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Sales Training Works!

Please share with the SalesPractice community your opinion of how to ensure that sales training works. - by Admin-Asst
"Sales Training" is a broad term that has lots of meaning to lots of different people. For some, it is a sales seminar that you attend. For others, it's a speaker your company hires to come in and speak at your regional sales meeting.

But none of these are "sales training," they're all "sales training events." Events can be good or bad or anywhere in between.

To be effective, sales training requires: (1) commitment from management or participant to implement the behavioral changes required to make performance improvements; (2) congruence between company goals, policies, initiatives; (3) more than just an event.

Sales training is no different than any other kind of learning process. If you take golf lessons and your golf pro tells you to play every single day for the next 90 days, the training will fail unless the student's spouse is on board with the concept. It will also fail if the student doesn't do what the pro prescribed. If the student really wants to swing the driver with his thumb pointed to the left regardless of how the pro taught him to do it, then the training will fail. If you go to a golf pro for one lesson, you're going to be exposed to some ideas, but will probably not have lots of long-term improvement unless you return for more instruction.

I once worked with a company who had me come in and do training to bring about some changes...but the compensation structure supported the old sales model. The compensation plan and the training initiative weren't in congruence.

Sales managers have to be on board with sales training initiatives or behaviors will revert to the older model, even if the older model isn't working anymore. - by Skip Anderson
Great Question!

Any sales trainer who isn't asking this question just isn't thinking taking their job function seriously.
I want to provoke some real thought on this rather than trot out a standard industry response.

Is sales training successful? Wanting it to be true and saying it with enough force and conviction just doesn't make anything true.

Logic says yes and anecdotal evidence says yes and no. I have seen sales actually drop after inappropriate sales training. Note I elected to use the phrase 'inappropriate' rather than 'bad sales training'. Mopre on 'inappropriate sales training' further down.

There has been extremely little scientific process based assessment of whether sales training works.

To do a successful study you would need to first define what is success.

Is it happier more confident sales people?
Is it lower staff turnover?
Is it lower cost of staff management?
Is it better sales reporting and forecasting?
Is it an increase in sales?

You would also need to design how you are going to quantify and measure each of the above.

To do the experiment you would need at the minimum three large groups of sales people performing near identical sales roles in the same environment (preferrably the same company). One group would be your 'control group' and the other group would be your group to be 'trained' and a further group that was a 'placebo' group.
  • The control group would have no sales training intervention
  • The palcebo group would get the same amount of interventionist attention as the 'trained group'
  • And the Trained group would be subjected to the training to be tested/measured.
I would expect sales to increase in both the 'placebo' group and the 'trained' group.

Neil Rackham measured what works in a sales call/meeting - but he didn't measure if you can train people to do what works in sales meetings. From memory his definition of success was based very narrowly on how many sales were closed per sales meeting. But no measurements were made of what effective sales people did to get meetings or qualify meetings.

There is lots of anecdotal evidence by way of reports to suggest sales training works. But you need to examine who is preparing these reports with some skeptisim.

As a sales traininer I would like to say it works. However my belief is that most sales training simply does not deliver results for many reasons:
  • training inappropriate to sales mode required (hunter Vs nurturer)
  • training in appropriate to envronment (retail Vs B2B)
  • sales trining in appropriate to style (relationship Vs Feature Vs consultative)
Even if you accept that you can train people to do the right things (which I do believe) to achieve the desired results they can also be very quickly de-trained by the their work place environments, support structures, bonus and commission schemes, etc.

So it's really important that the workplace environment is evaluated and modified (preferably by the training organisation) to support the methodologies taught.

In addition thought needs to be given to on how to get people to take on-board and enact the sales skills and processes taught. It's one thing to define the perfect sales methodology, processes, skills and personal characteristics for each sales environments. It's another thing to get people to actually make significant changes to what they actually do in the field!
Educationalists, marketeers and psychologists all argue about the effectiveness of cognitive learning and behavioural learning.

Behavioural theorists believe – Desired actions are rewarded so the test subject learns to 'do the correct things'.
Cognitive theorists believe – The test subject is taught and sees that there is evident logic in 'the correct things to do' - so he does them.
  • Are both cognitive and behavioural training required.
  • If so is it chicken and egg?
  • Which comes first in the learning process behavioural or cognitive training?
  • Does it really matter or should they both be delivered simultaneously?
I believe that both cognitive and behavioural training are mutually supportive.

I believe that in real world situations, it's easy to start with cognitive learning which can be taught in the classrooms and thru literature. However this learning should immediately be reinforced with behavioural workshops.

To further demonstrate and consolidate the veracity of the training and workshops the practices learnt must be immediately adopted in the field and the results measured and fed back to the sales person. (of course it is imperative that you have a good measure of the results before the training for comparison purposes)

Returning to my original answer to; “Does sales training work?”
“Logic says yes and anecdotal evidence says yes and no. I have seen sales actually drop after sales training.”

At the start of each of my training workshops we ask attendees to write on the last page of the training manual manual, the percentage gain in sales that they think effective sales training might help them achieve. Typically they tentatively choose a figure of between 10% and 20%. At the end of the two day workshops we ask them to review this figure, most attendees typically upgrade their previous estimate by between 5% and 10% to between 15% and 30%. (and yes we occasionally get some ridiculous expectations)

These kinds of numbers are realistic gains if their sales environment remains as we left it, but can vary significantly if the environment is modified. - by liamv
Training is a process that results in new or expanded skills. Skill development requires practice ... lots of repetition. You just can't get that at a one hour, one day or even a 3 day event.

Some 'trainers' are great presenters and can get people quite excited about working harder. There is, after their event, a flurry of activity and some temporary increase in business, but it is usually short lived as the attendees fall back into old habits.

A second and serious problem is that most 'sales training' is only product knowledge training. All the focus is on the product or service and the great things it will do. Nothing or little is focused on what to say to get past the people who run interference for the decision maker and what to say to the decision maker that will get past the standard objections.

The key to real training that has lasting results is to teach precise language for each and every aspect of the sales process and do it in a manner where the salespeople memorize that language to a reactionary level. Don Stevens, a good ol' Texan, once said, "It's not what you know that counts. It's what you can think of in time."

When the pilot of a multi engine plane has one engine suddenly quit, he can't be calling home base for instruction or trying to find the solution in the operators manual, he has to react ... with the right solution. Now! More than one plane has crashed because an incompletely trained pilot shut down the wrong engine.

If you want to win a tennis match, you can't be thinking about your footwork or stroke and how hard and where to hit the ball ... you have to react.

And when our prospect fires a sudden objection or a diffucult question, we can't be thinking, "What was that great answer I heard in the seminar last month?"

Lastly, if you want to make sure salespeople use what you teach and train, make up an 'Interview Note Pad' that, in addition the the space for taking notes, has a list of topics or points you want covered on the side or bottom. Like a shopping list, that will remind the salesperson of things to say and give you a way to 'de-brief' them later. For a free copy of the one I give my real estate agent trainees, drop me an e-mail with 'Interview Note Pad' in the subject line. - by Jerry Bresser
Sales training that works is ongoing and not hit and miss once a month or once a year. Sharpening the sword, perfecting the putt - whatever analogy you use - it's about practice practice practice.

There's always a return to the basics and using innovation when it fits. There's always reminders of basic principles which are easily forgotten or over looked.

To ensure training works for you you keep yourself in the process not taking anything for granted - you get rusty real quickly when you least expect it when you walk out into the rain.

The best of the best of sales success to you.

MitchM - by MitchM
This thread appears to have run its course and is now closed. - by Jeff Blackwell
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