Every year organizations spend billions of dollars on training and professional development, yet there are still pundits that say “sales training doesn’t work.” Why is it that a sales training program works well for some organizations while others struggle to gain a measurable ROI? We have some answers.
- Ensure it’s the Right Solution – There are two reasons to conduct sales training. First, sales training introduces a sales methodology that provides everyone with a consistent process for call planning, opportunity management and/or account management. Second, it can improve specific sales skills and competencies (for example, how to sell to the C-Suite, conduct a negotiation, improve presentation skills). Sales training works best following an empirical examination of the deficiencies and gaps in vital skills of front line sellers.
Sales training won’t correct poor brand image, recurring product performance problems or weak performers that were a bad fit for the sales role. Validate the link between sales performance and learning content.
- Get Buy-In– For sales training to work it needs to be embraced and supported by
company leadership, especially within sales leadership. Be sure everyone sees the value of the training and speaks positively about the need, importance and relevance. Sales management must do more than pay for the training. They must attend, participate and endorse. They have to show the sales force the training is important. This means they attend the program and actively participate.
- Communicate a Vision Early & Often– Sales training is planned for a reason. The company CEO and/or Vice President of Sales should articulate its purpose in writing or in a video prior to the session. If the training will be facilitator led, sales leadership should kick-off each session with its stated purpose and they should close each session with next steps. Over the course of the training, leadership should communicate frequently and celebrate success stories.
- Customize the Training– For training to be relevant and resonant with the sales force it must be customized to the unique industry and customer base of the selling organization. The stories, examples, workshops, exercises and role plays must be relevant to the daily issues that sales professionals encounter. Furthermore, the training needs to be interactive and provided in short bites or chunks that can be easily absorbed.
- Train Sales Leadership First– For sales training to stick sales leadership must be trained first. They need to learn the methodology or skill as participants and then attend a separate program so that they can learn to mentor and coach to the process. Managers must also buy in to the training so they can support it with their team. Without manager support the best sales training goes awry because sales representatives watch carefully to how managers behave.
- Forget the Pilot- Some organizations like to conduct a “pilot” of a sales training program with a small select group of their sales force. The thought process is: let’s see if this works before we roll it out to everyone and spend a lot of money. Pilots rarely work because they begin with a negative mindset and an escape clause–let’s try it and see if it works.
Here is the problem with that thinking. Every program rollout, no matter how carefully planned, will have naysayers and their concerns. With a pilot, the response is “I knew this wouldn’t work, it’s a good thing we are only trying it.” Instead of a pilot start with a beta. A Beta means we are committed to make this work because it’s the right solution. When issues arise we will resolve them together. It’s a positive mindset, it drives results and it has no tolerance for any negativity and escape clauses.
- Continuous Learning–Not an Event- Sales training should be a component of continuous learning that includes product knowledge, business acumen, methodology, skills etc. It shouldn’t be an event that occurs once a year. Adoption of a new initiative typically takes a year or more.
- Forget the Short Cuts- Don’t force fit the training into the time you have allotted for a meeting. Instead determine from the provider how long it will take to conduct the training properly and then plan your schedule accordingly. Resist telling the provider we have really smart people or we have had this training before so we can condense it. Don’t allow anyone to leave early for any reason. The last hour of most sessions brings all of the learning together and reinforces change.
- Reinforcement & Continuous Support is a Requirement–Not an Option! – For training to stick it must be reinforced and it must be incorporated into the DNA of every sales professional. The knowledge and skills learned during training need to be translated into daily activities. Here are some key elements to consider:
- Incorporate the sales methodology into your CRM.
- Use the tools provided by the supplier for follow-up training. These could be digital training modules, web-based information that is pushed to your team in bite sized chunks, gamification etc.
- Test for knowledge and content retention with a simple exam. Attendance at a training session doesn’t guarantee knowledge transfer.
- Create structured practice sessions that includes role plays and debriefs.
- Have the facilitator provide continuous support for a minimum of three months to ensure proper understanding and application. Protect your investment.
- Hold Everyone Accountable –If you want the sales training to drive results it must be used consistently. This means everyone must be held accountable for following and applying the principles and skills. In every sales organization there will be those that object: “I don’t need this.” “I don’t want to change.” “I do this already.” “My way works just fine.”
Remember the inmates don’t run the asylum. Set guidelines for usage and ensure everyone adheres.
- Measure It! Sales training is being conducted for a reason and it requires a sizeable financial investment. It is essential to plan and implement measures of the ROI. During the planning stage, discuss with your provider how best to measure the ROI using leading and lagging indicators.
- Invest Properly–No Shortcuts-
Sales training is an investment that needs to be thoughtfully considered and planned. This expense is typically encountered in three phases:
- Prior to the Event- For program customization, development of a cultural adoption plan etc. and to train sales leadership.
- The Event – The cost of training all of the participants. This typically involves a per person charge along with facilitation and facilitator travel.
- Post Event- To reinforce the training will often involve an implementation support investment and periodic checkup.
Whenever someone says “sales training didn’t work” it’s always easy to pinpoint one or more areas that were ignored or inadvertently missed in the preparation, execution or post-execution reinforcement. There are no short cuts to training your sales force effectively. Remember their skills and competencies win or lose business for you every day. If you think you can’t afford sales training measure the lost gross margin of every sales representative that was below their sales quota last year or YTD. Our guess is you will find the money quickly.
As always we welcome your thoughts and input. Let’s start a discussion and elevate the sales profession with a thoughtful, civil and informative discourse.