Training the Sales Persona

When it comes to training salespeople, trainers need to design programs that engage a dynamic, sociable, flexible, competitive, and highly esteemed audience.

Salespeople are an odd lot. I say that with affection, as well as perception into my own profession of choice. We think differently, learn differently, and respond differently. Understanding these differences is critical when developing any sort of training for this specific audience. This difference is important not only in looking at “sales techniques” training but in any other training that is required by salespeople as part of their organization. It could be for learning software, understanding finance, or improving business acumen, management, or brand understanding. These types of trainings normally would be designed for many individuals within an organization, and many have a “one-size-fits-all” approach. If this is the case with your training, you may want to re-examine these sales-specific sessions and tailor them for the typical differences in learning styles.

In order to tailor training to be sales audience-specific, you first want to get into the psychology of a successful seller. There are some useful assessment tools that were created for the individual and can provide valuable insight to help you categorize the most common traits for a group of salespeople.

DISC Profiles

The DISC assessment tool is one many people are familiar with in the business world, so I’ll reference those profiles. The results of these assessments show how individuals respond to conflict, what motivates them, what causes stress, and how they solve problems. The assessment also uncovers how people respond to customer styles and the disposition and priorities of employees and team members. This is great information to have when designing training that meant to effectively change participant behavior.

DISC profiling breaks personalities down into four basic styles and charts which of the characteristics an individual exhibits most strongly. The majority of salespeople fall somewhere within the “I” (Influence) category. Many also lean more toward the “D” (Dominant) side of “I” and some land firmly in the center between the two. Of course, not all salespeople are the same, but we have identified some commonalities within this group. Wherever they land on these charts, many of the following characteristics apply to the sales persona:

  • Enthusiasm. This is the good news for trainers. Most likely you’re not going to deliver to a stiff, unengaged audience. Salespeople are optimists. They will be open to the material as long as it makes sense for them. As with any participant, it is important to establish buy-in. With salespeople, it helps if they can relate to the person presenting. Is this a person who “gets them,” who understands their styles of communication, and who has some experience or knowledge of their role?
  • Prestige. Aside from jokes about the egomaniacal salesperson, there is truth in the need for acclaim, recognition, and status that shows up on the influencer profile. For instance, we use recorded mystery shops that have been conducted by phone to the participant as part of the buy-in for our many of our training sessions. With employees in other departments, we can play those recordings in front of the class, and they usually serve as an “aha!” moment—“This is what I sound like and I could possibly improve.” We never choose a terrible example, but usually there is some obvious improvement possible. With salespeople, we have learned to let them listen to their own recordings at a break—privately. This works well and allows them to see their need for improvement without suffering the embarrassment that public exposure even to minor flaws may cause. We have found that unlike other participants, if the salesperson has been embarrassed at all by the recording, we probably have lost his or her attention for the foreseeable future. We also have found that while others might listen to a peer and think, “I probably have made that same mistake, too,” salespeople need to hear their own voice for the most resonance.  On the flip side, public positive recognition is a great way to motivate this group, and I encourage certificates and awards at least at the end of the sessions, if not interspersed throughout.
  • Focus. This personality type does not do well with long-term focus. Interjecting many exercises into the sessions helps with this. Allow the sales participants to talk as much as possible. This is a great way for them to learn and helps release some pent-up energy so they then can open their minds again to hear the trainer or others speak.
  • Social interaction. Most salespeople thrive on communicating with others and the synergies created from this. Introduce group activities, but moderate them, time them, and keep them to the task. Often when the activity time is up, you will find the attendees still chatting and making small talk. That getting to know each other is important to them. You can get a head start on this by using a getting to know you type of icebreaker or build in a social time prior to the training.
  • Flexibility. Many people in other disciplines are rule driven. They read a manual front to back and do things exactly as they are written. They don’t need to know the “why” of something, only the “how.” This does not describe most salespeople. Sellers tend to live in grey areas and are a bit more creative when it comes to following the rules. Salespeople probably have more freedom and flexibility in their jobs than some other positions in their organization. They have to know why they should change their behavior or they may not do it once they go back to their jobs. They also would like to hear different alternative ways that work for their individuality.
  • Competition. Although it is considered more of a dominant trait, competition is still one that many salespeople possess. If not competitive with others, they are competitive in their personal goals and with self-improvement. Most work independently and are driven to achieve. Activities and exercises that allow competition either in groups or individually will be a big hit, and if tied in to learning goals, can be a great way to increase their retention.

Working with salespeople can be rewarding—really! Design training to engage a dynamic, sociable, flexible, competitive, and highly esteemed audience. Supply your trainer with activities, reasons behind the rules, and time for social interaction. You will see a difference in participant reviews and results that achieve your goals for behavioral change.

Amber Fox is National director of Sales at Signature Worldwide, a Dublin, OH-based company offering sales and customer service training, marketing, and mystery shopping services for a variety of service-based industries. For more information, call 800.398.0518 or visit You also can connect with Signature on Twitter @SignatureWorld and on Facebook.


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