The Impact of Sales Training

In my previous post I wrote about the meaning of not trainable, as a finding in our assessment.  In this post I’d like to talk about the impact of the training itself.  Training, when correctly conceived and implemented, provides a sustainable long-term return.

Conception – a well conceived training program deals specifically with the issues that each salesperson has.  Unfortunately, most training is initiated by a well intended VP of sales, who might say something like, “We need training on closing techniques”.  He then goes about the process of finding someone who could provide skills training on the subject of closing, typically an event rather than a process.  The problem is that people don’t change from an approach like this and this type of training always fails to work on the real problems – the reasons why your people are having difficulty closing.  Training and development is often 2 parts skill and 8 parts fixing the problems that prevent people from executing their skills. Have your sales force evaluated to determine exactly what the training must address at your company.

Content – Many VP’s put a lot of weight on content but the content is less important than the trainer’s ability to get people to change!  An effective trainer can use almost any content and get your people to respond and take action.  That said, content should be aligned with the issues identified in the sales force evaluation and in a perfect world, should be modular.  In other words, there should be unique sessions or programs that deal specifically with each of the issues identified.  For example, a session that introduces a selling process should be separate from a session that deals with self-limiting beliefs which should be separate from a session that deals with overcoming objections, etc.

Trainer – As I just mentioned, the trainer is a very important component to the training puzzle.  An ineffective trainer, even when representing great content, will lay an egg.  What makes a trainer effective?  Style!  He or she must be dynamic, able to get the group’s attention and hold it; the trainer should be an expert storyteller, the best way to backup theory with examples; The trainer must be able to role-play scenarios so that everyone can see, hear and sense how a particular approach must be executed; the trainer must be entertaining so that people choose to pay attention; the trainer must be interactive with the group so that people participate; and the trainer must make change the end goal, not the training.

Reinforcement – Most training is delivered in one or two day boot camps.  While the training could be quite good, the participant’s ability to remember, internalize and apply what they learned isn’t.  So the one or two day event should be a kickoff of sorts – a synopsis of what will be covered during the next year.  Then, once or twice per month, specific subjects should be covered in detail, allowing participants to fully learn, understand, remember, internalize and apply the training, enhancing their  ability to execute in the field.

Accountability – While this is not generally discussed by trainers, participants or management, I believe this is as important as the trainer.  Who will hold the salespeople accountable for what they learn, what they apply, how they apply it and where and when they use it.  Who will coach them to make sure they use it the right way and when they don’t, correct them?  Who will hold them accountable for attending the training?  Who will hold them accountable for their progress from the training?  If management isn’t willing or able to do this, a lot of time and money could be wasted.  The salespeople may be exposed to the trainer and concepts once or twice per month.  If there isn’t somebody reinforcing those messages the remaining 20 days of the month, there won’t be much progress.

The impact of sales training can be very significant.  However, unless training is done the right way, you may not see any impact at all.