by Sona Jepsen | November 11, 2016
Modern consumers are more educated and tech-savvy than ever before. They scrutinize product pages, visit review forums, and solicit feedback from their networks before they even consider making a purchase. If there's a negative story out there about a product, they've heard it -- and they're not converting until their fears have been assuaged.

With all of that thinking and overthinking built into the buyer's journey, sales teams have to work hard to keep their products in the queue.

Sales representatives need to know what's being said about their companies so they can anticipate objections. But they also need to understand the context in which prospective customers are making purchase decisions: What industries do they work in? Where are they located? Have they bought from the company before? All of this information helps sales reps create trust and confidence.

The companies with the best sales records invest in their salesforce's education. They provide up-to-the-minute data on who their customers are and how reps can connect with them. Great teams are built through consistent training, development, and communication.

Sales executives hire based on coachability for this very reason. Someone who absorbs information quickly and is eager to learn is a critical sales asset. Reps should know everything there is to know about a product. They must be able to articulate exactly how it solves prospects' problems and why it's the best option.

Organizations looking to boost their sales numbers should use the following strategies to build a well-educated workforce:

1. Train first, then launch.

A lot of businesses are so focused on launching their products that they neglect to teach their sales teams how to sell. IDC reported that organizations invest $5 billion a year in sales training, but 80 percent of reps forget what they learned within 30 days.

Rather than hold boring, one-off lectures, businesses should train their reps in real-world, "learn like you earn" situations. This teaches them how to analyze client problems, empathize with prospects, and attune their personalities to customers' preferences. Even though the scenarios are simulated, they'll prepare team members to interface with actual clients.

2. Keep the learning alive with ongoing training.

Sales teams should always be sharpening their tools. Companies can schedule frequent skills development seminars so representatives can improve throughout the year.

Gamified training is a great way to motivate people to go the extra mile, and it creates friendly competition on the team. Mobile apps also offer simple, low-cost training options for ongoing learning. App programs won't be as comprehensive as in-person sessions, but they cover the gaps between more intensive programs.

3. Update your toolbox.

The right sales tools improve productivity and success rates. Customer relationship management (CRM) platforms and customer databases provide organized, in-depth information sales teams can use to better understand their audiences.

Basic tools such as templates for sales letters or automatic quote generators also make it easier for salespeople to do their jobs. The less time they have to waste on mundane, manual tasks, the more they can spend building customer relationships. Social media platforms such as LinkedIn also serve as valuable resources for connecting with prospects.

An educated sales team will be infinitely more successful than one left to fend for itself. CRM platforms and analytics systems enable businesses to capture incredible amounts of information about their audiences. Businesses should use that data to empower their sales reps.

Increasing sales numbers cannot be achieved by salespeople alone. It requires a leadership team that's willing to invest in its employees and give them what they need to succeed.

Sona Jepsen is the global head of sales enablement at Fidelity National Information Services. Her team empowers FIS's global sales teams with sales content, strategic insights, and world-class learning and development opportunities.