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Why Sales Training Doesn’t Work – Is Your Training Program a Waste of Time and Money?

February 10th, 2021

Is your training program a waste of time and money?

Quick Quiz

Which of the following statements best describes your feelings about the training programs you have taken or have put your Sales Team through?

1 = Completely satisfied – training always yields visible and measurable results 2 = Fairly satisfied – training seems to be beneficial, but does not always yield the required results 3 = Unsure – The Sales Team is generally happy and business is moving in the right direction, but I’m unsure whether training is a contributing factor 4 = Fairly dissatisfied – training is something “nice to have” that my Sales Team could probably do without 5 = Completely dissatisfied – training is an expensive waste of time and resources

Common comments from Sales Managers

If you’re like most managers who arrange sales training for your Sales Team, you’re unlikely to report being “completely satisfied” with its worth.

We regularly survey senior Sales Managers in medium-to-large sized organisations and the following comments are, unfortunately, very common.

“They seemed to enjoy themselves, but two weeks later we saw very little change.” (Regional Sales Manager, Automotive Manufacturer)

“Overall the training was good, but the problem is in getting the guys to implement the new skills. Nothing really seems to have changed much.”(National Sales Manager, Building Industry)

“My people go on these courses and get pumped up for a day or two and then their performance slips back to what it was before the training – and in some cases even worse because they’re confused” (State Sales Manager, Retail)

If you’ve ever attended a training course yourself, it’s not hard to see the reasons why.

You enjoy the course and leave energised, with great intentions and a list of things you want to do differently once you’re back at work. But, by the time you get back to two days’ worth of unanswered emails, calls to return and proposal deadlines to meet, it’s another ten days before you even stop and think about the training. The moment for change has passed you by.

Training impact studies confirm that the knowledge gained at a seminar or workshop falls off significantly within just a few days of finishing the course.

And given the way people actually learn, this isn’t at all surprising. Even so, we continue to expect that the sales training event itself will make a measurable difference in light of strong evidence that this is unlikely to happen.

Let’s think about this logically. Would you send your child to a two-day course to learn to play the piano, and expect them to good enough to compete or pass exams with their new skill? Of course you wouldn’t.

Yet isn’t that the expectation we have when we send our salespeople on a two-day training program, our Sales Manager on a course to “Improve People, Productivity and Motivation”, or our Call Centre Manager on a two-day “Financial Management for Non-Financial Managers” course?

Why most sales training just doesn’t work

Whilst the right sales training course is a key ingredient in changing behaviour, the sales training event on its own is and can never ever be the “magic bullet.”

Change is a process; it’s not an event

Achieving a sustainable and real change in sales behavior requires much more than sending your salespeople off to be trained. To get salespeople to measurably improve and begin to do things differently requires a different approach. If we want to see “real” behavioral change and get a return on our investment, we need to use proven adult learning strategies and behavioural change tactics to boost their knowledge and enhance their capabilities. This means making a departure from the traditional way we approach sales training.

Historically, very little thought or effort was made in terms of preparing the participant to get ready to learn prior to the training event taking place. In most cases, when the participant returned to work, only “lip service” was given to the follow up process to make sure they integrated the things they learned during the training.

Generally, most of the learning is expected to occur during the sales training event itself. This is where the participant is exposed to new information, tools and tactics. Most Sales Managers live in the hopes that the sales training event will be engaging; the participant will emerge with a new vision of what is possible and pick up a few key tools that they will make a part of their sales routine.

Through its many studies and reports, the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) has shown that after a typical training event, the participant’s performance actually tends to drop as they attempt to apply and integrate their new knowledge and behaviours back in their work environment.

The problem is that most sales environments are not set up to support the participant and it isn’t long before workplace pressure, and the individual’s natural resistance to change, pulls them back into familiar territory and habitual ways of working and selling. The new knowledge is quickly forgotten and it is not long before performance returns to former levels.

Is it possible to actually guarantee a return on investment from training?

For sales training to deliver on its promises, the “sales training event” must be seen as only one element of the learning process.

Here are the elements of a proven and results-oriented sales training system that guarantees ROI from sales training by blending five key pieces of the learning puzzle.

1. Relevance – Prior to any training being delivered, the content, case studies and exercises need to be vetted to ensure its relevance to workplace outcomes.

2. Pre-workshop preparation – Prepare the participant prior to their attendance at the sales training event to accelerate the traction of the new tools and learning.

3. Event Engagement – The sales training event must engage the participant, delivering both insight and inspiration to transform behaviour.

4. Post-sales training execution – The individual learning outcomes must be followed up on and coached to ensure integration of desired behaviors into the workplace.

5. Accountability and measurement – Fine-tune the learning effort, tweaking until complete behavioral change has been achieved.

1. Relevance

Relevance checking is the first step.

Adult learning theory tells us that adults want reality and that adults are motivated to learn and apply only that which is relevant to them.

Malcolm Knowles, one of the most respected names in adult learning and author of The Modern Practice of Adult Education, reports “adults are most interested in subjects that have immediate relevance to their job or personal life”.

Research by the Huthwaite Research Group reports that, “Learners remembered more than four times as much from sales training sessions that were perceived as highly relevant to their jobs than they did from sessions that were seen as low in relevance.”

Relevance significantly accelerates learning, increases retention and makes learning more fun and interesting.

Questions to ask when investigating relevance include:

o Can the sales training be customised?
o Does it validate learners’ current knowledge?
o Will it reflect learners’ on-the-job experience?
o Does it include relevant case studies?
o Does it allow learners to benefit from the knowledge of other group members?
o Will it reflect and reinforce your preferred business processes?

2. Pre-Workshop Preparation

Pre-workshop preparation begins the change process by helping participants to “buy in” to the learning experience up front, before the learning event.

It sets the stage for the sales training event by creating a context for the sales training and matching it with the participant’s performance objectives and selling skills gaps.

During pre-workshop preparation, the learner should be asked to gather data about their current challenges and successes, and any examples that can be used during the sales training session. When a salesperson is cognisant of their skill gaps and how those gaps impact their ability to write revenue, it helps to speed up the learning process.

Our experience shows that by completing pre-workshop preparation the learner is more likely to become an active participant in the training.

Pre-workshop activities may include:

o Research
o Reading background material
o Completing practical or written exercises
o Completing assessments, profiling or diagnostic tests
o Connecting the salesperson’s learning objectives with those of the course content and their job performance
o Identifying internal support and resources
o Formal activities designed for recognition of prior learning (RPL)
o Creating a “learning agreement”

3. Event Engagement

The sales training event itself is where most sales training organisations expend most their time and energy.

A training event will have most impact when:

o The topic is relevant to the learner’s needs and builds on their previous experience
o The training offers a new perspective that expands the learner’s concept of what is possible
o Participants can easily see how mastering the content will improve their workplace performance
o Participants are able to experiment and practice new behaviours in a safe environment
o Participants expand their network and develop learning relationships with other attendees
o Participants are inspired and motivated to change their behaviour
o Participants develop an action plan moving forward to begin to change their below par behaviours

On its own, the sales training event will not increase performance, but a powerful “learning event” can be the catalyst for organisational learning where individuals are inspired to share their knowledge and teach others.

4. Post-sales training execution

Organisations that are serious about achieving a return on their sales training investment make sure that the training content is integrated into the workplace. To help do that they make sure they provide individual follow-up and support.

This phase ensures that measurable results can be achieved. By providing follow up coaching and support to assist individual salespeople to implement and apply their new knowledge and skills, Sales Managers ensure that the time, effort and resources invested in the development and running of the sales training bears measurable” fruit”.

Post-sales training execution and follow-up tools may include:

o High-Performance Coaching
o Post-Sales training Execution Plan & Learning agreements follow up
o Post-Sales training accreditation, assessment and/or diagnostics
o Follow up, self-paced learning modules
o Follow up workshops
o Mentoring program
o “Teach others” program
o “Buddy-coaching” Program

High-Performance Coaching