TL;DR? Download the PDF and save it for later. If you’re responsible for designing or implementing sales training for your organization, you know the effectiveness of training varies greatly. It might not be implemented properly, land well with participants, be relevant to sellers’ daily work, or it might be forgotten completely in the days and weeks following the training. Sales training fails more often than it succeeds. But, for those who get it right, the payoffs are substantial.
Sales Training Defined: Sales training is the process of improving seller skills, knowledge, and attributes to drive seller behavioral change and maximize sales success. To be most effective, sales training should be viewed, designed, and executed as a change management initiative. The most effective sales training focuses on true behavior change. Skills need to be learned, absorbed, and applied on the job. When done right, training can help organizations achieve their growth goals, such as increasing win rates, growing strategic accounts, improving sales cycle time, building pipeline, increasing average deal size, and more.
Most people who enter the discipline of sales training and enablement have an intrinsic motivator to help people. They are teachers, inspirers, coaches, and cheerleaders. But sometimes, even the most skilled trainers are faced with obstacles that are difficult to overcome. Training is inherently challenging. Research on The Forgetting Curve shows that within one week, people will have forgotten an average of 90% of the information presented. What's more, training is difficult to facilitate, reinforce, and measure. This reality contributes to more than 25% of salespeople reporting that their training has little or no effect.
In a meeting with a top sales officer at a large company just before Coronavirus, we were discussing virtual training. He said, “I’m just not into virtual training.” I asked, “Why’s that?” He responded, “It can be really challenging, from a seller’s perspective, to make it relevant in their world. Having them sit in front of a computer screen with content fed at them isn't a dynamic learning experience. I don’t see our sellers doing that or getting anything out of it.”
Engagement Threshold (noun): The point at which attention is captured and maintained, and below which is lost. We teach the concept of the engagement threshold to sellers that need to hold buyers’ attention in virtual sales meetings. When we teach it to sellers, we need to gain and keep their attention. It’s never been easy, but in a virtual environment, it’s significantly more difficult.
Since the Coronavirus pandemic began, virtual training has become an imperative. But designing and delivering effective virtual training is more the exception than the norm. Virtual training failure is all too common. That’s because virtual training that works is still in its infancy, and most organizations struggle to convert what works for in-person training to a virtual environment.
COVID-19 has rapidly accelerated changes in how business is done around the world. With employees working from home, travel bans, and new developments daily, virtual training has become an imperative. But many organizations have never done virtual training, and many L&D and sales enablement professionals are looking for new ideas and approaches. It’s easy for virtual training to fail, so how do you make it truly successful with so much riding on it?
Reinforcement has been a trend in the world of sales training for a while now. All the research data in sales training—and learning and development in general—supports the need for robust reinforcement. But it’s still not happening often enough. According to Aberdeen, fewer than half (44%) of companies formally follow-up initial sales training with reinforcement. At the same time, the companies that do reinforce training see 20% more sellers achieve sales quotas.
With 2020 less than a month away, it’s time to think about what sales success looks like for you in the new decade. Are changes in buyer behavior affecting your sales success? Are your accounts buying as much or as often as they could be? Are you losing big in negotiations?
In most organizations, it’s easy to make the case that millions, hundreds of millions, or even billions of dollars in financial gain can be had through sales improvement. You can affect growth. You can affect competitiveness. You can affect stock price. These are common items on leadership top priority lists.
The cliché of clichés to open an article like this is to say change is afoot. So I won't open with "change is afoot." In the world of sales training and enablement, change is explosive. There's a revolution going on in training and sales enablement that organizations can no longer ignore.
Sales training is often approached with a car wash mentality: You're in, you're out, and you're ready to sell. But this isn't how real learning happens. This isn't how you help sellers raise the bar and change how they sell. It's time for an entirely new approach to sales education; an approach that overhauls the way sales training is conceived, designed, and executed over the long-term. An approach that drives real behavior change and results.
The most popular and effective diets and workout routines—ones that lead to the most dramatic changes—have specific guidelines and rules for how to follow the system. No such system existed for sales—until now. And, it works.
When you're considering sales training, it's important to know what results you want to drive. Before any initiative, you need to answer one simple question: What do we want to achieve? There are many possible targeted outcomes of sales training from growing revenue and improving margins to increasing the average size of sale and growing accounts. Make sure whatever sales training initiatives you choose match up with your desired outcomes. As you think about your own sales training efforts, consider these possible results and how to achieve them.
Executives are always on a mission to prove Kirkpatrick Level 4 measurement of training: Results. Specifically, they want to know to what degree targeted outcomes occur as a result of the training event and subsequent reinforcement. There is relatively little data on how sales training correlates to business performance and results. That is, until now.
By now you know that teaching people how to sell and become Top Performers takes more than a one- or two-day event. It takes ongoing reinforcement. Sales training is a change initiative. Going through a single class in two days does not change the way sellers sell. Change happens over time, once sellers get back to work and start implementing newly learned skills.
"What gets measured gets managed." – Peter Drucker Only when you have a good sense of what's going on in your organization can you decide which buttons to push to make the greatest improvements. Even small efforts to track key sales metrics can quickly drive better results.
Your sales team isn't hitting quota. You have aggressive growth goals but keep falling short. You want more of your sales team to transition from average to top performers.
There's one question I wish I got asked more when working with leaders looking to invest in B2B sales training. That question is, "What will it really take to get the best results?" If you're a seller, you can probably relate to the experience of a well-meaning trainer giving examples from an industry that had nothing to do with yours. Or maybe they didn't have a credible track record to back up their claims. And when the training was over, it was back to business as usual the next morning.
I recently returned from an industry conference. The speakers were excellent and it was great to get away from my desk, connect with the attendees, and have the opportunity to step back and think big picture about what I need to be doing to drive success in my position. I returned with all sorts of notes, to-dos, and grand visions for change.
Sales training is a multibillion-dollar business. In the U.S. alone, it is estimated to be more than $5 billion (according to Dave Stein in Sales Training: The 120-Day Curse from ES Research Group). Yet, also according to Stein, between 85% and 90% of sales training has no lasting impact after 120 days. If we do the math, that amounts to somewhere north of $4.25 billion of unproductive training.
According to ES Research between 85% and 90% of sales training has no lasting impact after 120 days. At the same time, companies are spending billions of dollars on sales training each year. That’s billions of dollars being wasted on limited sales performance impact and only short-term boosts in sales at best. Training can be a disappointment right away when it just doesn’t go well, or it can be a disappointment months later when results don’t materialize. Regardless, sales training strikes out a lot. When it does, it’s usually because of common and predictable reasons. But if you can avoid these mistakes, you can set yourself up for a successful training initiative that leads to increased sales performance and long-term revenue growth. Here are 7 reasons why your sales training might be failing:
Salespeople know what they sell, and they sell what they know. When it comes to salesperson knowledge, people know too little about their particular industry, their customers’ needs, and their company’s products and services to be able to sell the full suite of solutions. Without this knowledge they can’t: Ask the right questions to uncover the complete set of customer needs Match the right products and services to those needs Position the value of their company as superior to other options available to the customer