During the past year, my team and I were involved in a wide array of initiatives, projects, research, surveys, presentations, briefings, demonstrations, evaluations, customer and salesperson interviews, and live classroom observations…all in the area of sales training. Out of this pool of knowledge came ES Research's recently published Sales Training Vendor Guide, from which the following findings were derived:
• As much as 15 percent of sales training delivered in 2008 is having a lasting impact of more than 90 days, up from only 10 percent in 2006 and 2007. The reason for this: More companies are starting to understand the importance of building and using sales methodologies. In a vacuum, this would be a very positive indication of future sales performance improvement. But there are other, serious trends to consider.
• Corporate investments in sales training will be down at least 20 percent in 2009. Depending on the economy, that figure could quickly grow to 40 percent or more. Traditional live, on-site classroom training will be off 60 percent or more, due mainly to travel expense limitations. To counter this, we see an increase in deployments of distance-learning solutions, both recorded and live.
• Many of the leading sales training companies have downsized as a result of that lowered demand. Research and development are being impacted, which might hurt the industry for years to come. Before engaging with a new sales training company, be certain you understand their current situation with regard to staffing and how they propose to service your account. Make certain you interview others who are currently engaged with that provider.
• The increasing diversity among sales teams is a challenge for some sales training companies. Generational, cultural, and experiential differences prevent the traditional one-size-fits-all approach from offering significant performance improvement. If you have a heterogeneous sales team, understand how your sales trainer is going to approach that challenge.
• Some 80 percent of companies we spoke with across multiple industries do not perform an objective, comprehensive needs analysis when evaluating and selecting a sales training company. The two most prevalent methods employed are choosing a training partner by name recognition or selecting a firm based upon a past engagement with that vendor, regardless of the results. When you look at the statistics, you might as well pick a trainer from the Yellow Pages.
• When cutting costs, we find corporations most often eliminate coaching and other sales management-related programs from training budgets. This is a big, big mistake. Learning reinforcement through coaching is a critical success factor for any sales training initiative.
• Having the wrong salespeople in sales jobs continues to be a big problem into 2009. ES Research estimates that in "sales-challenged" companies, as many as 25-33 percent of salespeople don't have the necessary skills and personal traits to succeed. Throughout 2009, we will continue imploring sales leaders to redeploy and replace non-performers before any actual sales training takes place, especially in a live classroom setting.
Until now, our research indicates, few sales trainers and buyers of sales training have been willing or able to provide credible business justification for investments in training. That has to change—and soon. That said, this is precisely the wrong time to delay or eliminate sales training. Collaborate with your sales training partner on how to get funding for what's required: methodology construction, process redesign, curriculum development, and training. And don't forget a measurement system, so you can easily get your funding next time around.
Dave Stein is the author of How Winners Sell and CEO and founder of ES Research Group in West Tisbury, Mass. In addition, he delivers keynote speeches and workshops on sales performance.