Senior sales leaders often complain that sales training doesn't work. There are several reasons why they might be right, but the root cause is that corporate sales training needs a radical reinvention. The primary purpose of traditional corporate sales training is that companies can check the box proving they provided some kind of training to their sales force. The content and approach of the training, and how useful it will be for the sales force is barely considered. In these sessions, the sales trainer has six hours to provide the strategies and tactics salespeople need to enable some skill. The salespeople being trained face an equally impossible task. They must leave the training with perfect comprehension, perfect retention, and perfect execution after being exposed to the content exactly once.
The Unfortunate Truth about Corporate Sales Training
The sad truth about corporate sales training is that it was never designed to work. This isn’t due to bad intentions. Often, the strategies and tactics presented in these sessions are selected because they are perceived as valuable. The problem is that, while information is important and helpful, a single explanation isn't enough to create competency. Transmitting information about sales strategies and tactics in a training is about as effective as describing how to do the butterfly stroke to people without letting them get wet.
Corporate sales training fails to produce better results because the approach isn't designed to support the competencies that would increase and improve the sales force's effectiveness. There has never been a time where salespeople needed more help improving their ability to create value for their clients.
A Radical Reinvention of Corporate Sales Training
We can improve corporate sales training so it allows salespeople to improve their effectiveness and their results. The following changes describe how to achieve this. Some will be more difficult than others.
Make the Leader Commit to Lead the Change
Before we can discuss the radical reinvention of sales training, we need to look at the leader's commitment to helping their team change. Without the leader’s strong commitment, it's all but certain the training will fail to produce the desired results. The initiative can't belong to human resources, sales enablement, or any other person or group. Because new competencies require behavioral changes, the sales leader must lead the way.
Train Sales Managers First
There is only one group of people capable of helping salespeople make the necessary behavioral changes to improve their selling: the frontline sales managers. By training sales managers first, you can ensure they understand the approach, the strategies, and the tactics that their team will learn to deploy. One major mistake of corporate training comes from the misconception that it can change the sales force's behavior. Without monitoring the sales force as they apply what they learn, you are all but certain to find them doing what they have always done.
Treat Corporate Sales Training as Development
Most B2B sales organizations don't start with a competency model that describes the traits and skills salespeople need to succeed. Corporate giants usually have a model but it isn't often used to improve the sales force's effectiveness. Development includes training, but it also requires coaching and reinforcement. Every training initiative should start with a long-term development plan that provides the support the sales force will need acquire and master a new skill.
Require Post-Training Assignments
To get the training to stick, the sales force needs to immediately use what they learned. Selling is a series of conversations, and improving them requires practice, so sales leaders and managers need to provide follow-up assignments to reinforce what was taught in the training. However, asking the sales force to apply their new skills is not enough by itself. Post-training assignments should encourage the team to go deeper, sharing what worked, what didn't, and what improves the outcomes. This deeper level of understanding makes salespeople willing to continue working to gain competency.
Reinforce Corporate Sales Training with Additional Resources
Any training needs to be supported with assets that allow the sales force to retain what they have learned. By providing short video courses, the sales force can review the strategies and tactics they are mastering, reinforcing what they learned in training. Sometimes, the training may require worksheets, templates, playbooks, or conversation guides. No one should be expected to remember what they learned in a training without having access to the content in other forms.
Use Training and Development Huddles
A team being trained will improve their results by meeting as a group to learn from each other. A conversation about how someone was able to effectively use a strategy and improve their results is worth sharing. It's also worth exploring what happened when the salesperson tried and failed. The sales manager should lead these conversations. The sale force's commitment to make the change will never exceed the sales manager's or sales leader's commitment. If you don't have time, failure is certain.
Fully Enable the New Competency
A single training can’t transfer a competency, especially considering the difficulty of the required outcomes. Skills and competencies like creating value in the sales conversation, identifying key stakeholders, and gaining consensus are difficult to develop. Without the investment of time to acquire the competency, your results will be less than if you had enabled the change you need from your team.
Making Sales Training Work
Corporate sales training needs a radical reinvention. Sales leaders need to commit to developing their sales force. Abraham Lincoln is attributed with saying that if given six hours to chop down a tree, he'd spend the four hours sharpening his axe. His point is that the more effective the axe, the better the outcome. For a long time, sales leaders have underinvested in the time and energy it takes to improve sales effectiveness. The investment in improving the sales force's effectiveness is equal to replacing Lincoln's Axe with a chainsaw. But only if you reinvent sales training.