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Smart Sales: When Sales Training Doesn't Work

Without the right strategy in place, you’re doomed to failure

In looking for legitimate strategies to improve the effectiveness of their teams, sales leaders have discovered there are a limited number of destinations on the Web worth visiting. One notable exception to that, however, is the Sales 2.0 Network blog (www.sales20network.com). Less about technology than what is required for sales mastery, a post published on August 24 of last year is particularly worthy of discussion—as are the comments that followed.

Blog host Donal Daly wrote that post. It provides examples of things companies do (in this case, Fortune 500s) that demonstrate they have no idea how to drive sales performance improvement.

One company inquired about a sales effectiveness program that would "improve the results without asking the sales team to do anything differently." Another example: The company's sales operations and learning and development team wanted to implement a multi-million dollar sales training program, and were wondering about the best way to get started. They felt that it might be difficult, given that the sales leadership didn’t believe in the program and would not support it. Would it ever!

At ESR, when sales training doesn't work, we look at the reasons. Here are some of the more common ones; when you consider them as a whole, they all add up to a seat-of-the-pants, tactical approach to training:

• Not having the right people in the sales positions.

• No formal requirements definition.

• Inadequate funding.

• Engaging with the wrong training company.

• Not having a sales methodology in place first.

• Irrelevant training content (e.g., not employing examples based upon real customer experience).

• Adhering to a two- or three-day classroom program model when no longer appropriate.

• No post-program reinforcement.

• Not including other departments within the company.

• Not providing first-line sales management with methods and training for coaching their reps.

• Not having appropriate technology support for learning.

• Not having a measurement process in place for real-time feedback on what's working and what isn't.

• Not having specific learning objectives in place.

• Using a one-size-fits-all approach.

• Management doesn't participate in training.

• Not having tools available for immediate use (cold calling scripts and ROI models, as examples).

• No thought has been paid to the behavioral changes required for sales performance improvement.

Once you understand the gaps listed above, you can easily predict—with considerable accuracy—when sales training is not going to have an impact on the performance of the sales team. There is no randomness, no guesswork. Hoping won't work, either.

To put it simply, if sales training is looked at it tactically, it isn't going to work. When it's viewed strategically, it most often does get the job done. Do you fall into the latter camp? Take the following true-or-false quiz:

1. I can state most of the learning objectives of the next two training interventions.

2. We track leading indicators that warn us early on about sales performance gaps.

3. We have an institutionalized, ongoing coaching program in place for sales reps and their managers.

4. Ongoing sales effectiveness is seen by our CEO as critical for achievement of corporate goals and objectives.

5. We have invested in technology to support effective learning and selling.

If you answered "false" to more than two of these questions, you've got some serious work to do. Whether you work for a smaller company or a Fortune 500, don't count on any real improvement in sales performance without taking a strategic approach to training your salespeople.

Dave Stein is the author of "How Winners Sell" and CEO and founder of ES Research Group in West Tisbury, Mass. (www.esresearch.com). He can be contacted via e-mail at edit@salesandmarketing.com.