Building a training program during the early stages of a startup can be daunting. When you’re starting out with only a few sales reps, it’s easy to have them figure it out on their own as opposed to buckling down and building a program. However, at this stage, everyone is going to have a huge impact on the company – not only in terms of ACV, but their attitude, overall demeanor and how they interact with the next class of hires. These people will grow to be leaders in your company, so training here is extremely important.
The longer a company goes without creating a training program, the harder it will be to develop it because they’ll be reluctant to devote time and resources to it. We’ve come up with three main training pillars at Yotpo that have worked out well when starting a new training class – and can also be a good starting point for your startup.
During the first week of training, we help our new hires become experts on product – we’ll teach them things they’ll never even have to talk about regarding product, just to make sure that they truly know it inside and out. This type of training will differ from company to company, depending on what type of product you have.
On the first day, we pitch the product to our trainees like we would to a client. We tell them to not to take notes or ask questions for this first session – we just want them to gather context for everything they’re going to learn over the course of the week.
Throughout the week we have training sessions on product which are run like a college course. Each lecture is accompanied by reading material, which our trainees have read before they come in for the lecture. They come into the lecture with intelligent questions and we give them quizzes throughout the week so we can make sure they’re retaining information and can find out where they’re struggling.
At the end of the week the trainees are given a Product Certification Test, which they are required to pass in order to continue with training.
The Product Certification Test started out as an oral test which took about an hour and was run by our VP of Product and one of our Product Managers. However, we have recently moved our format to a 100 question multiple choice test. No question is off-limits – we want to make sure that they truly know the product inside and out when they take the test.
2. Sales Process
This might be something that goes without saying, but how often are you really training your AEs in your sales process besides having them shadow other AEs?
Learning and going through rigorous sales training is valuable, since you want your AEs to be prepared for everything. People don’t retain every single thing they learn, so that’s why we often teach them more than they’ll need to know. We set high expectations for both ourselves in training them and the trainees themselves – it’s important for their success with Yotpo and their future careers.
We break down the sales process step-by-step for our AEs, from prospecting leads to closing deals – we show our trainees what an ideal customer looks like, how to identify those customers and then have them prospect 200 leads themselves. Even though most of them will end up having SDRs, it’s important for AEs to know what it’s like to prospect leads, and it also provides them with the added benefit of understanding how we use Salesforce.
We then teach them about the different types of calls that they will experience – exploratory, demos and closings. Again we have lectures and readings, which are broken up by call type. Each one of these sessions is accompanied by a script and live examples.
We also like to have trainees intelligently shadow some calls from our top current AEs. They shadow two calls with every AE, and for each call they bring back thoughts, notes and feedback to the training sessions. The trainees also complete roleplays both amongst themselves and with AEs and bring back feedback from each roleplay.
At the end of this week, we put all the trainees through a Sales Certification process. We let them choose a lead that they prospected and have them imagine that they are talking to either the VP of Marketing, Head of Ecommerce, whomever the decision maker would be in the situation and have them do a demo and closing call roleplay with us. We plant specific obstacles during the process, where we expect certain answers in order for them to pass.
People always talk about culture and making sure someone is well acclimated, but the trainees ultimately need to be integrated really, really well for that to actually happen. Usually, the people that have been at the company the longest haven’t even been there for a relatively long time, so you want to make sure this part of training is done very well. Ultimately, these will be the future leaders of your company – they will be training other people and become managers and leaders, so they need to be on board with the mission and vision of how you’re going to achieve the goals of your company.
Being transparent from the start is an important value here: just because someone is new doesn’t mean that you should be holding out on anything. Have the founders or CEO communicate the values of the company to them extremely early on and share the company goals with them. This gives new hires an immediate sense of belonging and an understanding that everybody is working towards the same goal.
Sometimes doing really corny things, even though they’re, well, corny – actually ends up working pretty well. Doing some icebreakers like two truths and a lie, sharing an embarrassing story about yourself, group lunches – these kinds of activities help a training class bond and then in turn help the training class connect with the rest of the company.
We’ll have some surprise events too – things like going to Central Park and throwing a frisbee around or even paintballing. It works well because we can all laugh about the experience the next day, and it creates a fun environment for everyone.
While these are the pillars we use for our training program, you can tailor them to fit the training program you want your new hires to go through. However, it’s incredibly important that companies offer ongoing training for their employees and don’t just cut off after the first couple weeks of onboarding. Most great people want to keep improving in their job – part of it is up to the individual employee, but the rest is up to the company.
We offer continued learning sessions for sales processes and tactics around specific situations; we also make sure that each employee is getting coached on an individual level by her or his manager. Something that’s equally as important to us as making sure AEs are up to date in their sales skills is to make sure they’re up to date with other relevant knowledge, so we conduct ongoing sessions around industry knowledge and best practices. We’re selling to online marketers, so if our salespeople are able to have intelligent conversations with prospects about their jobs, then we’ll have a huge advantage. The overall philosophy here is that training never ends. If you want your company to grow, then you should probably invest in growing your people first.
Have any questions or comments about how to build out your training program? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is a guest post by Jordan Gutman, the Head of Sales Training at Yotpo. Yotpo is a customer content marketing platform that generates reviews, social Q&A and rich media and uses this content to drive traffic and increase conversions.