The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) recently published a whitepaper on "Selling with Competence: How Sales Teams Succeed." In that whitepaper, the authors discuss recent trends and research in the sales training profession.

In order to determine what salespeople need to learn, we must first determine what they need to know. No longer are product knowledge, persuasiveness, and persistence enough.

To truly understand what successful sales team members need to know and do, ASTD asked them.

ASTD Research surveyed 210 sales trainers and 179 salespeople during the summer of 2007. Overwhelmingly, respondents said that they value sales training and believe it to be very or extremely important.

When asked about the skills required to be successful in their jobs, survey respondents indicated these top five:

  • Asking effective or productive questions of customers
  • Becoming a better listener
  • Selling with the customer's best interest in mind
  • Making ethical decisions
  • Leveraging sales approaches that are adaptable from one situation to the next.

Respondents were also asked what kind of knowledge is required to be successful in their jobs. Valuable knowledge areas include:

  • Customer requirements and potential uses of the product or service
  • Product knowledge
  • Company knowledge (of the selling company)
  • Knowledge about competitor companies.

Accenture research found that although 146 of 244 executives from six countries said that the sales team plays the most prominent role in their company's long- and short-term success, 41 percent of managers and executives from more than 2,500 sales organizations said that their salespeople are performing below expectations (Nightingale Conant/Andy Miller).

ASTD advocates a new approach, one in which the sales development and training needs of sales teams are viewed through a strategic and holistic lens. To be successful, this approach requires the alignment of all aspects of talent management, skills development, and sales process execution. Revenue goals must be aligned with business outcomes and business processes that are deliberately designed to allow salespeople to develop productive customer relationships and deliver appropriate solutions. Further, salespeople must be equipped and empowered to make decisions that benefit both the buying and selling organizations, and sales managers must be given both the time and the training to coach and develop their sales teams.