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!

Tic Toc: Social Sales Train Has Left the Station

At this point in the evolution of social media, small and mid-sized companies are recognizing the value and potential that social tools like LinkedInTwitter,GistHootsuiteFacebookYouTube and others bring to the table. Yet, when I ask business owners about their social sales and marketing strategy, they sheepishly admit that they really don’t have one. They know they need one, but…

Tic Toc

If you are not integrating social media into your sales and marketing plans, you are setting yourself up for decreasing sales and increased competitive pressure. Think of social media as the proverbial train that’s left the station. While you can’t hop on the train that’s already chugging on down the track, you can grab the next one coming along and catch up. The point is that the clock is ticking and you need to get moving!

I Don’t Have Time

Let’s face it, “I don’t have time.” is a pretty common excuse, because people can relate to it, right? Who can’t empathize with jam-packed schedules, lengthy to-do list’s and a cell phone that never stops ringing? “Tight schedule already and you want me to create a social sales and marketing plan, Barb?” Yes. I do. You need it. “Even if I have it, who has time for blog posting, tweets, status updates, answering questions in groups, Barb?” The answer is that you make the time. Or, you delegate the activity. We can talk about options in a future blog post.

What’s really behind the excuse?

1) These are smart business people and they know that they need to use social tools like TwitterLinkedIn and Facebook to drive their marketing and sales activities, but they don’t know where to start. It’s easier to avoid what feels a little overwhelming to tackle.

Hint: You begin with a strategy and tactical plan. This requires slowing down long enough to think through what you need and how you’ll use the technology. Hire help! Jumping on Twitter without having a clear idea how micro-blogging fits into your sales and marketing strategy will no doubt cause frustration. As Covey said, success begins with the end in mind. If you don’t know where you are going, I can pretty much guarantee it’ll be tough to get there.

2) Taking time to answer questions on LinkedIn, post a tweet, contribute to a blog post or respond to Facebook fan comments is seen as an ”add-on” to an already jammed packed calendar.

Hint: Some of the activities you and your people spend time on today will never net you sales. That’s the truth and you know it. An honest appraisal of your calendar will no doubt reveal time wasters - people, places, events - that can be eliminated. Once those wasters are eliminated you can put that “found” time toward social sales activities instead.

3) Won’t my employees just waste time all day yakking with their friends on Facebook?

Hint: You need to establish social media usage communication policies and invest in training your people from the beginning. Most businesses already have a communication policy, so you can augment what you currently have to address social media usage. Invest in training your people to use the technology correctly and make sure that they understand the rules of netiquette in the online space. Your investment in training will minimize wasted time and pay dividends down the road.

All aboard!

Sales Spam - Yum!

It is no wonder that sales often gets a bad rap. Desperation, lack of training, perhaps pressure from sales management…whatever the reason, it isn’t difficult to find examples of shoddy sales techniques being used on unsuspecting buyers every day. At a minimum, I receive one sales spam email like the one below that I’m showcasing today. It’s more common to receive two or three more just like it.

Take a minute to read it through. You tell me. Would you buy from this individual? Does this sales representative even know if I’m the right type of customer for him? Does he know anything about my business?

“Barbara - I was checking on this This ends at 5 PM PST today. Let me know if you would be interested Regards XYZ Representative


2010 BlowOut Sale on Training and HR Executives Email List

We have new contacts (VPs ,Dir and Managers ) within the Training and HR Departments in corporations within the US.  We are offering these contacts, which you will own and can use as often as possible.These are all new contacts and have nt been sold before.

We are offering a 60% promotional discount on this list (valid thro Friday 09/24/10).It is being offered as given below.

  • 5000 New Training Contacts for $350(Regular Price- $1100)
  • 10,000 New Training Contacts for $600(Regular Price-$1800)
  • 20,000 New Training Contacts for $1100(Regular Price-$3500)
  • 40,000 New Training Contacts for $2000(Regular Price-$5000)
  • 5,000 New HR Contacts for $350(Regular Price- $1100)
  • 10,000 New HR Contacts for $600(Regular Price-$1800)
  • 20,000 New HR Contacts for $1100(Regular Price-$3500)
  • 40,000 New HR Contacts for $2000(Regular Price-$5000)

We will also provide a 120 day guarantee on the contacts and will replace each contact you find is inaccurate with an updated one.  Just to make sure that the new contact is valid and accurate we’ll guarantee it for 120 days as well.

With each record you receive:

Complete data: Name, Title, Direct E-Mail Address, Physical address, Phone Number, Company Name etc

Unlimited license: Most companies only rent you the data for one time use, we allow you to use this database as many times as you want, however you want.

If you need a more specific list - let us put together a custom contact list for you using geography, industry, revenue or titles.

If you are interested in the type of companies and titles we have I will send you a list with everything else removed so you can get an idea.”

To the sender…

Spam as a sales tactic is not an effective strategy. Yes, you might get some takers, but on the whole, you are far more likely to offend. I’ll remember you, of course. But, I won’t be buying from you. I only buy from people that I know, like and trust. I don’t buy from people who spam my inbox. Oh, and thanks for the competitive pricing information. You never know, it might come in handy someday. I probably should give you a break for making such a dumb sales mistake, but given the product you sell, maybe I understand why you feel sending email spam is a sound business practice.

Social Selling Isn’t An Add-On

In the rush, rush, rush that defines most businesses today, we are trained to cram every possible activity we can onto our calendars. The fine art of saying “no” is a masterful technique in and of itself, IF, you can pull it off that is. Often, we are at the mercy of others who have requests that demand our time, which we cannot ignore. Still, with all of this so-called multi-tasking going on, I wonder, are we really any more effective?

For years, we have been seduced into thinking that multi-tasking is a good thing. Sales people are given atta-boys for their ability to juggle multiple priorities at once. Sales managers praise their people for being able to take customer calls, do email and text all while taking a potty break. Nothing is more disconcerting than listening to someone take a business call from the bathroom stall next to you by the way. The reinforcement of this multi-tasking mania has now led to people texting and answering email on their iPhones and Blackberry’s while driving! Absolute madness.

Quite an industry has sprung up around this notion of “managing time”. The myth is that multi-tasking isn’t managing time, it is only wasting it. An August 2009 research report from Stanford University shows that so-called high achieving multi-taskers are only frying their brain. Guru’s far more experienced than me will tell you that time management has always been a myth. All of us have the same 24 hours in the day. The #1 key to social selling success comes from a single minded focus on the “right” priorities. Your objective is to focus on the one thing - the big rock - that you complete before moving on to the next. This is especially important as you integrate social media into your sales process. The idea is to save time not waste it!

As I talk to groups about social media and how to integrate it into their sales/networking approach, I always ask, “What are your top two or three concerns about using social media?” Predictably, someone always says, “I don’t have the time.” That attitude springs from the belief that you are “adding on” to what you already do now. In reality, you need to let something else go. Everyone has time wasters disguised as results driven activities hidden somewhere on their calendar. Many are hidden in plain sight.

Try this exercise. Write down how many face-to-face networking events you attended in the past month. Even if it’s 1 per week, you probably spent at least 3 hours when you include drive time plus the event time itself. That’s 12 hours - more than a full business day each month. Now consider your hourly billable rate and ask yourself if you secured enough clients from those activities to make it worth it. The answer - based on experience and the answers I receive from every group that I poll - will likely be a resounding no! Not even close. That’s why the effective use of social networking tools like LinkedIn is such a beautiful thing. Done right, you spend “less time” actually getting better results.

How we view time is in direct proportion to our attitude about time. Your peers, your competitors and your friends don’t have any more hours in the day than you do. It is all about how you use them. If you ever want to invest in finding out how you prioritize, I encourage you to check out our Time Mastery assessment. For as little as $31 and the investment of a 10-15 minutes, you will discover just how well you work with your daily 24 hour allotment.

Time management is a myth. How you choose to spend your time moment to moment is what counts!

The Why of Social Media

The explosion of social media into mainstream consciousness has seemingly come from nowhere. Though it may be new to you, the social media groundswell has been building for some time, and it’s fair to say that the buzz right now is deafening.

While there is a growing familiarity with tools like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, blogs and YouTube, here are 5 questions being asked in companies large and small about the business reasons for using social media:

1. Why should we care?
2. Where do we start?
3. What technology should we be using?
4. How do we manage the information?
5. How will we measure effectiveness?

As with any new business undertaking, questions like these (and more) definitely need to be answered. Here are the reasons that I believe it is important to pay attention.

Why You Should Care

These days your prospects are surfing the net, reading blogs, participating in forums and group discussions, asking for product and services referrals from their social networks and joining on-line communities.

Even if you wanted to “opt out”, choosing instead to use outdated approaches to sales and marketing, your potential customers - and your savvy competitors - are most definitely going to be online.

Your prospects are tuned in to what they want, what’s available, where to purchase and how much to spend. The bigger the sale, the more educated they will be.

With 66% of the 38 million LinkedIn users deemed “key decision maker”,175+ million people on Facebook (31% over the age of 35), and millions more conversing over Twitter, you can’t ignore the opportunity. The name of the game then is visibility. If you aren’t participating online, you are missing huge opportunities to reach an audience you would otherwise not be able to connect with in an easy and cost effective way.

How to Get Started

If you are just getting your feet wet with regard to social media, you are most likely approaching it backwards, as most do. Companies are typically approaching the social computing world by looking first at the nifty, whiz bang technologies available. Could be a tweet here, a blog there, a LinkedIn profile, a Facebook fan page or a few YouTube video’s thrown up on the website- to achieve their sales and marketing goal. That is a mistake! People, purpose and plan first - technology last -should be the mantra of every business interested in succeeding with social media.


As with any hot trend, people are clamoring to get on board the social media gravy train. Yet as many have already discovered, having an online profile doesn’t mean you are using social media effectively to market your business or increase your sales. People are floundering in the online space for many of the same reasons they probably flounder around with their current sales and networking approach. They don’t have a plan!

Your plan starts with “narrowing” and “clearly defining” your target audience. Here’s a hint…your audience is NOT everyone with a pulse. Though it seems counterintuitive to some, the more you narrow your market, the faster you gain traction, which then leads to more sales of your products and services.

The key with choosing the right technology is making sure you know EXACTLY what results you want to achieve. You certainly need to understand what tools are available, but that’s the last thing you really need to focus your attention on. Once you know who your audience is, where they live online and what you want to happen once you get in front of them, you are then well positioned to use an online tool best suited for your purpose.

Managing the Flow

I’m known for saying that it is up to “you” to manage technology, not the other way around. Dashboard tools like Digsby help you watch your email, Facebook page, Twitter account, LinkedIn profile and more without having to web surf the individual sites. TweetDeck gives you the ability to keep on top of all that is happening in your Twitter world. And tools like Ping and HelloText let you create a post once that updates multiple sites of your choosing all at the same time. The point is that you shouldn’t let the “fear” of too much information stop you from getting on board. There are lots of great tools to help with the information management flow.

Measuring the ROI

Like anything else in business, you need to be sure that you are measuring effectiveness and results to ensure that you get the greatest return on your effort. In the March 23rd edition of Information Week, TransUnion reported as estimated $2.5 million in savings in less than five months. Did I mention that you first need a plan? In TransUnion’s case, their cost savings showed up in a reduction of software services purchases. Using an internal social networking platform, employees were able to brainstorm ways to more effectively utilize what they already had, thus reducing the need to buy more.

Companies of all sizes will benefit from having clearly defined objectives that you can then track your progress against. If one of your goals is to increase product sales on your website, you will want to track HOW people find you. Was it the blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, a Facebook ad, or that amazing sales article your sales manager just wrote? You can use tools like Google Analytics to help you track how many visitors visit your website, as well as give you clues as to what they focused on they got there.


Remember that social media and the world of social networking are here to stay. See it as a threat or an opportunity. It’s your choice!