How has selling changed since February, 2020? So much in daily life has changed that it is hard to know where to start, but the main question is, "What does a sales representative need in order to be effective in 2021?" In this article, I will outline some of the answers, including resources.

Sales enablement

The answer generally falls within the topic of "sales enablement" and that covers a lot more than will fit into a 750-word article. Sales enablement is systematic support for learning, remembering, and applying the details of content, information, and technique that a sales rep needs in order to be successful. There are a number of elements that can be included as part of sales enablement—from onboarding to performance support—and the delivery can involve everyone in the sales team as well as subject matter experts, instructional designers, and copywriters. When everything is in place, the sales manager will be able to effectively manage the sales pipeline, and the sales reps will have the knowledge, skills, and resources needed to find out and match the prospective customer's needs and decision criteria and to close the sale.

The sales enablement system itself will vary according to the industry and the organization. The fundamental elements that a sales rep needs for success fall into the same general categories that have always existed:

  • A well-understood "pipeline" process that organizes the flow and events of selling
  • Understanding of the concept of "qualification"
  • The skill needed to qualify a prospect or prospective account
  • The ability (understanding and skill) needed to identify and deal with obstacles (mainly objections and competitors) to closing a sale
  • The resources and materials needed to support each of the elements
  • The skill needed to close a sale

Resources for sales enablement

Much of this can be (and is) handled through onboarding, coaching, and sales training. In the present setting where things must be done at a distance, we have a lot of technology to support all of these elements.

Scenario-based training and simulations

The overall approach and some of the tools have been described in Learning Solutions articles.

Short sims are another specific approach that can be developed quickly.

Product knowledge training

There are a number of apps and other software that will improve the level of knowledge among the sales teams. For example, Trivie aims to make sales teams more effective, more efficient, more responsive, and increase customer and employee satisfaction. This use case has been deployed across banking, pharma, financial services, and technology companies. It is also used in sales onboarding to help bring sales teams up to speed quickly and to reduce time to revenue.

Advanced approaches to learning

Spaced repetition is a relatively new approach to supporting learning, and there are apps and software for that. Most are more for use by individuals than by L&D, but they are effective. Specifically, I have in mind Neuracache for spaced repetition. In addition, note-taking apps such as Obsidian, in combination with Neuracache and Roam Research, are also worth considering for use.

Gamification and microlearning are also extremely useful for sales training as a remote application. Learning Solutions has published several articles on these applications.

Priorities for 2021

While coaching is the most important element for sales managers to carry out in 2021, sales enablement must be supported by L&D as well as sales leadership. Scenarios and short sims are the quickest to implement. Product knowledge training and onboarding are the truly vital pieces, although they take more time to implement and need more attention from leadership. Spaced repetition, gamification, and microlearning require more development time and are relatively new approaches, so L&D will have more work to do to implement them. But the good news is that they are lasting additions to the catalog of ways to get the job done.