This title will draw several immediate reactions. There’s probably a round of cheering from those who’ve been subjected to bad sales training programs. Simultaneously, there are a number who will be saying, “This is absolute heresy, how can you say this?”
Both reactions are probably right on target. Every year, billions are spent on various types of sales training. Some of it is internally developed, focused on product skills or other topics; some is purchased from vendors of very high quality programs. But too often, the training doesn’t achieve the expected goals.
Of course there are some poorly designed and executed training programs. But that’s probably in the minority of reasons sales training fails.
The major reason training fails—as well as any number of potentially great sales initiatives–is that we treat sales training in isolation. We don’t look at all the elements critical to making an initiative successful, instead we isolate each, treating them individually, expecting each to stand alone, and by themselves drive miraculous results.
Unfortunately, things don’t work that way. We can’t isolate an initiative, hoping by itself, it will have an enduring impact. Performance improvement in any organization requires attention to all the interrelated components: Strategies, Processes, Systems, Tools, Training, People, Leadership, Coaching, Metrics. To maximize the impact of any initiative, whether it’s sales training, a new tool (eg. CRM system), a new process, or anything, we have to look at all the other components and how they reinforce and leverage each other.
We know sales training doesn’t work without the right reinforcing mechanism: It’s integrated into our strategies and priorities. It reinforces and is reinforced by our sales processes. It’s integrated and reinforced by our tools and systems. Managers coach and reinforce the training on an ongoing basis, and on and on and on….. But this is not just an issue for sales training. The same things apply if we are implementing new tools/systems. Or if we are implementing new business strategies, or if we are changing metrics. As much as we may want to, organizational performance cannot be isolated to one element, but it is a dynamic system impacted simultaneously by lots of things–and to get the best results we have to look at everything, balancing them to get the results we expect.
Responsible suppliers and vendors of these programs, tools, training will call this to management’s attention. Some will supply services to help tailor and integrate what they are doing into the other things that make their programs, tools, or training have a sustained impact.
Sometimes managers don’t get it–even though they have experienced the problems of treating these programs as standalone solutions–and been disappointed because the results can’t be sustained. Sometimes, the think, “I only have budget for the training program, I don’t have budget to make sure the training is aligned to our strategies, priorities, processes, tools, and metrics. Sometimes they don’t know how to coach or don’t take the time to reinforce. If management doesn’t do this (and if vendors don’t take a strong position advocating this), it’s probably best not to do it in the first place–the initiative will not be sustained, it’s very unlikely to produce sustained results.
If you are a buyer of these tools, products, services; challenge the vendors on how they can make sure what they deliver is integrated into and reinforced by everything else you do. If they don’t provide leadership in helping you do this, you may want to reconsider whether they are the right partner.
If you are a seller of these tools, products, services; don’t shrink away from making sure your customer knows they aren’t just buying what you are selling, but if they want sustained results, they need to consider all the other elements of the sales system. Help them identify how to do this–you will set yourself apart from everyone else.
Sales training is too important for us to be wasting the opportunity and money. Let’s make sure we treat it that way and maximize the impact of training.