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Rome Wasn't Built in a Day - Neither are Sales Skills

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Written by John Doerr
President, RAIN Group

I love the movie Groundhog Day. If you haven’t seen it, please do. If you have, then you will remember that Bill Murray, the lead, masters the piano, develops incredible medical diagnostic skills, becomes fluent in French, and learns to change tires in minutes. All the while covering the breaking news of the emergence of Punxsutawney Phil (the groundhog signaling a longer winter – hence the movie title).

And Murray does all this in one day. I want to do that. The fact that he has to live the same day over and over and over again until he gets his life right is…well, just a minor detail.

Sometimes when I speak with CEOs and VPs of Sales, I think they must be living in Punxsutawney, PA with Bill Murray.

Sales are down, the sales team isn’t making quota, and management is not sure who is capable of improving. But they truly believe they can fix whatever ails and build their team’s selling skills with a two-day training session…or a one day refresher course…or even better, a one-hour rousing, inspirational speech (just after the golf and before the cocktails).

The problem is that none of these training events will be repeated for a year or maybe two years, if at all. The results: no improvement in sales, no superstars shining through, and no better idea of who is going to improve.  The piano takes years…medicine takes years …fluency in French – years…changing tires – years, well maybe only days…but sales skills…just a few hours. Imagine that.

Of course, the meager attempt at improving sales skills doesn’t work. It usually takes just a few weeks before salespeople are saying:

  • I don't remember what was covered in the sales training program
  • I don’t know enough to use the tools and apply the advice
  • I didn't get enough practice to feel confident enough to give it a try
  • I tried something and it didn’t work…I'm not sure if it just doesn't work or if I did it wrong
  • I'm pretty sure the powers that be don't remember that this was a priority anyway
  • No one's going to check that I'm using the new skills
  • I'll just go back to what I was doing before

Without sales training reinforcement, as much as participants might have loved the program, it’s the rare salesperson who goes home and curls up by the fire with a simmering cup of hot chocolate (with marshmallows) and reviews their sales training binder three times a week.

With event-only training, after short-term bumps in sales improvement, salespeople forget learned skills and knowledge, forget how inspired and motivated they were given what they covered, and the learning effectiveness decreases.

In this case, you end up with what ES Research calls the 120 day sales training curse. Four months after the training happens, results and behaviors go right back to where they started before the training.

Build Sales Skills That Stick

Adult learning is an ongoing process. Only through repetition and practice will your sales team internalize sales skills training and consistently put it to use.

Other than taking Bill Murray’s approach of repeating the same day over and over again, you can get the results you want by keeping the learning fresh with:

  1. Webinars to reinforce key concepts
  2. Online training and lessons available on-the-job when the team needs to reinforce key topics and support
    complementary learning
  3. Emails to provide action reminders and tips to help the team put the new sales skills to practice
  4. Regular role playing to offer much needed practice and feedback
  5. Peer and managerial coaching to provide supportive feedback on what they’re doing well and what they need to improve upon
  6. Ongoing review of goals and plans to ensure expectations are met
  7. Support of top management to keep focus and keep it at the top of the priority list

It would be great if sustainable improvement in sales skills and real changes in behaviors could be accomplished in just one day. But unless you want to play the leading role in a remake of Groundhog Day, consistent reinforcement has a much better chance of success.

Topics: Sales Training