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April 16, 2018

8 Design Thinking Principles for Sales Training Success

In the last article, I noted that many sales training programs focus on learning objectives without a similar emphasis on improving (or measuring) business outcomes.

In other words, most programs are designed to teach employees new skills and behaviors, but fail align these objectives with goals such as greater market share or higher customer retention.

To bring both sets of goals into alignment, future training programs can be built around the principles of “Design Thinking” as outlined in Design Thinking for Strategic Innovation. Below are eight principles that trainers can map any program to. 


8 Principles of Design Thinking

  1. Start with Why

    Align the program to the business need by taking a problem-solving approach at the systems level. Is the need a problem or an opportunity? If it’s a problem, look for a solution that will produce a business impact. If it’s an opportunity, make sure you define that opportunity before seeking ways to address it. In both instances, you’ll also need to develop very specific business measures based on the data you will generate.

  2. Make it Feasible

    The objective here is to use curiosity and inquiry to clearly understand what the organization is doing – or not doing – that’s impacting a particular business outcome. Once this is done, your task is to devise a program that incorporates activities that positively influence that outcome.

  3. Expect Success

    Design a program that is purpose-built to achieve the desired results. That’s actually a switch from how many sales training programs are built.

  4. Make It Matter

    Do this by applying empathy. Be sure you understand the role of the training participants – the stresses and strains on the salesperson, the challenges that sales managers face when interacting with them, etc. Use empathy to put yourself in the position of the people for whom you’re designing your results-oriented training.

  5. Make It Stick

    You want trainees to actually use what’s taught. You want them to use it, try it, make it work and transfer it to the job. To design techniques for application, talk to participants about how to use them with customers. If a customer objects, how do they counter the objection? What’s the next step? Always consider how the training will be applied in real-world scenarios.

  6. Make It Credible

    Use data generated during the program to support its existence and/or modify it for better results. Measure results and calculate ROI. Keep in mind, however, that ROI is only one measure. There are six types of outcomes: reaction, learning, application, impact, ROI and intangibles (impacts not converted to money). Don’t make a decision about a program’s success based entirely on one data set.

  7. Tell a Story

    Design thinking involves storytelling – telling your “best story” to executives. The narrative should be centered on data that supports your findings.

  8. Optimize Results through “Black Box Thinking”

    Black Box Thinking involves improving your program by analyzing previous mistakes. By collecting data, and measuring and evaluating what isn’t working (as well as what is working), you optimize results over time. In addition, you make a stronger case for allocating more money to the process. As you measure to improve, you also drive your future funding.



For more information on how to tailor your sales training program based on your sales team’s learning habits, read our research report on Salesperson Learning Preferences

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