It's not uncommon to sacrifice precise accuracy when you communicate: we sometimes use similar but distinct words as if they were interchangeable. However, precision creates clarity, and the more specific the word, the greater the understanding.
Much of the time, for example, when we say "sales training," we really mean "development," an outcome that may include training but isn't likely to be achieved by training alone. Sales training comes with a certain set of outcomes different from the development of a salesperson or a sales force, but both are necessary.
The Outcomes of Sales Training
Most of the time, sales training provides a necessary skill—like prospecting, gaining commitments, overcoming objections, or negotiating with your dream client when they ask you for a lower price. A modern B2B salesperson needs a full complement of skills to succeed in today's environment.
Unfortunately, too many sales organizations choose check-box training, the one-day, one-topic training sessions designed to provide or improve a single skill. The point of check-box training is to let the sales organization check the box marked "train salesforce," while also addressing the specific skills they want to improve.
In six hours of training, a sales force can be provided a framework that enables a new skill or a new approach, an opportunity to acquire the requisite strategies and tactics, and a chance to practice in a safe environment, making it more likely they can execute the skill they were taught.
One challenge of this approach is that a single session isn't enough to make the behavioral change stick, so many salespeople go back to doing things the way they've always done them.
Knowledge Transfer and Competency Transfer
Sales training is very good for knowledge transfer, even if it is inadequate for what we might describe as competency transfer. Knowledge is necessary but not sufficient for competency transfer, a more lasting result that enables the salesperson to execute a new approach and produce the desired outcome.
No matter the skill being trained, competency requires practicing the approach over time, gaining the experience that eventually leads to mastery. No serious person believes that mastery is possible in four 90-minute training segments. When you recognize that training only provides knowledge transfer, you understand the need for other tools that deliver competency transfer.
Why You Should Start with Development
While most sales organizations start with training, you are better off starting with development, i.e. nurturing competency in an individual salesperson or entire sales force. By starting with a competency model that provides both the attributes and skills to succeed in sales, you can design a better approach to increasing and improving sales effectiveness, a measure of how well an individual salesperson creates and wins new opportunities and clients.
Outside of sales, few jobs require you to call strangers to ask them for a meeting, then walk into an unfamiliar business to meet with a contact you barely know, who will judge you by your ability to create meaningful value in a conversation about how to improve their results. While sales skills are critical, other factors weigh into a client's decision to continue a conversation with a salesperson—or to disengage and find someone who will be more helpful.
Contemporary salespeople need more competencies to succeed today, most of which are uncommon in check-box training. These competencies require development over time. For instance, in The Only Sales Guide You'll Ever Need, you'll learn about Business Acumen, Change Management, and Leadership, skills impossible to acquire without gaining the right experience. While you might attend a training course on business acumen, the knowledge transfer needs to be coupled with competency transfer, something more difficult to measure.
Gaining Competency Through Experience
The only way to gain competency is through practice. While sales training can provide a safe environment to start that practice, mastery is only possible through experience. The reason experienced salespeople make selling look effortless is because they have acquired competency over a long time, having had enough conversations to know how best to achieve the results they need.
Development requires that the sales force reflect on their experience: what worked, what challenges they faced, what other choices might have improved their result, and how their experience triangulates with their peers’ efforts. This approach allows them to recognize the distinctions among approaches, helping them learn how best to pursue a new outcome. Just like our clients, we learn much through conversations with others, including how to make sense of our experience.
Gaining Competency Through Coaching
Survey data shows that most salespeople want more coaching from their sales managers and sales leaders. They want to understand how best to improve their results. A development model allows a sales manager or leader to recognize the competencies that the individuals on their team need to acquire, coach them, encourage them to gain the necessary experience, and help them make the adjustments that will improve their competencies—and their results.
A good coach can speed the improvement of a salesperson's competencies. Those who are left to their own devices take longer to improve, if they improve at all. Developing your sales force requires training and knowledge transfer, opportunities to acquire the experiences that will start them on the path to competency, and the individual and team coaching to help them make distinctions and adjustments that increase their sales effectiveness.