Why Sales Training Falls Flat and What You Can Do About It

In a forum on Focus, the question was asked, “Why don’t more sales organizations invest in sales training courses?”  It is the million dollar question and one that I’m sure has been asked countless times before.

In a nutshell, my thoughts are…

Whatever is going south in your sales organization today will not be resolved with a short-term emphasis on training.

Revenue in steep decline won’t be back on track with a day’s worth of training. Mediocre sales reps will not magically become superstars.

If you want to change your sales situation, you need to start with taking a hard look at what’s really going wrong in your business. Do you have the right people with the right skills (uh, that includes management)? Do you have the right processes in place? Is your messaging clear? Having you been evolving with today’s Internet savvy executive or do you keep hoping that what used to work will work once again?

Until companies are really willing to ask the tough questions, throwing money at training really makes no sense at all.

While I certainly don’t have all the answers, I do have 6 thoughts on what can be done to better leverage the investment made in a training program:

  1. View sales development programs as a process NOT an event. At a prior company, we were given lots of great training, but the programs were all different. That meant that none of the methodology was carried forward over the long haul. I’ve been through Solution Selling, SPIN Selling, Precision Questioning, Situational Leadership, Covey’s 7 Habits, ropes courses, coaching programs – you name it. They were great, but they’ve weren’t tied together and they were not aligned with our sales goals and strategies.
  2. Stop forcing your salespeople to drink from a fire hose. Yes, it is important to minimize the time that a sales person is out of the field, but stop trying to cram what amounts to a week’s worth of information into a half-day or full-day program. In today’s wired world, there are infinitely more ways to deliver training programs and not all of them need to be face-to-face.
  3. Build accountability into the learning process. The physical training event is only the first step. People are creatures of habit. Without reinforcement on an ongoing basis, people will revert to their old habits. People need to put what they’ve learning action; otherwise, there is no point. Accountability can be in the form of webinars, coaching or creating accountability buddies and teams. Bottom line, if you don’t plan to reinforce the learning, it will disappear in a few short weeks and you’ll be back to where you started.
  4. Make sure that the content is current and fits your specific needs. Though the guts of the sales training methodology may be the same for consistency sake, whoever you’ve chosen to deliver your training program should darn well learn enough about your business to truly apply the principles to your unique situation. If they aren’t willing to do that…seek out someone else.
  5. Make sure the content is sexy and the delivery appeals to different learning styles. Content must be relevant first and foremost, but what about integrating new technology into the mix. If it’s just PowerPoint…boring. I recently read a great article about a company that created sales management training that utilized the iPad during the course. The fact that an iPad was on each table when these managers walked in was enough to start the positive buzz. During the course, managers completed exercises and sent them to the instructor real-time during the program.
  6. Make sure the trainer has cred and has great facilitation skills. Yes, we can learn something from everyone. On the other hand, sales people are finicky. If you have never lived life by a quota, how can you possibly tell me what to do to increase my sales? Fair or not, if you’ve never carried a bag and the audience knows it, it undermines credibility. And whatever you do, vet the facilitation skills of the person you hire. Talk to their references, ask to monitor one of their upcoming programs or request a video clip demonstrating their work. It will mean the difference between audience engagement or not.

Contrary to popular belief, I believe training programs DO work when you take a long-term view and make the financial investment to support your vision. Quick fixes do not exist. They never have and they never will!

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