Experienced-Based Learning for Business Development Reps

Posted by Mike ScherApr 29, 2015 11:00:00 AM

The Best Way to Beat the Competition

With the explosion of sales tools and virtual selling, the number of Sales Development Reps or SDRs is rapidly growing.  There is no greater evidence than the popularity of the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals (AA-ISP).   That group has done great work in raising the profile and professionalism of phone-based sellers.

Sales Development Reps perform arguably one of the most critical functions in a business. shutterstock_130940975 If there are no sales, there is no business.  If there are no leads for the sales team, there are no sales.  At the same time, SDRs are generally comprised of smart, aggressive and articulate people who are just beginning their sales careers.

What boggles my mind is that companies don’t provide SDRs with the proper guidance, tools AND know-how to drive predictable success.  Typically, SDRs receive a good amount of product training, but they are rarely taught how to master the soft skills necessary to do critical things like navigating accounts, building rapport and delivering value-based messages.

Great sales people are great communicators.  The SDR position is usually a stepping stone for a career in sales.  For SDRs to become great sales people, they need to communicate effectively.  SDRs want to do a good job and they spend a lot of time wading through on-line content (like this blog) in search of the right answers.

Too often, the lack of well developed communication skills and proven processes lead to frustration on the part of the company, management and most of all, the SDRs.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

The key to making SDRs effective is to incorporate experience-based learning.  Audio and visual learning opportunities are important, but demonstrating the ability to master actual sales situations is paramount.  Experienced-based learning places an emphasis on direct engagement, and as Confucius stated, “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.”

Airline pilots use experienced-based training or simulation to learn how to fly airplanes.  The military uses simulation to master combat situations.  Even golf simulators give players a familiarity with courses they haven’t previously played.

With SDRs, that “simulated” environment is usually the result of role-playing.   I am all for role-playing, but there are three major challenges with this approach.  Role-playing takes a lot of time.  The conductors of the role-play often don’t reflect reality and are generally inconsistent.  Role-plays are difficult to measure objectively.  Imagine if the aforementioned airline pilots role-played in their training the same way we role-play with SDRs?   Would you get on those airplanes?  I think not!

What if you could take the inconsistency out of the process?

What if you could do so in a time efficient way?

What if you could repeat that process for all you current reps and new hires?

You can by doing three simple things:

1.  Itemize all the situations you want to measure:  Examples would be handling objections such as, “We don’t have budget.” or “We are going to develop that internally.”  This can be done by role, job function or solution set.

2.  Develop/document best practices:  For each scenario, develop and document the optimal response and outcome.

3. Objectively measure and score each rep’s practice sessions:  Create a way to score how effective (or ineffective) a rep handled the situation.  Examples are pass/fail or scoring on a 10 point scale where an 80% or above is acceptable.

Here is what we have done at FRONTLINE Selling.  We teach our own sales people how to prospect and sell using digitized call simulation.  Our sales people use interactive voice response technology — a simulator takes them though prospecting and selling scenarios just as a flight simulator would navigate a pilot through takeoff and landing.  At the end of each scenario, the system scores the sales person.  Once they pass, they go on to the next scenario.
After the reps satisfactorily complete all the scenarios, they are ready for “prime time” and (just like the airline pilot) they can handle every situation flawlessly.

This experience-based learning is time effective because the reps can practice on their own time, and it takes the inconsistency out of the process by removing the bias of individual managers.  Results have been off the charts.  Our reps achieve competency in days versus weeks, months or never.

You already provide audio and visual training for your business development reps, and that’s good.  It’s just not good enough.  Involve them in experienced-based learning and measure their performance.  The results will impress you.


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