Home > Education > Sales Training - Not Snake Oil... Sometimes!

Sales Training - Not Snake Oil... Sometimes!

OK. I want to first concede that there is a BUNCH of garbage out there, with regards to "Sales Training". But let's be careful before throwing the baby (good sales Training) out with the bathwater (the rest of the garbage).

Yes, there are statistics that show both "Sales Training" events and on-site, vendor-presented type programs typically yield little. Thus, the common association with snake-oil. But not all sales training is fit for the trash can.

I am the VP of Sales for a mid-sized marketing firm and, in my own sales department, I measured the numbers related to those team-members that attend third party training and those that did not. Over the year that i tracked them, the figures revealed that there was little difference between the two groups. I decided NOT to just cut my losses, but rather to investigate why such "training" had wasted my team's time and my department's money.

What I found, as a result of my investigation, was that many Sales Training programs are often designed by, and the actual training sessions conducted by those with virtually NO field experience! Trained "Trainers", with a many hours of mere classroom training and a canned presentation, had been training my sales team. These "trainers" were, at best, regurgitating antiquated and inapplicable materiel that they had been school-taught rather than sharing cutting-edge, current, and applicable techniques they had developed in the field.

I took these findings and began using my own 20-years of success in sales to develop an effective sales process for my team to use. My system of coaching from field experience rather than from a "How to Sell" textbook worked! Within just two-years, our team's numbers almost doubled. The system worked so well that I began to coach other business owners, who were fellow members of my local chamber of commerce, and their numbers improved. I now travel and teach this field derived system in an arena filled with book-smart sales coaches.

My point in this is that if you want good sales training it is, in fact out there. That being said, not all that calls itself "Sales Training" is snake-oil. But I stand firm on the belief that both those designing and those conducting the training must have solid, in-the-field, sales track record themselves, and not a certificate from "Joe's Sales Trainer University".

As I described earlier, "hired-gun" type sales training did not produce positive results. However, when I took my own proven field experience, coupled with those successful experiences of my own sales leaders, and made a training program out of it, my team experienced a measurable increase in success.

Sales Training - Sometimes Snake-Oil... Sometimes not. - by rgp3man
These "trainers" were, at best, regurgitating antiquated and inapplicable materiel that they had been school-taught rather than sharing cutting-edge, current, and applicable techniques they had developed in the field.
Can you give examples of "cutting-edge, current, and applicable techniques they had developed in the field?" - by Gary A Boye
Thank you for your response.

If you'll note from my content, I was writing of a period of time in the past, so the "cutting edge, current, and applicable techniques" I was referring to would be outdated and obsolete by today's standards.

However, I will elaborate for clarity sake:

When I was looking into the waste of funds and personnel resources I had experienced, as a result of inadequate sales training, it was 1999-2001. The web was flourishing and there were many online and offline, computer-based tools that a sales professional could have used to increase effectiveness. I found that only one of the five "Sales Training" organizations, which I had used for my team's training, gave any training on automated sales productivity tools. For example, Siebel Systems had a pretty robust sales and CRM system out in the late 1990s and actually hit the $1Billion mark in 2000, however no mention of such a powerful sales tool was mentioned or taught in any of my team's training!

Interestingly enough, Ive looked into the available Sales training today and the majority of it, although technology centric nowadays, is teaching what worked in web 2.0 (i.e. Social Media Marketing and Promotion) LAST YEAR and not today. This stuff is DYNAMIC and its effective techniques change month to month not year to year. My sales tech-staff ensures we are current THIS week in our processes and training.

We take two full days EVERY month, in our sales team, to get current on technology tools and techniques, our clients' buying trends, and the overall economy, as it relates to our prospects. THIS is the kind of training that is NOT snake oil and has produced the numbers in my organization. This is the system I developed, use and also teach to other business owners and sales managers.

I hope this gives a little clearer picture, with regards to the inadequacy of most "Sales Training", both then and now.

I would like to stress again that good sales training does exist, but the most effective and applicable training is birthed from CURRENT experience in the field and not from concepts found in a "how to" text, written a year or more ago. In my team we DO employ many "best Practices", regarding salesmanship, such as those described in this forum. However the majority of my team's core training comes right out of the field and explores the successes experienced of my leading producers and defines how they orchestrated the success. - by rgp3man
So what success have you had with organisations other than your own? Have their results doubled too? - by salesjunior
Thank you, rgp3man.

It does appear that you are talking more about tools than techniques.


- by Gary A Boye
Sales training effectiveness, like any other training, works on the principle of 80:20. That is, 20% time is adequate to give 80% effective training, if the training is good.

When you superimpose another level of 80:20 on the first level of 80:20, it is 64:4 (0.8 ^2: 0.4^2). That is, in 4% time (20% of 20% time), it is possible to deliver 64% (80% of 80%) training effectiveness. This is kind of the theoretical maximum you can achieve in minimum time.

(For those new to this, Google search for 80:20 Rule and you'll find tons of authenticated material. Let's not attach too much importance to these numbers, but let's take it that the numbers are likely to be somewhere in this region. Call it 67:33 Rule, if you will.)

Odd though it may sound, this empirical rule has withstood the test of time. In Materials Management, they call this "A, B, C Analysis", and most purchase, storage and shipping decisions are taken using this.

Let's assume this maximum was accomplished (say, 20% time & 80% effectiveness) through in-house sales training, as typically initial training is internal.

Whereas the second training, can at best be comparatively only marginally effective, whoever conducts it. Assuming you give 20% more time to an external trainer (same as the time you gave internal training), ASSUMING she/ he consciously and intelligently excludes the training you've given (which is extremely unlikely to be possible by anyone), at best it will be only 16% effective,... more likely around 5 to 10%. Which, I presume, is the reason why rgp3man says he wasn't able to see significantly increased effectiveness from external training programs.

rgp3man, you could do an experiment. Take fresh sales trainees as you normally do and get a good external trainer to give the first level sales training, of course, briefing the trainer on your product and trainees' background.

Now after the trainees are in the market for some time, conduct an internal training at an appropriate time. You'll see that your own training was far less effective than the external training. So, the issue is not external or internal, but the Rule of 80:20.

True, comparing apples to apples, it is possible that internal training could be more effective in certain (or many) situations compared to external training, but not to the extent of internal training being very effective and external training being not at all significantly effective, if the external trainer is good as well.

Let's also be conscious when we refer to effectiveness above, we're only referring to the theoretical maximum possible with training, as there are 3 other important factors, viz., 'trainee effectiveness', 'rest of the world effectiveness' (excluding oneself), and the 'contribution of passage of time'.

In Sanskrit language, there's a verse (written 2,000 years back or so) that says, "you learn 1/4 from your teacher/ trainer, 1/4 by yourself, 1/4 from colleagues and 1/4 in course of time".

This is why unstructured sales training (not based on the trainer's prepared material) based on participant interaction by an expert trainer facilitator could be quite effective, esp. after the initial training and some time in the field.

Thoughts?

Ganesan. :~)

PS: (Reason why MBAs with 3 years experience perform much better after MBA, as most good MBA programs involve a lot of student interaction. So, this applies to education and training. I'm afraid I may be stirring up a controversy comparing MBA education to sales training. But ignore this if you're not in agreement on this alone. We could debate this separately elsewhere, in another thread, if we want. - by ezynes
Ganesan,

Loved your reply. Some real food for thought there. THANK you!!!thmbp2;

-RGP - by rgp3man
There can be many variables influencing the effectiveness of any particular training experience to include context, content, receptivity, perception, etc.

With that being said, "field experience" may or may not be the difference that makes the difference in any specific training experience. - by Jeff Blackwell
Jeff,

Does ""field experience" make any difference in any specific training experience? At the very least, I feel trainees appreciate the context in which much of the training was imparted much better after field experience than during the training.

For example, whether it is 'elevator talk' or the importance of 'probing' or 'objection handling techniques', all these are theoretical (even hypothetical) to the trainees till they actually face prospects in the field, and try their own intuitive methods and the training inputs, and find which one works best for them.

So, field experience immediately after training makes the training far more effective, IMHO.

Ganesan. - by ezynes
Do you think sales training should only be conducted by those who have previously sold and excelled in selling? It bothers me when I hear about how some people are teaching others how to sell when they themselves never sold a thing, or had limited success with it. Selling is as much art as it is science, and you can't teach the art unless you've been on the front line yourself, would you agree? - by salesjunior
Do you think sales training should only be conducted by those who have previously sold and excelled in selling? It bothers me when I hear about how some people are teaching others how to sell when they themselves never sold a thing, or had limited success with it. Selling is as much art as it is science, and you can't teach the art unless you've been on the front line yourself, would you agree?
salesjunior, you're in sales. Tell us how you practice selling as a science. As an art? - by Gary A Boye
I coined the term, Parrot Platitudes, a while back which refers to the memes of sales lore that get passed around in place of true objective study. It's similar to the concept of "swipe files" that copy writing gurus like Joe Vitale expound on. Basically, take what some else has said, and make the idea or the form your own.

That's fine. But what if the idea is wrong--or just plain lousy? What if "Always be Closing" is nonsense?--and IT IS!

The problem is that bad advice often parlays itself like a geometric progression.

Sales training can be terrific if the trainer UNDERSTANDS what he/she is talking about. That is all too frequently not the case. - by Gary A Boye
salesjunior, you're in sales. Tell us how you practice selling as a science. As an art?
Science in the sense that if we perform certain sales behaviours, such as following a defined sales process, we move the prospect closer to a yes.

Art in the sense that personality, flare, confidence, being able to build trust/respect/like etc are as important to success in selling as is the logic of selling; asking questions, uncovering needs, matching with benefits, etc. Or art in the sense if we execute the sales process impeccably we can still fail miserable, or the guy who is hopeless still manages to bring in the most deals. - by salesjunior
Science in the sense that if we perform certain sales behaviours (sic), such as following a defined sales process, we move the prospect closer to a yes.

Art in the sense that personality, flare, confidence, being able to build trust/respect/like etc are as important to success in selling as is the logic of selling; asking questions, uncovering needs, matching with benefits, etc. Or art in the sense if we execute the sales process impeccably we can still fail miserable, or the guy who is hopeless still manages to bring in the most deals.
Then, if you are practicing all of those things, which you consider components of art and science of selling, why do you list yourself as a "novice" in your profile?

Suppose you are right about those things. I'm not saying you are or aren't. You've stated them publicly--just as those you expect, as you said, to be very successful in selling. And what if they are not? Suppose they are right about what they say, but don't practice what they preach. Could that be them? Could that be you? Or me?

Zig Ziglar contributed much to education on goal setting. His audiences were filled with achievers from both B2C and B2B sales and sales management, many of them top level. Zig was a pots and pans salesman--direct sales--before he became an author. He wrote See You at the Top, a book on success. In it he preached about weight control and losing weight. He had the courage to admit years later that he was fat when he wrote the book. Does that make his advice untrue or worthless?

Another famous person wrote a personal development course which helped thousands dramatically--myself included. It was on Winning. In my opinion, it was the best tape series ever produced. He created it when he was totally down and out--living in one room, wondering when his next meal was coming from.

The Twelve Step programs were created by two drunks.

"Consider the source" is great advice as long as we don't confuse "consider" with "judge."

How about "evaluate" instead. Selling is a thinking person's game. - by Gary A Boye
Science in the sense that if we perform certain sales behaviours, such as following a defined sales process, we move the prospect closer to a yes.
So if you perform those "certain sales behaviors" and find that you did not move the prospect closer to a yes, that is still "science"? - by Jeff Blackwell
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