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Why Does Sales Training Fail? It's Your Fault!

blog author
Written by John Doerr
Co-Founder, RAIN Group

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.

In speaking to prospects about the sales training they plan to implement, more often than not they ask, "What is the most important thing we have to do to ensure that this investment in training will pay off?" While there are many things that can and should be done (see Why Sales Training Fails), the one I believe is most important is that senior management has to be committed.

Training is not something you do to someone and then go on your merry way, waiting for your newly jazzed sales force to bring in wealth, fame, and fortune. Sales training is a partnership with your sales team, your consultants, or whomever you expect to sell. In order for sales training to have any lasting impact, it must include evaluation, accountability, and continual improvement. In other words, it requires a commitment to manage the sales training process.

I know, not the most exciting of concepts. Maybe even a little boring. But sometimes boring things make the biggest difference.

Employ Evaluation, Accountability, and Continual Improvement for Sales Training Success

Consider this:

Most companies implement sales training to increase revenue. Selling (like anything else) is a process that has a series of inputs and outputs both common and readily identifiable and measurable. If you can improve process efficiency (getting more things done) and effectiveness (getting things done with greater success), you can improve output (in this case, revenue).

Yet, according to Mark Van Buren and William Erskine in their ASTD State of the Industry Report, only 9% of organizations evaluate behavioral change, and only 7% evaluate organizational results stemming from training initiatives. No wonder management gets a bad rap here.

Companies that do evaluate sales performance systematically have a number of advantages:

  • They can measure the effect of sales training and performance improvement initiatives
  • They can improve sales strategies and rollout successes across the team
  • They can remove ineffective sales strategies and training components in favor of those that work better
  • They can shorten learning curves and get new salespeople producing faster than before
  • They can continually improve

The evaluation process also has a positive effect on sales results. Customer renewal rates, deal size, team achievement of quota, and salesperson achievement of quota are all positively impacted by performance management processes.

No Evaluation System = No Accountability

Without effective training and sales performance evaluation processes, sales training can fail simply because management has no idea if it has even succeeded. And without an evaluation process, it's nearly impossible to hold salespeople accountable for changing and improving behavior—or for taking actions and achieving results.

Implemented in the right way, sales performance evaluation analytics can be the source of significant competitive advantage. In fact, 67% more best-in-class companies have sales analytics than laggards, according to Aberdeen Group's Reaching Sales Quotas More Consistently.

As noted in the Harvard Business Review by leadership expert Thomas Davenport, "Organizations are competing on analytics not just because they can—business today is awash in data crunchers—but also because they should. At a time when firms in many industries offer similar products and use comparable technologies, business processes are among the last remaining points of differentiation. And analytics competitors wring every last drop of value from those processes."

Employ analytics, and you'll be able to join an elite club: companies that actually succeed with continual improvement. When evaluation, accountability, and continual improvement come together, you'll have salespeople who:

  • Can sell
  • Will sell
  • Know what to do to sell
  • Get it done and keep getting better

Without Accountability Everything Else Falls Apart

One other important note: let's say that there is an evaluation system. Sales training can also fail if leadership (that's you) is unwilling to act on enforcing activity and results expectations.

At one company we know, we spoke with a business unit leader who was expected, for the previous several years, to meet revenue growth targets for his division. The core way he was expected to grow the division was through his personal selling efforts.

For three years straight he did not meet those expectations. When we asked him why he hadn't met the targets, he said he never really tried. He told us, referring to his company leadership, "They keep asking me to sell more, but they haven't done anything about it yet, and I doubt they will. Until they do, why change? I'm happy with how things are."


There are all sorts of issues with that statement, but it's clear that there's no accountability. If you want to make certain your sales training succeeds, look in the mirror. It starts with you. 


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Topics: Sales Management Sales Training