Catalytic Management Consulting
Accelerating Growth, Driving Performance

Four Steps for HR Professionals in Designing Sales Training

As the HR professional in your organization, you may be faced with the need to define and even develop sales training for your sales team. If your organization is not large enough to staff experienced sales professionals in a training role, you may feel challenged by the prospect of designing sales training.

After all, sales people are often viewed as an alien species; as a necessary evil in the eyes of non-sales people. In addition, many in sales management believe that “if you haven’t been in the trenches selling” you can’t possibly design an effective sales training program. While there is some truth to both of these opinions, non-selling HR professionals can design effective sales training.

But designing sales training requires more than asking standard questions about weaknesses in the sales team. You will need to assume the role of “internal consultant” and work with your sales management to develop a relevant and sustaining sales training program. Following the four step program outlined here will establish your credibility with sales management and demonstrate that design is a collaborative effort.

Ultimately, any training program should introduce the skills required to be successful in a particular job function. The complexity of the sales function, however, can make the skills definition more difficult. Accurately and clearly defining which sales skills should be the focus of the training takes careful evaluation using the four steps presented above.

STEP #1: Defining the Sales Role

Not all sales roles have the same focus or goals, and understanding your sales team roles is vital to developing relevant and lasting training. There are three (3) aspects of a sales role that must be identified:

1. The sales goal for that role. Is the goal retention, expansion, acquisition or partner development? Sales goals are not as simple as saying, “increase revenue” or “meet this dollar or margin goal.” The ultimate goal is financial but the actions the sales person takes and thus the skills they need are dependent upon their focus; some examples include retaining customers, expanding the existing customer relationship, acquiring new customers, or building relationships with partners that will sell for you.

2. The direction of the sales role. Is the team an outbound selling team or are they an inbound team? Outbound sales teams are considered “street specialists,” even if their territory is worldwide. They sell by physically meeting with customers. The role of an inbound team can be defined in several ways:

a. prospecting and lead generation only, referring the leads to the outbound sales team to close
b. calling a specific targeted list and closing sales themselves
c. taking inbound calls from customers and closing the sale

Obviously the skills for outbound and inbound sales will be similar but their focus is likely to be on a limited subset of more general sales skills.

3. The focus of the selling, direct or indirect. Is the sales team selling directly to the end customer or is the sales team selling to channel partners who conduct the direct sale and manage the end customer relationship? Understanding the specific sales roles within your organization will impact the next step in the design process: defining and mapping your organization’s sales process.

STEP #2: Defining and Mapping the Sales Process

Every sales person follows a sales process. It may be well-defined and understood, or it may be driven by trial and error or just by instinct. For better or worse, however, there is a process. The best sales departments have a defined and documented sales process that is based on best practices gleaned from their own history or from industry standards. That defined process should then be tracked and driven by Customer Relationship Management or Sales Enablement software. As the curriculum designer, you will need to understand and “map” that sales process. If your sales department has never taken the time to define and document their sales process, then your role as an internal consultant has just become more valuable. You can drive and play a pivotal role in this vital exercise. Understanding the sales process gives the sales team and its management the knowledge necessary to duplicate success and Mapping the process will itemize the actions required of sales people for each step in the process and thus will allow you to identify the skills required to successfully execute the particular steps in the sales process.

Basic Sales Process

  1. Prospect, Lead Generation
  2. Qualify, Approach
  3. Discovery, Needs Assessment
  4. Solution Development
  5. Close
  6. Manager

NOTE: When you define the sales process, take advantage of the opportunity to fine-tune and improve upon what is currently being done. The first round should be an “as is” map of the process which then becomes the “future” map after sales management has evaluated and adjusted the process for higher success.

STEP #3: Defining the Skills

Using the map of your organization’s specific sales process and the actions required under each step, you can now begin to define the specific skills required to execute each action under each step of the sales process. At this point in the training design, the sales process should be more about the “how” to move through the process rather than the “what” of the process, so list the real actions sales people should take to be successful thoroughly.

STEP #4: Assessing the Skills

Identifying the skills required to be successful in sales in your organization is not the end of the training design. Effective training is customized and targeted and thus must focus on the right skills and not on all the skills.

Each sales person should be assessed for their competency in each skill. Aggregating the results will tell you where the team has common strengths and weaknesses. In consultation with sales management, you can determine which skills are most influential in ensuring success. This information, coupled with the common weaknesses, will determine which skills should be the focus of your training design.

Where individuals have unique weaknesses, coaching and individual training would be appropriate. Building training for the lowest common denominator alienates your best sales people and frustrates your good sales people.


Sales training design is a process that anyone can master and deploy. Using the process described here ensures that non-sales people are successful at designing the content and focus of effective training. Your biggest challenge now becomes: who should facilitate the training?

The best sales training is delivered by sales professionals who have been there and done it–successfully–but who also understand that their way is not the only way. Sales training should introduce skills, concepts, and exercises to practice the skills and real life scenarios that are relevant to your industry and customers. Facilitators or trainers should introduce real life tips and tricks but must not demand conformity to their style or approach to selling. There is room for individuality in executing the steps of the sale process. Facilitators who see training as a “pulpit” to preach their truth are doomed to deliver irrelevant training. Using the four steps and doing proper preparation will empower you to find the right facilitator for the job, and ensure that the skills introduced are implemented.

Back to top ^