Billions of dollars are spent on sales training each year. About 10 percent of the information imparted by knowledgeable trainers and consultants is retained and applied to the real world. The intent of the company is usually good, to invest in its greatest asset: its people. So why isn't your sales training program giving you a greater return on investment?
Reason No. 1: Ignorance with good intent.
Many of you may be like me. I grew up in the world of impact training. At my previous company, we would bring in a crew of 20 salespeople for two weeks. We would start sales training at 8 a.m. sharp and break at 6 p.m. After two weeks of intense training, we would send new hires back into the field. Then we would wonder why the new recruits couldn't remember all the great information from their impact training.
Step out of the sales world for a moment. Have you ever watched an expert in their field perform, such as a musician, artist or athlete? I dare you to ask this expert if they learned their craft at a one-day seminar or two-week training program. Chances are they would look at you in disbelief, laugh and think you were joking.
Sales organizations want to be treated as professionals, yet, often don't do what true professionals do to become an expert in their fields. Instead, sales organizations hold one-day sales training workshops and expect the team to learn, retain, change and apply new information.
The fix: Go back to basics. For example, you learned some of the most useful things as a child. After all these years, you are able to retrieve grade school information and deliver it on a moment's notice. That is the power of reinforcement, ongoing education and training.
Organizations serious about creating permanent change need to be well-versed in the adult learning model, which focuses on how adults learn instead of what they learn.
"Training fails because trainers and organizations do not understand how the adult brain processes information," said Pam Gordon, president of Pam Gordon and Associates, which teaches companies how to better train their employees using adult learning methods.
She says that for the knowledge to really take, "participants need to engage in a minimum of seven practice sets over 21 days to make sure the information has been stored and can be retrieved."
Reason No. 2: No training focus on beliefs and attitudes.
Let's say a company has invested time and money in a sales training program. Its sales team is talking the same language and has a process that can be duplicated, and the sales tactics are sound. So why isn't the salesperson out prospecting, calling the "C" suite and talking money before presenting any type of solution?
It could be because the sales training program didn't cover the driving force behind any successful person: their self-confidence. The salesperson is either intimidated or doesn't feel worthy to make the call. Unless the true issue is addressed, no sales tactic or plan ever will be executed.
The fix: Make sure you are working on the right end of the problem. When a salesperson has learned the knowledge, can apply it in a practice set but still doesn't do what is needed in the real world, you have a conceptual roadblock to deal with versus a technical roadblock. Unfortunately, sales managers and trainers keep throwing more product knowledge and skill training at the salesperson, when the real focus of coaching should be on building their self-confidence when calling on people of power and authority.
Reason No. 3: Sales manager or firefighter?
Companies hire sales managers and turn them into operations managers. The manager is busy putting on a firefighting hat, filling out reports or attending endless meetings when they should be in the field training and coaching their sales team.
Neil Rackham, author of "Major Account Selling," conducted a study of 1,000 salespeople. Sales teams involved in a consistent, ongoing coaching program generated 17 percent more revenue than the uncoached sales team.
The fix: Change the job description and accountabilities of the sales manager to reflect what is really important in their position: coaching their team. There is only one way sales skill levels grow: through consistent reinforcement, feedback on performance and practice. Sales training works only when three ingredients are present: A sales training program that works (outside of the classroom), commitment from the participants to learn and practice, and reinforcement by the sales management team.
To be effective as coaches, sales managers must incorporate the adult learning model into their training program and learn new skills associated with training and coaching. These are very different than the selling skills that often get a person promoted into sales management.
Knowledge is power only when it can be applied.