Home > Education > Parallels between sales training and snake oil.

Parallels between sales training and snake oil.

If you query "Sales Training Doesn't Work" in any online search engine you will find thousands of pages devoted to the topic.

By "Snake Oil" I mean, "A product that has been proven to not live up to the vendor's marketing hype".

Is most sales training snake oil and are most of today's sales training vendors the modern day equivalent of the snake oil salesman? - by Community Mailbox
It's a common practice to shoot down a presumption. If you investigate the items you find from searching, 'sales training doesn't work', you will see that most of them were published by sales trainers. It creates a nice platform for explaining how to make it work.

For sure, there have been many training interventions in all disciplines where training hasn't worked. Sometimes it is the wrong training or it's delivered poorly or its design was at fault. Other reasons for failure include poorly motivated participants, lack of training needs analysis, trying to fit a quart into a whiskey glass, etcetera.

As for almost everything, those employers, participants, and trainers who collectively invest sufficient forethought, planning, and preparation are usually rewarded with corresponding worthwhile results. - by Clive Miller
In my opinion, sales training is seen or perceived by the majority of professionals as snake oil because of their bad or unsatisfactorily experiences with salesmen.

Unfortunately, the ratio of TRUE PROFESSIONAL SALESMEN vs (at best) MEDIOCRE SALESMEN is 10,000 to 1 or greater. I myself being a part of the mediocre team.

Short Definition of a TRUE PROFESSIONAL SALESMAN:

Healthy, physically fit, prepared, dedicated, committed to excellence, committed to life long learning, positive, enthusiastic, well groomed, well dressed, well spoken, well mannered, friendly, high integrity, high character, high self esteem, honest, hard working, resourceful, creative, knowledgeable in: sales, body language, voice tonality, marketing (on and off line), copy writing, human behavior, human psychology, business development (local and International), NLP, and to top it all of, a great sense of humor and easy going attitude.

My name is Robert Navarro,
4 years in wood flooring sales,
Currently trying to cross from mediocre to professional. - by sale4rob
If you query "Sales Training Doesn't Work" in any online search engine you will find thousands of pages devoted to the topic.

By "Snake Oil" I mean, "A product that has been proven to not live up to the vendor's marketing hype".

Is most sales training snake oil and are most of today's sales training vendors the modern day equivalent of the snake oil salesman?
Last night I was talking to one of my staff members who I put through sales training when he first entered the business 6 months ago. During our conversation about the PlayStation 3 game Dragon Age, he drops;

"I don't want you to get a big head about this but your sales training changed my life. I wasn't confident with talking to people or never really understood how to close difficult customers..." so it continued.

So with that in mind... I am going to say that the intension of the trainer will determine if it is snake oil of a vein of gold.

I've seen sales training where an over confident sales man/trainer walks into the room and conjures up these amazing techniques and dazzles the crowd without really making it practical for the team to use. Everyone leaves the room pumped but over time we all forget because we were never shown exactly what to do.

Then I've seen trainers (which I would hope to believe I am) who see my role as more as a coach who will not just teach them what to do but also how to do it.

Sales training needs to be followed up through management (or yourself if you attend training on your own merrits) otherwise you will always go back into your old habits. - by MrCharisma
i think it all depends on the person listening. Some things work for some and not for others put to say its all snake oil is wrong. Some will take information and work it for all its worth. Some will take information store it never use it. Then some never act then say its worthless and that it doesnt work - by maddtony
I really can't add to what has been said. To sum up great training
and whether or not it is used can be done in three phrases.
Some will-Some won't and some can't. - by triadtraining
For sure, there have been many training interventions in all disciplines where training hasn't worked. Sometimes it is the wrong training or it's delivered poorly or its design was at fault. Other reasons for failure include poorly motivated participants, lack of training needs analysis, trying to fit a quart into a whiskey glass, etcetera.
How do you measure sales training effectiveness given so many variables? - by Community Mailbox
I don't believe all sales training is snake oil. Some may be or may be out dated. The proof is does the training, when well learned lead to the development of a successful implementation for the client and a very happy customer?

I have personally gained a lot from the SPIN selling model. It is a great outline for large ticket sales - like consulting projects, for example.

It did take a while for it to be natural and the real key to the process is to be truly interested in the truth. You may find out your service is not a good match with a particular client. SPIN has been a great framework to discover what clients really need and want.

As another member said, however, you must inject any process with integrity and authenticity. (If you can fake that, you've got it made. --- That's a joke, folks.)

While a proven and successful process can be trained, I agree that ongoing coaching is also critical to success. Also, the underlying personality of the salesperson must have a sales orientation. And, although I hate doing it myself (but do), realistic role playing is a great coaching tool.

Just my 2 cents. - Magicman - by magicman
Sales training depends on a few factors:-

1. Background of the trainer (credibility, personality, salesmanship style).

2. In-house or external trainer.

3. Desired outcome of the training.

Sales training is very much a psychological process as it involves skills like communication, negotiation, deciphering body language, gauging the tone of the prospect for a smooth sales pitch process and overcoming objections.

Sadly, there are alot of snake oil-selling done daily on the internet with regards to the subject of 'making money online'. I see too many so-called online salesmen calling themselves experts, yet promoting products that delivers nothing compared to what's promised at the sales pitch page.

Sales training and snake oil will be parallel if the 3 points mentioned above have objectives such as honesty, integrity, and putting the customer above the sales targets.

Sales training and snake oil will walk hand-in-hand if the desired outcome of the sales training is to promote 'snake oil products' by creating alot of 'smoke-selling', over promising, and unrealistic sales pitch.

My two cents' worth.


.../Hanna. - by Hanna
I tend to agree with the comments everyone has posted. Prior to my current business I had over 20 years in sales including time as Sales Director. Over that time I attended numerous training courses majority of which had no impact...I was more interested in the time in bar with my buddies at the end of the programme in the evenings!

Since training to become a coach (now 5 years in business) I now understand why most training programmes fail to deliver. Training typically does not address behaviour or how to change habits.
I used to come back from my training programmes all fired up ready to apply what I'd learnt, but 2 weeks on was back to my old habits...with the trainer's manual filed away ready to gather dust. No wonder most training gets bad press.

So what have I learnt now? Training and Coaching have their place and are invaluable.
Training combined with coaching to drive follow through, to ensure delegates apply the learning, is a much better process, and will increase the return on investment for the organisation and the individual.

Jennifer - by Jennifer
How do you measure sales training effectiveness given so many variables?
It's too easy to give a simple answer: Results.

Then you have to ask another question: What do Results look like?

I'll invoke Steven Covey's classic words: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

If a sales trainer TRULY understands the material, and is not just relying on catchy platitudes, and is able to DELIVER UNDERSTANDING to the trainee--THOSE ARE RESULTS. - by Gary A Boye
Before trying to evaluate the effectiveness of training, you first must distinguish between "education," which is mere knowledge transfer, and "training," which requires actual doing. Education's benefit is limited to raising awareness or modifying attitudes. Training's benefit is performance. Much of what is offered as training (seminars, webinars, lectures) is, in fact, merely education, which is necessary but not sufficient.

As Malcolm Gladwell cited in his book, "Outliers," it takes 10,000 hours of focused practice, coaching and feedback to achieve expertise in any field. Too often, organizations treat training as an event, i.e., "We're doing sales training next week." This leads to the effect others have cited, the "all cranked up afterward but unable to apply it usefully." Unless it's part of a continuum of learning, practice, coaching and feedback, it's only going to work for the handful of people who are already very good, and for whom a slight attitude shift or a new insight can make a meaningful difference.

Finally, the degree of management expectation and oversight -- and alignment with rewards systems -- will determine the program's success. As Lou Gerstner wrote about bringing IBM back from the abyss, "What gets measured gets done." If people know that management expects, and measures, that the behaviors being taught had better show up in the field, then salespeople will do that. If management abdicates this responsibility, they're communicating that the training isn't important, that it's OK to ignore what's been taught.

Unfortunately, traditional instructor-led training suffers from five serious limitations that inhibit its effectiveness under anything less than ideal conditions:


-- Not scalable: There simply aren't enough good trainers relative to the population of salespeople


-- Too expensive: Skilled trainers command high fees that limit the number of people companies can afford to train.


-- Not measurable: Students can comment on how engaged they were with the trainer, how much they liked the experience, etc., but it's very difficult to correlate behavior change with human training. Using results as a gauge isn't the answer, either. There are many reasons why someone's sales may increase without their actual skill increasing.


-- It's synchronous: Trainers and trainees must be in the same place at the same time. That limits the number of times your field sales population can be with the trainer. This is a lot of why training is so often an event, not a continuum.


-- It's not consistent: If you review most trainers' client lists, you'll see a lot of overlap, suggesting that these organizations hire lots of trainers, each of whom is trying to differentiate his offering. That means lots of different approaches, methods and vocabularies. These variances confuse trainees, encourage flavor-of-the-month cynicism and create a management nightmare.


For all of these reasons, I abandoned personal training and coaching after 20 years and moved to virtual training, which eliminates all of these problems. For those skeptical about the legitimacy or efficacy of virtual training, consider that every commercial airline flight you've ever boarded was piloted by someone trained on a simulator. - by legalsalescoach
For those skeptical about the legitimacy or efficacy of virtual training, consider that every commercial airline flight you've ever boarded was piloted by someone trained on a simulator.
I think it's relatively safe to assume that the people who built the flight simulator knew something about how an airplane flies. The effectiveness of the use of simulation in sales training would depend on what exactly the simulation is trying to simulate. If we knew that, then members here could draw their own conclusions.

Semantics have a history of muddying the waters on SalesPractice which uses the term Sales Education, and we will continue to use that term with full awareness that "mere knowledge transfer", as you put it, is not a satisfactory definition of education.

Sales Education is only as good as the people doing the educating. New spins on training have become the norm probably because a lot of people are hanging out their shingles as sales trainers on the Internet. - by Gary A Boye
If you query "Sales Training Doesn't Work" in any online search engine you will find thousands of pages devoted to the topic.

By "Snake Oil" I mean, "A product that has been proven to not live up to the vendor's marketing hype".

Is most sales training snake oil and are most of today's sales training vendors the modern day equivalent of the snake oil salesman?
Here are a few excerpts from SPIN Selling - Appendix A: Evaluating the SPIN Model (Neil Rackham, 1988)
  • "Yes, there's no shortage of claims made by training programs that their methods bring measurable improvement. But how many of these dramatic cases stand up to close scrutiny? None that I've looked at. Unfortunately, when you examine them closely, most of the heavily advertised "miracle cures" in sales training look remarkably similar to claims made for snake oil a couple of hundred years ago."
  • "During my evaluation research I investigated many claims for sales increases resulting from training. More than 90 percent of them could be accounted for easily by other management or market factors."
  • "... I'd say that many billions of dollars are being wasted each year, teaching selling methods without one scrap of proof to show whether or not they work. No other area of business is so casual about testing its products or methods."
How do you measure sales training effectiveness given so many variables?
Neil Rackham addresses this in SPIN Selling - Appendix A: Evaluating the SPIN Model. - by Jeff Blackwell
Weekly Updates!
Questions and Answers about Selling
Subscribe to our mailing list to get threads and posts sent to your email address weekly - Free of Charge.