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It’s Never “Just A Matter Of Training.”

by David Brock on April 1st, 2014

I was speaking to a friend the other day.  He’s VP of Sales Enablement for a large technology organization.  He had just come out of a meeting of his peers–the top management in the sales organization.  He called to say, “the field VP’s proposed that we initiate a major sales training program and are willing to fund it.”

I was puzzled, “What’s the problem?  That should be fantastic for your organization.  It’s the opportunity to implement some of the new training approaches we’ve spoken about.”

He replied, “Yes, from that view, it’s great.  We think the training could have a real impact.  But I have a problem with the way they have approved this.  There view is that all that’s needed to improve performance is training.  They’re tossing the solution to the entire performance issue on my lap.  It’s  a sure path to disaster!”

My friend was absolutely right–unfortunately, his neck and only his neck was on the line.  He was in an impossible situation.  The problem my  friend faced, is that however outstanding the training program, without the active and ongoing engagement of the managers, would never have the impact it could.  The issue he faced had nothing to do with the quality of the training, and everything to do with his peers views that performance improvement could be solely the result of a training program.

Improving sales performance is never just a matter of training, yet so many smart managers seem to have this impression.  They think, “all we need to do is conduct this training program and things will be improved.”  They couldn’t be more wrong.  Sales training–skills development is a component of any performance improvement initiative, it may be a very important component, but by itself, seldom achieves the expected results.

To sustain performance improvement, we have to move away from the event mentality that surrounds most training programs.   We have to look at the other components critical to sustained performance improvement. Does the training reinforce the strategies and priorities of the organization?   Do we have the right systems, processes, and tools in place to support and reinforce the training?  Do we have metrics and goals aligned with what we are trying to achieve through the training?  (The opposite of this is true as well:  Does the training reinforce the ability for the people to achieve the metrics and goals we have in place?)  Perhaps most importantly, has management committed to ongoing and active reinforcement and coaching?

It’s unfortunate, but we’ve seen too many training efforts fail, and much of it has little to do with the quality of the training program, but it’s because managers treat training a standalone event.  They fail to integrate into the business.  They fail to have all the other components in place and aligned with the overall objectives of the organization.  If managers, at all levels, are not committed to integrating training into the other elements of the sales strategy, then you are probably wasting a lot of time and money.

Are you getting the most out of your training programs?

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12 Comments
  1. Great article Dave! We need to take the theory out of the classroom and into the field putting it into practice. The customer agenda, solution selling, customer centric selling, solution selling – all these approaches are great but without a way to positively reinforce them on a daily basis, the effort and funds put into the training can meet with fizzled interest over time which impacts the outcomes – customer satifsication/engagement, revenue and productivity

  2. Dave, spot on blog post! I couldn’t agree more.
    Not only sales managers and executives have to be a vital role in those hopefully integrated programs, equally important is that they need specific training for their own role, e.g. for developing the skills of a great coach. Especially for front line sales managers, there is a huge gap. And enablement can help to close the coaching part:
    My thoughts on that are here:
    Why Frontline Sales Managers Need Enablement: http://blog.tamaraschenk.com/?p=1208

  3. April first is always a dangerous date to write/and read blogs.
    I still don’t know if JF really has an italian Cousin,
    or a poor sense of fun….?

    Sales “performance” can be ‘improved’ by many things, Training is just one.
    No better, and no worse than many other single events.

    A new Manager…
    we have measured a 30% improvement in 90 days.

    A new Product….
    we all have had the pleasure of a “sells itself”

    Sometimes, the ‘Hawthorne Effect’ will generate the Performance expected.

    Your friend should worry less about the War,
    and just fight the battle!

    A competitve “failure”, has led to new Porsches.

    So, in context Training is OK.

    Training becomes GREAT when it is part of
    “Business as Usual Development.” We don’t need, budgets, or permission. [we dont even need a Sales ‘enablement’ Department]

    We just need a GOOD attitude to Personal Development,
    the willingness to LEARN, from one another.
    For managers to learn coaching from their coachees,
    and Salespeople to engage in Self-directed Learning.

    We now have tools which show Performance Improvement, from change, in as little as 10 days, not a year!

    Performance Improvement is an ‘approach’, not an event.

  4. Great article Dave! I agree whole heartedly with you. I found myself saying Amen, in an American accent 😉 The funny thing is that there’s no secret here. We know that training in isolation is unlikely to deliver on expectations. So I wonder why we’re all still having these conversations with our clients? It’s not difficult to grasp. Can you imagine a marketing department that only had one method of communication and only used it once? They use the whole marketing mix consistently over time. Training interventions are just one part of the ‘Change’ mix. But my question is why is training still viewed in this way? 🙂

    • Alistair: Thanks for the great comment and the tough question. I’ve a few thoughts on it:

      1. I think too many people don’t understand or pay attention to what training is or isn’t, and what’s needed to be successful in sustaining the impact of training. Like so many other things, they are looking for quick fixes and shortcuts. So they are probably doing the same in other areas, e.g. “If we just have the right CRM, it will solve everything.” We need to look at the “whole” not the parts.
      2. I think training professionals/training companies bear some responsibility. While we aren’t a training company, as part of our work we do some training. We refuse to do the training unless the customer commits to a coaching plan, and does all the other stuff referenced in the article. We tell them they are wasting their money if they don’t do this stuff. It’s not really altruism on our part, we know if we don’t do this, we/the training won’t have an impact. Sometime later, it will come back to haunt us (and there is some altruism, we really do want to do the right thing.) I think trainers/training companies should start putting their money where their mouth’s are on this issue. Don’t accept an order unless the customer has the right plan in place.

  5. Doug Schmidt permalink

    While I am not a sales training expert I have had discussions with some sales trainers that are baffling. I asked a CEO of a major sales training company how he measures ROI on sales training investment. He told me he does not offer ROI to his clients – no estimates, no guestimates or no analytics – no nothing! At the same time a best selling book that offered analytics on sales behavior the CEO called “dangerous!”. Go figure.
    Maybe if the sales training companies offered analytics on something – behavior based activity, change in specific sales behavior, sales assessments related to sales production – they would have a stronger argument on training ROI.
    Yes, I agree with you coaching is a great add on and necessity to sales training otherwise how do we reinforce what we trained to?

    • Doug: Thanks for your observations. Stepping back, I think we have to look at everything we do in a more wholistic-systems manner. Sales training, without being integrated into the systems, processes, strategies, tools and coaching doesn’t achieve its maximum impact. Likewise, new software tools, lacking training, coaching, integration into systems, processes , etc. never achieve it’s full impact.

      The mistake leaders make is looking at each thing we do in isolation and not recognizing the interconnections and impacts on the “whole” of what we do.

  6. Great article, Dave. Unfortunately, this is a common problem. So many managers want a “one stop shopping” education experience when it comes to training their team. As you mentioned, however, not only is this not possible because training is an ongoing process, but if the management and infrastructure are not in place, training will be nothing but wasted time and resources. Having a “wholisitic” perspective is imperative for training success.

    As the founder and president of an executive career management and recruiting firm that focuses predominantly on sales and marketing searches I can’t tell you how may companies we have worked with that offer training yet, lack in the “wholistic” approach. Unfortunately, not only does this lead to unsuccessful training programs, but dissatisfied and frustrated salespeople. Many have been in the sales field for a long time and know how the training “dog and pony show” can go. Therefore, many go into a training experience knowing there will be little to no implementation of what they learn because there is no support or resources for it. However, if a company invests in the PROCESS of training from choosing a strong program that compliments existing infrastructure and goals, to making sure all members of the team are trained and to follow through and implementation, training will yield fantastic results.
    Thanks again for the engaging article!
    Ken Schmitt
    http://www.turningpointsearch.net

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