• Year after year, companies spend millions to provide salespeople with training. And for a lot of companies, year after year, the results remain the same or have little to show in terms of returns for their investment. The challenge that these companies often ask when faced with this situation is, “How do we make the investment work?” and “Why should we invest money on training again?”. Assessing the value of training from a financial (ROI) point of view which is often the case with business organizations, can lead us to look at the wrong direction and miss the real opportunity.

    Training is about people development and is better assessed from the point of view of behavioral change. Coming from this angle, a more appropriate question would be, “What changes in behaviour were observed after training?” If change in behaviour follows the standard that was taught, then progress was achieved. If no change in behaviour was observed, the appropriate questions would then be, “What makes sales training fail?” and and “What can we do to make sales training work?” These questions can put us on the right track and lead us to the right answers.

    What makes sales training fail?

    1. Training for the wrong reason.

    A lot of companies see training as a magic potion that when taken, will make salespeople sell more and make them hit sales targets. Training is seen as a short-term tactic or strategy, not as a doorway towards long-term culture change or a way of doing business. When I talk to clients and ask them why they want their salespeople trained, I get similar responses. The most common are, “They don’t know how to close a sale” or “they don’t know how to get more prospects”, or “they don’t know how to ask questions”. These are evidences that training is seen as a solution to operational problems, rather than a way to establish a corporate culture.

    Another example is when a client asked me, “How many days will the classroom training take?” I replied, “For this program, it would require a minimum of three days to complete the basics with hands-on exercises.” He came back with, “Do you have a program for one day?”. I asked, “why do you prefer a one day session?”. He responded, “That’s about all my salespeople can take. They have very short attention span.” was his response.This is an attitude that clearly shows the lack for a strong reason for training. It shows a poor appreciation for “WHY” we need to train. When training is determined by the attention span of our salespeople instead of the identified needs to improve selling skills, we can say that we have a wrong foundation for training.

    I had a similar conversation with a company owner, and when I asked him why he prefers a one day classroom training, he replied, “I don’t want my people to be away from selling for a long time.” This is a good example of seeing training as a tactic and purely as an operational tool. He has salespeople working the whole year doing nothing but selling, and still ends the year not hitting sales targets. Yet the owner is not willing to invest three days to allow his salespeople to be better in what they do. I admire owners who show strong commitment for their business. But I admire them more when they show commitment for developing their salespeople so that they can be better in what they do and deliver better results. It is sad that many business owners miss the point, that training is a culture change, not a tactic. What it brings are lasting results, not short term solutions. An even greater challenge is to make business realize that creating a new sales culture cannot be achieved with a three-day classroom training.

    2. Failure to get buy-in.

    Going through the training is seen merely as compliance to a requirement imposed by management. The salesperson may accept the new information, but not the practice. This is observed when we hear a salesperson ask, “We can also increase sales with what we do now, why change?”. Or when they say, “I don’t see why we have to change the way we do things, it only make things more difficult.” What’s even more sad is when you hear this from a supervisor or a sales manager. This can happen when management just give the training without being clear on the objectives and expected benefits. For training to succeed, it is crucial to get the salespeople’s buy-in.

    3. Absence of follow-through.

    In spite of the many advances in business technology, many companies still fail to see sales training beyond classroom training. Whenever a company requests for sales training, they expect a classroom training. They call in all of their salespeople and make them attend 2 – 3 days of classroom training and then release them back to their territories, hoping that they would implement and bring in more sales. Experience tells us that without any follow-through training, the salespeople will just go back to their usual old habits. The absence of follow-through after classroom training is manifested by the following:

    -Sales Managers or supervisors continue with their usual meeting agenda focusing on sales and operations, instead of checking on the implementation of the newly learned selling system.

    -Sales managers and supervisors continue to do their normal routine during fieldwork. They visit accounts and help the

    Salespeople sell, but do not observe the implementation of newly learned selling skills.

    – The incentives, awards and recognition remain focused on the usual parameters of sales performance versus targets . Recognition for the implementation of the new selling system is not included in the performance appraisal.

    The absence of follow-up is a non-verbal way of communicating that management’s priority is really SALES, and that the new selling system takes a back seat.

    4. Failure to make things matter.

    The saying, “What get’s checked, gets done” is true. But what if after checking you find out that things are not being done? What do you do after that? Most managers just remind the sales person to comply and then hope that it gets done. Other managers just give up after giving repeated reminders and getting non-compliance. Eventually, the leaders settle for the status quo. Then, training fails and change does not happen.

    To ensure execution of new selling processes, salespeople should be made accountable for its use and the achievement of expected results. Accountability can be developed by making things matter in a balanced and fair manner. First is by catching them do things right and commend them for it. In that way, they will be encouraged to continue with things that they are doing well. Second, observe for performance gaps. Call attention when you spot them and provide the appropriate coaching. It would be best to document coaching inputs. By doing so, you will have reference for providing continuity of training, and make the salesperson realize the value that you give training.

    5. Absence of inspirational reinforcement.

    Inconsistency between the new goals and the incentives and recognition that are given, contribute to the failure of implementing new processes. After training, it is common to see the company continuing with its sales incentives and nothing on perpetuating and motivating salespeople to implement the newly learned selling processes. Sales incentives and recognition remain focused on sales success and none on successful process change. As we continue to motivate our sales team to sell more, we should also design recognition and incentive programs that will support desired behavioural changes. This will help the organization increase the probability of winning the tug-of-war between retaining old habits and accepting new ways.

    6. Buy-in on the goal but not on the leg-work

    We pay lip service when we talk about the things we need to improve and the changes we need to make, but fail to translate this into action. It is a case where the goal is appreciated, but not the legwork. Training is often seen as something good to know, but not good to implement. That’s why after training, people leave with new information and ideas, but maintain their old ways.

    Lip service is also seen when a boss fails to make things matter. Every time non-compliance occurs and no reaction is seen from the boss, the employee gets the impression that compliance is not really important — or it’s ok not to implement. This is a common contributor to training failure.

    How do we find the solution?

    Finding the reasons why training fails is the first step to find the solution and make training succeed and stick. Examine the reasons given above and determine what applies in your case. From there you can determine an appropriate solution to make training work for you.

    For more inquiries on how to make your next sales training succeed, you can email me at: inquiry@omtc.com.ph

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