2B sales training is the way forward; there is no meaningful place for off-the-shelf programmes

B2B sales organisations are frustrated with suppliers who persist in proposing outdated off-the-shelf offerings. These may suit the business model of the supplier, but are unlikely to solve the commercial issues faced by the client. Clients will demand training tailored to the realities of their customers, processes and culture. L&D teams need to secure the talents of highly skilled trainers and developers (either internally or externally) who are able to deliver training targeted to their particular needs.

3. Learning technologies play an ever-greater role

In the past, decisions to invest in digital learning were motivated by the need to reduce costs. However, these low-cost, low-quality solutions delivered false economies – they had little impact on performance and were often ignored by salespeople. There is a continuing trend of L&D teams increasing their focus on the outcomes of the investment, and on the quality and impact of the training.

As the generic, off-the-shelf course fades into memory, so will its close relation the click-and-learn online sales training programme. Clients will want digital learning that addresses specific challenges, not a one-size-fits-all solution.

B2B field sales teams will look to digital learning to provide a strong foundation in sales skills, tailored to their processes and propositions. Sales workshops will increasingly be reserved for the development of higher-level B2B sales skills such as consultative selling, strategic account management and sales leadership.

Whatever the goal, L&D teams will demand that digital sales training solutions reflect the bite-sized, task-related and mobile way that salespeople want to learn. This means including components such as simulations, competitive challenges, assessments and shared social learning opportunities – all available on multiple mobile platforms. Suppliers will respond with a generation of digital sales training products that will at last live up to the promises made by online learning.

4. Managers more involved in coaching, mentoring and driving the principles of 70:20:10

Great sales teams have great managers. They handle competing demands on their time, and still prioritise getting the best out of their team, using coaching as a tool. Sales programmes will focus on the role and skills of the manager, knowing that this spend is immediately leveraged across the manager’s team. The best digital learning programmes will create opportunities for manager interaction and coaching. L&D teams will work with suppliers to create bite-sized but compelling training modules that can be coached and taught by managers in their sales teams, bringing the reinforcement of skills development out of the classroom to the front line.

5. Storytelling is a core sales skill for outstanding B2B performers

Storytelling has been the buzzword in leadership training over the past year, and it is set to achieve the same importance in B2B sales training. Storytelling is the art of making a connection with your audience by delivering your pitch as a compelling narrative. Think of how the most powerful television adverts tell a story – the annual John Lewis Christmas advert is an obvious example – focusing on the outcomes of purchase decisions, not on the features of the products themselves. In a world where PowerPoint and product data are easily accessible, salespeople need to rediscover the art of telling a story in order to win the hearts and minds of their customers.

If you’d like to discuss how Imparta are addressing these trends, or any other aspect of your sales performance training, we’d love to hear from you.

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