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How to Make Sales Training Stick

Liston Witherill
Liston Witherill
15 min read

Time alone can’t be the answer to expertise, it also must be about the quality of the time you put in. A concept called deliberate practice. It has four components: set a goal, practice with focus, get feedback and assess your limits then repeat the cycle and practice what you’ve learned.

One of the key issues with nearly all sales training is that, it’s event-driven rather than programmatic. In today’s episode, I’m going to share a multi-tier program to drive learning that you can practice individually, in pairs or with your team.

Let’s talk about practice:

  • Pain, Goals, and Values (PGV)
  • Reflect on Feedbacks
  • Active Listening

Whether you are practicing by yourself, with your partner or even with your team, it is important to identify your client’s Pain, Goals and Value. Diving into your customers’ pain points – specifically, what they are and how you can position your services as a potential solution.

Anytime you receive a feedback, take your time to reflect on what went well, what didn’t go well and what you would do differently next time. The goal of feedback is to guide better action steps moving forward.

By observing auditory, visual, and physical clues as well as the prospect’s words, you can truly begin to understand the plight of your prospect and put yourself in the buyer’s shoes. The mutual understanding that active listening enables is one of the best ways to earn and keep that trust throughout the sales process.

Learning is a method that must be continually strengthened. That’s why you always evaluate your limitations and then exercise what you’ve learned again and again.

Mentioned in this episode:

How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens

For more information on remote selling and a complete list of links mentioned in this podcast, visit this remote selling article on our website.

How to Make Sales Training Stick:

Full Transcript

10,000 hours. Apparently that’s what it takes to become a master of something. Or at least that’s the number you hear people repeating all the time. That’s what they would have you believe. It was made popular in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, but it is far from the whole story. You see, if you study experts, you’ll find that there’s not an exact formula for expertise. Some practice for 10,000 hours. Some practice more. Some practice less. Some of it is dependent on the person. Some of it is dependent on the kind of practice. I mean, think about it. How many people attempt to turn pro in sports every single year? The difference between them isn’t laziness. It’s more likely a variety of factors including genetics, the amount of practice that they’ve had, the quality of the practice, the ability to learn and apply what they’ve learned.

Now think about selling. If all it took was 10,000 hours to be the best, none of us would have to think about practice at all. You probably wouldn’t be listening to this. You’d simply learn through osmosis. We get everything we needed to be the best and just hey, I’m done. Call it a day. An average work year has 2000 working hours, so if you’re full time in sales and that’s your only job, it would only take you five years, you or anyone, to reach sales mastery. Now, that’s obviously ridiculous. Some reach mastery far faster, but most of us, yours truly included, take a bit longer. Steph Curry, the best shooter in the history of basketball, puts up 300 shots after every practice during the season and 500 shots every day in the offseason. 13-hour days of practice were common for Tiger Woods at his peak. Apparently Yo-Yo Ma has spent over 50,000 hours practicing in his life. Ryan holiday, an author, reads 250 books a year and has written a book a year for the last seven years. He’s only 32.

But millions of people have put in just as much time. Time alone can’t be the answer to expertise. It also must be about the quality of the time you put in, a concept called deliberate practice. It has four components. Number one, set a goal. Number two, practice with focus. Number three, get feedback. Number four, assess your limits and then you will repeat the cycle applying what you’ve learned.

As much as we know about practice and how to learn, we don’t apply much of it to sales. In fact, for a profession most directly responsible for revenue in a business, sales is surprisingly low on practice and low on rigor. But in today’s episode, I’m going to give you some ideas for how you can practice alone with a partner or with your team to improve your selling skills.

Welcome to Modern Sales, a podcast for entrepreneurs, business owners, and salespeople looking to have more and better conversations with your perfect clients. You’ll get a healthy scoop of psychology, behavioral economics, and sales studies to help you create win-win relationships. I’m your host Liston Witherill and I’m pleased to welcome you to Modern Sales.

Welcome to episode nine of the SDS training series of podcasts where I’m reviewing the core topics and ideas you would get in my sales training. If you’d like to start from the top, just go back to the sales process you need to win big clients. That’s the episode eight episodes back in your feed. To hear the overview, you can also visit the tools section of my website where you can get access to all of the past SDS training episodes in the series laid out on a single page well organized for you.

Big news, too. I’m writing a book. I’m planning to release it in January of 2020 and I’m editing the manuscript right now. If you’d like to be a beta reader, you can sign up for book updates, releases of the draft manuscript, and some special bonuses by visiting to sign up for emails from me and I will notify you when I am accepting beta readers. There’s no charge to you. If you want to take the time to read the manuscript and give me your feedback, I would very much appreciate it. You don’t have to, of course, and if you don’t feel like it, then just get my sales insights sent to your inbox weekly. Be sure to sign up for the newsletter, which is painfully obvious and easy to do on that same URL that I already mentioned,

Now, let’s talk about practice. One of the core problems with almost all sales training is that it’s event driven rather than programmatic. What I mean by that is it usually happens over a few days. You get really excited and pumped up about it. You learn 18 really cool things and then you forget 17.5 of those things because typically sales training lacks reinforcement. Even if your training program doesn’t happen over days, let’s say it happens over weeks or months, learning is a process that needs to be reinforced constantly.

I’m reading a book right now called How We Learn, which I very much recommend you take a look at if you’re interested in how and every other human being on planet earth learns. It is a fascinating read, but basically what I can tell you is the structure of sales training environments do not accurately reflect how we learn things. And so we have these training programs for an activity that directly reflects our ability to bring in revenue, and those training programs are not made in such a way that they follow the best practices of learning and training models that have been proven effective.

So the state of sales training definitely needs some help, and that’s part of why I’m here. It’s probably part of why you’re here, and there are a few causes of this. Some managers just don’t have the time, resources, or knowledge to train their teams. I get it. It is very busy, very stressful. There’s a lot going on as a manager and creating your own training program may not be at the top of the list. Some people just aren’t allocating enough time for it, and when they do, it’s over just a few days and perhaps the occasional management review, and that’s why so many of these training programs are really short term because people don’t plan properly for how much time it really requires to make a change in learning and to make a change in behavior. And finally, some people are just a little unorganized, which is not a big deal. I can definitely relate to that and maybe they need some outside help.

So hopefully what you can take away here, whether you’re a manager or an individual contributor, is something that you can take back to the other people on your team and share with them what you’ve learned. Even share this episode with them because there are some things in here that are part of my training and can be applied to any company doing complex sales.

So the way to really drive home learning and make it a part of the DNA of your team is to have a multi-tiered practice program that you can do by herself if you’re an individual contributor or with your team if you’re a manager. So I’ve broken out the rest of this episode into three sections: individual practice, practice in pairs, and team practice. I will give you examples of each that you can put into practice today as soon as you listen to this, but there are far too many exercises that I use then I can cover in this episode, so if you’re interested in more exercises, I will be releasing those both over the podcast and over my newsletter, so you can sign up for the newsletter or just subscribe to the podcast and there’ll be exercises to come.

In the opening of the episode, I reviewed the model for deliberate practice which really closely mirrors many standard training models and mirrors the training model that I use, and it starts with setting a goal, practicing with focus, getting feedback, and assessing your limits, and then you repeat the cycle applying what you’ve learned. Each of the exercises that I’m going to suggest to you has each of those stages, but I don’t have time to go over every little detail here, so let’s get into the exercises with no further caveats, I promise. Let’s get right into it.

The first exercise that you can do alone is to just start with PGV. You’re going to apply your pain goal value template to a current prospect. If you’re not already doing this, if I were in your office right now and I asked you, please review the pain goals value and how you’re going to connect that to your solutions or your products that you’re selling, tell me right now. If you can’t do that, then this is an exercise you should do.

Now, if you have no idea what the heck I’m talking about, go back and listen to the pain, goals, and value episodes if you’re not sure how to do this, but here’s the basic synopsis. You can pull out a sheet of paper, create a table with four columns, two rows, and in the first one you’ll write pain, then you write goals, then you write value, and then you’ll write solutions, and you’re going to populate those boxes. What pain is your client feeling right now? How bad is it? What other things is that affecting? Who else is being affected? What are the upstream or downstream effects of those pains? For goals?, How does your client want to fix each of those pains? It’ll just be the opposite of the pains. For value, what is the value of achieving each of those goals? And then for solution, how will you deliver a solution that connects directly to delivering your client the value that he or she seeks? That’s it. Once you do that, you will have a full sales story. The more you practice this, the less it will be required that you actually write it down, I promise. So that’s exercise number one. You can do this individually. Start with PGV and apply it to a current prospect.

Exercise number two is simply reflection. Any time you talk to a client, anytime you make a presentation, any time you send an email, any time you get any feedback from a client at all, take 10 seconds, 20 seconds, 30 seconds to reflect on what went well, what didn’t go well, and what you would do differently next time. Now, obviously it helps if you can get direct feedback from a client or from a colleague, but if you continue to develop your ability to self assess, you will get better much faster, not just at sales but at everything. Everything. Because once you identify something that you can change and you’re able to apply it, you will consistently get better.

The next individual exercise I recommend is practicing active listening with a stranger, and the exercise is really easy. Next time you see a stranger in a public place, if you’re taking a Lyft or an Uber, if you’re on the bus or subway, if you’re waiting in line at the grocery store, wherever you are, waiting in line is a good one because people are captive, ask the person a question about themselves. Something simple. How’s it going today? If you’re at the grocery store, you can always comment on something that they bought or ask them how it is. Whatever it is, start up a conversation and resist the urge to turn that conversation back to yourself. Just listen, and As you listen, ask follow up questions.

What you will find is it’s very easy for anybody, well, just about anybody, but let’s say 95% of people to fill up five or 10 minutes talking about themselves. They will walk away from that conversation thinking that you are incredibly charismatic and interesting even though you’ve said almost nothing except for being interested in them. So practice active listening, and what you’re going to do is not only avoid turning the conversation back to yourself, but also organize in your mind the things you’re learning about that person. Have intention when you’re listening to them and feel free to repeat back what you learned. This will help you ask follow-up questions and this will help you retain the information that you glean from people.

So those are the three exercises that I recommend you do alone. One is run your PGV exercise on a current prospect, number two is a simple reflection exercise after any milestone in the sales process, and number three is practicing active listening with a complete stranger.

Now, exercises you can do with a partner. The first is to tell your full sales story. The individual exercise was to go over your PGV, and we know PGV connects naturally to solutions, and so whatever goes on that paper essentially becomes your full sales story. It’s going to be what you tell your client. It’s going to be how you deliver the information back to them in your “pitch,” which really does a disservice to the investigative skills that you would apply to the sales process, but basically you’re going to recap what you’ve learned about your client’s situation and how you can help them.

When you do that, ask your partner for feedback. What they should do is tell you something that you did well and something that you can improve. With that feedback, deliver your story again, this time implementing what they told you could do to improve, and then switch. It’s really, really easy. I do recommend you do this with an actual deal or at least do it with a known client so everybody kind of knows what the facts are, but it’s also very applicable and feels like something that you would actually do for a real client. So that’s number one. Tell your full sales story to a partner and get their feedback.

Number two, one-page deal review. This is similar to the PGV exercise except we’re going to expand on that. We’re also going to include some account planning aspects of it. Who are the decision makers? What is your strategy? What are your next steps? What potential obstacles are there and how are you going to address those? What I recommend you do is show up with a one-page deal review complete, meaning you’re going to capture all of the information that’s most critical to tell your sales story and plan for that account, including next steps, and share it with your partner in no more than 15 minutes. Bring a printed copy. Don’t stare at a screen. Both of you can go over that printed copy and then your partner can give you 15 minutes or less of feedback.

That whole process for your deal review, and this should be your most important deal, of course, that whole process should only take 30 minutes. 15 minutes of you presenting your one-page deal review and 15 minutes or less of feedback, and then switch. The whole process should take less than an hour. You and a partner can both have a deal reviewed and collect feedback to really feed into that feedback loop. So those are two exercises you can do with a partner. One is focused earlier in on the sales process and that’s where you tell your full sales story. The second one is focused on closer to the conclusion of the sales process, which is your one-page deal review.

Now, exercises for managers. I have two for you. I have many more than that, but for the sake of this podcast and for your time and attention, I’m only going to give you two. The number one thing I would recommend you do if you are a manager or you might suggest maybe just give this podcast to your manager without telling them that they should be doing something, but just give it to them and they’ll be hearing me say this right now, and that is a weekly pipeline review.

I once worked in an environment where the manager did this in front of everybody, which turned into an excuse for beating up people for not doing their jobs. I don’t recommend you do that. That is not the kind of culture I would want to work in. I didn’t enjoy it. Nobody enjoyed it and it was overall extremely counterproductive, so I recommend you not do a weekly pipeline review as a group.

What I recommend you do as a manager is a weekly pipeline review with each individual. It should go relatively quickly as you get the hang of it, but basically you’re just going to ask what are your top priorities right now, what are you doing to advance them, and what’s getting in your way? That’s it. It’s not story time. It’s time to focus on the 30,000-foot view and make sure all of the priorities are aligned for the week. So number one, weekly pipeline review.

The second thing that I think is a great thing for managers to do is urge your team to have weekly presentations that they create. It should be something that they learned. Maybe it’s how they closed a specific deal or how they got a big logo client. Maybe it’s something that they learned about why they lost a deal. Now, a quick caveat on that one. If you don’t foster a culture of learning and openness, no one’s going to be willing to present a presentation on why they lost a deal, so this could actually be a way for you to take the temperature of your own culture. I think it’s really critical to examine why you lost deals. Not just any deal, but particularly deals you think you should have won. Those are really good ones to pull some lessons and extract some learning out of, so that might be something that you can cover, but whatever you want it to be. It can be anything. How people manage their time, how they build rapport, trust faster, whatever it is.

Have people put together a webinar or some sort of video meeting, maybe even a meeting in the conference room, but if you do video meetings, you can record them and start to build a library of content that came from the people on the front lines, and it helps everybody watching them actually learn from their peers. There’s a layer of authenticity that comes with that and a layer of application that comes from that that just can’t be matched anywhere else. So I really like this idea of team presentations. It can build a learning library for you, especially if you give some guidelines for your team members on how to create those presentations and in particular how to make them actionable and structure some key takeaways at the end. So those are the two exercises I recommend for managers. Number one, weekly pipeline review, and number two, team presentations.

Speaking of key takeaways, here are yours. Adopt a habit of self reflection and that’ll accelerate your command of serve, don’t sell or any other sales methodology or any other sales thing or anything actually that you attempt to learn and do. Self reflection, honest reflection, including self-awareness, will make a gigantic difference in your ability to learn and improve. There are plenty of exercises you can do on your own to improve your selling skills. I’ve given you just a few here. You can also bring in a partner or recommend exercises to people on your team. If you want to improve yourself and help someone else, too, do partner up. Having a partner will accelerate your learning process and create external accountability to practice. Use the one-page deal review alone with a partner or with your team to identify the major points you need to cover in your sales story to your clients. If you’re a manager or working with a team, implement at least one team-wide exercise to help drive adoption, team learning, and show some small wins that others can learn from.

This is the final episode in the SDS training series. You can get all of the episodes in this series by subscribing to this podcast and whatever podcast app you use or just head over to the tools section on where you can find all of these episodes organized on a single page. If you aren’t already subscribed, please do so. Just click the subscribe button, and it also helps me get the word out if you share this podcast with a colleague or friends, and it would really be helpful if you shared it on LinkedIn, of course only if you got something out of this. And finally, if you’re looking for help training your team to sell more to big companies, I can help with remote and onsite options. Just head over to, click the contact button, and you can fill out a quick form to begin the conversation. Thank you so much for listening. My name is Liston Witherill of Serve Don’t Sell, and I hope you have a fantastic day.

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