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Tips for Building a Sales Certification Program

5 Tips from Iterable’s Rachel Ha’o for How to Create a Sales Certification Program

Nearly every organization offers a sales certification program. Why? Because they provide short- and long-term benefits to the people receiving training as well as the companies that employ them. But too often, creating sales certification programs is done in a hurry, because they’re overshadowed by other priorities and goals. They become a checkbox on the sales reps’ to-do list, rather than a critical part of their professional development. 

Rachel Ha’o, Global Sales Enablement at Iterable, believes that when any program becomes a checkbox instead of a means to generate more revenue, that’s a big missed opportunity, and can have the opposite intended effect. When a sales certification program is designed with specific goals and intentions from the beginning, it can generate more immediate results and have a long-lasting impact on employee retention and revenue. 

A sales enablement veteran, Rachel used WorkRamp to build Iterable’s most successful framework for a sales certification program to date — a comprehensive program that includes training, coaching and key readiness metrics to ensure sales reps get ramped up and ready for prime time. Stephanie Middaugh, Director of Enablement at WorkRamp, recently interviewed Rachel, who deconstructed Iterable’s Discovery Call Challenge program and shared actionable tips for designing a winning sales certification program. Here are 5 of them:

1. Collaborate with leadership to establish the goals for your program. Rachel’s philosophy for building sales certification programs revolves around two core values: growth mindset and humility. “We encourage everyone at every level to improve and strive to do their best,” she said. “Sales certification courses are meant to provide the infrastructure for revenue-generating humans to learn and grow in a measurable way.”

To that end, the first step, Rachel said, is to define program objectives, which requires close collaboration with the leadership team. “What I’ve seen at other companies is that certification is a pass/fail endeavor, and the prize is a fancy piece of paper that proves certification,” she said. “But that’s not serving the purpose of measuring the effectiveness of your training programs as they relate to revenue targets. You need to be very clear on your learning objectives from the beginning, how those objectives tie into your ability to generate revenue, and over what period of time you’re going to measure success.” 

2. State the purpose of the sales certification program and provide clear instructions. Once you’ve worked with upper management to define objectives and KPIs, the next step is to communicate to learners the purpose of the training. This holds true for every module they’re required to complete, not just certifications. 

“When asked to complete any type of sales certification program, most people roll their eyes and wonder why they’re required to do it,” said Rachel. “Without solidified objectives, the training is irrelevant.” Rachel added that learners must be clear that every learning objective will eventually translate into generating revenue. “For each module, state why the information is relevant to their job and how it will help them close more business.”

Additionally, Rachel suggests providing clear instruction on what’s required, how they will complete the training, and expectations for achieving certification.

3. Deliver meaningful content at the right time to avoid cognitive overload. Rachel recommends delivering training in “microsteps,” topic by topic, because it helps build understanding at a pace that doesn’t result in cognitive overload. “If you consistently reinforce new skills or behaviors with content that builds over a series of modules, learners are naturally more engaged,” she said. “It’s similar to the concept of building a home. You don’t want to jump ahead to painting walls and hanging pictures right after you pour the concrete. You need every step in between to make sure you have a livable house at the end of construction.”

These “microsteps,” Rachel said, are critical to ensuring sales reps assimilate the new skills and behaviors as they’re moving through the sales certification program. “Not only do you need to consider what trainings are relevant, you have to introduce them when they’re relevant,” she said. 

As you’re developing the content, Rachel said it’s important to engage with the sales leaders to make sure it’s designed to deliver the desired results. “Bring frontline managers and leadership into the conversation, and ask them for specific real-world examples to include in the trainings,” she said.

4. Engage learners by keeping it real. Delivering content in bite-sized modules with WorkRamp guides that build off each other, along with real-world simulations, helps to keep learners engaged throughout the program. For example, during the Discovery Call Challenge, Iterable’s reps are taken through a full simulation of a call, from the beginning of scheduling a call using all necessary tools and systems, to the end in scoring calls using call listening software. This ensures they’ve internalized the trainings and also understand how all the various tools involved in a call — Google, Gong, Zoom and others — work together. 

Rachel also suggests working with HR or L&D to find ways to incentivise employees to complete sales certification programs. “Say you have a structure for career advancement at your organization, for example, an account executive can move into a senior account executive position and eventually become a manager,” she said. “Partner with HR to define the set of skills necessary to advance in that architecture, and incorporate certifications or a leveling up of skills they’ve been learning in Workramp. People will be naturally incentivised to engage with the content so they can move forward in their career.” 

Finally, Rachel offered some ideas for engaging remote learners who complete sales certification online and may suffer from Zoom fatigue. “When people are going through Google doc after Google doc and stuck on Zoom meetings all day, all they see is black and white Arial font, from the moment they start working in the morning until they stop in the evening,” she said. “We use color and size differentiation, gifs, images and more as part of our instructional design methodology, to activate learners’ brains and keep them engaged with the content.” 

5. Measure engagement and rep readiness. Of course no training program is successful until you can provide concrete proof of engagement and effectiveness. One of the ways Rachel measures ongoing engagement is by tracking activity in Workramp, which is particularly helpful in today’s hybrid work environment. “We know learners are engaged by their activity in Workramp,” she said. “And we can see that engagement doesn’t stop once the sales certification program is complete. They may log in to WorkRamp to review content, or bring an outline or checklist into a discovery call,” she said. “They use the content live in the wild, which helps increase retention.” 

To measure training success and ensure it sticks, managers at Iterable are asked to score their reps during discovery and demo call simulations. Rachel uses a scorecard in Gong, where frontline managers score employees following the mock calls. “Managers at Iterable are expected to consistently score their reps’ calls inside of Gong,” she said. “They answer some questions around whether or not they’re customer-ready based on what they’ve learned. We don’t want to put reps in front of customers until they’re ready, so this is a key piece of the training.” 

Rachel developed the scorecards in Gong to map to specific skills and motions that were trained on throughout the microlearning guides that learners take leading up to the certification. Learners are given the scorecard ahead of time, and because it lives in Gong, they are expected to use it on their mock role play calls in preparation for their certification.

Get Everyone in Lockstep

Rachel says that staying in lockstep with managers throughout training is critical to success. “Training should have a multiplier effect on what the best managers are already doing,” she said. “Enablement’s job is to make what works well repeatable and consistent for everyone on the sales team. With WorkRamp, our call simulations, and effective measurement, we can ensure the skills the reps learn are reinforced and live on, post-certification.”

WorkRamp’s partnership with Iterable is just one example of how we’re helping enablement teams deliver outstanding sales certification programs. Watch this full webinar here, and visit our customer testimonials page to learn why market-leading organizations such as Box, Outreach and Reddit choose to partner with WorkRamp for effective onboarding.

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Michelle Mckinley

Head of Growth Marketing, WorkRamp

Decrease Ramp Time and Increase Revenue

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