Sales Managers and Sales Leaders often complain about the lack of effectiveness of their effort to train their salespeople. They say, “We tried this training, and it didn’t work.” The very statement elucidates the likely reasons the training was not useful for them while working very well for others. Here is why sales training is doomed to fail and how to get a better result.
It Is An Event And Not Development
The first and most common reason sales training fails is that you treat it as an event, not development. Development may include training, but training rarely includes development.
Imagine a trainer provides four major concepts to a sales team over the course of a day. The trainer is expected to deliver the content to a relatively large group of people in a style that ensures each individual has perfect comprehension and retention. In that same time, the trainer will have to describe the strategies and tactics necessary to enable the people they’re training. The trainer will also need to provide an understanding of the nuances and when to make one choice over another.
For their part, the participants are required to have perfect retention and the ability to execute what they learned, having seen and practiced precisely once in the course of a single day. Perfection is expecting too much of both the trainer and the people they are training.
Development is different. It suggests a process that occurs over time, reinforcement, and continuous learning as people pursue new concepts, strategies, and tactics. Development also means working on the material, before and after training, including coaching to improve execution.
Your training event should be only one part of the development process.
Not Tied to Behavioral Change
No matter what the trainer is training, you will measure the results, and a behavioral change will determine those results. Training is about behavioral change no matter what you train.
The best training in the world will not take if there is no follow up, if leadership isn’t engaged in the process, and if there is no accountability for changed behaviors. Some mistakenly believe understanding the concept is enough, that all is necessary is a transfer of knowledge. In no other endeavor would you find understanding the concept to be enough to make one competent in some new skill.
Which of these might produce a better result? You can have the person trained to make the behavioral change necessary to generate their results, even though they have no understanding of the concept or why it works. Alternatively, instead, you can have a person leave the training with perfect, PH.d-like knowledge of the concepts, but without the behavioral change.
Your training must focus on the necessary behavioral change you need to produce better results.
Not Transformational In Nature
When businesses make real change, they think in terms of transformation, massive, strategic shifts in what or how they do something. These initiative are announced with great fanfare, and they are the only thing leadership talks about for years. Companies involved in a transformation have projects, assignments, training, coaching, and new accountabilities. As one might expect, they have many meetings and reporting on the change.
Rarely is sales training ever viewed as transformation. Instead, we assume salespeople know how to sell, and to the rest of the organization it looks like voodoo or black magic, some supernatural ability that some possess from birth. These companies train because they think they are supposed to.
Viewing sales training as transformation provides a longer-term view of the acquisition of new skills and new approaches and new behaviors. It suggests that these outcomes are going to take the same kind of time and energy as any other transformation the business might pursue.
You must think of your training in terms of transformation. There needs to be a present state that is different from a future state, and there must be a plan to produce that future state over time.
The Content Is Not Relevant
A lot of what is trained in sales comes from a time long gone. While many of the principles remain true over long periods, the strategies and tactics suffer from diminished effectiveness. Systems decades old are still taught and trained without so much as an update for the 21st Century. A Century now close to entering its third decade.
None of these systems recognize the need to compel change, because that wasn’t an issue they were trying to solve. None of them define or suggest value creation as the heart of differentiation and effectiveness, and in fact, even if the words aren’t spoken. The questioning methodologies, mostly open-ended and close-ended questions were designed to tie-down prospects, not help them discover something about themselves. Consensus buying, a factor in the past, wasn’t nearly as tricky as it is now.
Salespeople recognize their challenges. When what is taught isn’t relevant to the areas in which they need help, you can not expect either adoption or the necessary behavioral changes.
The Competencies Are Not Easily Acquired or Developed
The competencies described above require a higher level of skill than what came before them. In the past, I have defined three levels of sales skills. The oldest set of skills includes commitment-gaining, prospecting, and storytelling, all of which have been around since forever. The second level of skills started as markets matured and include diagnosing, differentiating, and negotiation (something different in magnitude from haggling at the bazaar). Now, salespeople need business acumen, change management skills, and leadership.
The difficulty acquiring the skills necessary to succeed point to how much more complex and demanding B2B sales has grown. It also explains why much training is not relevant now and is in massive need of an update.
You Need Development and Transformation
The very best players in any sport start their career in grade school, as do the best dancers and artists. They are continually trained and coached in the behaviors over a long time. Imagine taking a young person of, say, 22 years of age and teaching them to play some sport and putting them on a field to play against people who have decades of development in that endeavor. Make them the quarterback of a professional team or the first chair violinist in an orchestra. How would they fare?
These are some of the main reasons sales training is doomed to fail, and of course, you can eliminate all of these as a risk by ensuring you focus on development and behavior change enabled by a modern B2B approach.