Getting a Return on Sales Training Investments

Every year organizations invest in sales training, believing it is the answer to their sales performance challenges. They buy or create programs that teach sales skills and sales process, product knowledge, and/or customer and business acumen. Yet most sales executives are frustrated with the lack of improvement or sales coming out of the training solution that was supposed to generate so much success. They wonder what went wrong and what can be done to fix the problem.

The fix starts with being aware of a few erroneous assumptions dominant in the minds of most sales managers. The most significant belief (or hope) is that a training program is a “one stop shop” solution. In other words, management assumes if the salespeople attend a program, they will immediately be able to effectively execute everything from the program upon return to the job. The reality is that is no matter how great the experience, a training program just kicks off the learning process. Exercises, role-plays or small group discussions can be interesting, fun and an opportunity to practice a fundamental – but that’s a long way from application in the real world.

The second mistaken assumption is that salespeople will invest the time and can easily figure out how to take the training content and use it to address their individual challenges or opportunities. With today’s pressure to produce and the pace at which salespeople are expected to operate, pausing or slowing down to figure out how to put a learning experience into practice is not what the majority of salespeople tend to do. If the learning experience doesn’t show immediate and easy application back on the job (which most don’t), salespeople will dismiss the training and continue doing what they’ve always done.

Lastly, a less verbalized sales manager belief is that salespeople are motivated to use the training provided. This just isn’t the case, as salespeople are motivated to do whatever is the fastest, simplest and most effective means to drive sales. Taking the time to figure out how to put training program content into execution is rarely seen as a fast way to make measurable progress! Instead it feels uncomfortable, risky and inefficient. Hence, salespeople avoid disrupting their sales cadence and instead continue doing what they’ve been doing.

The bottom line is that a sales training seminar or program, no matter how long, customized or interactive, is simply the beginning of the learning process and development of proficiency. This means that getting a return on sales training requires that managers get involved and take responsibility for putting the training into practice. This is the big opportunity since most sales managers are unaware of the insights highlighted in the mistaken assumptions above.

What is it that sales managers need to do to transform a training program experience into increased effectiveness and generate improved results? A few key fundamentals must be done individually with each salesperson. Done one-on-one, consistently over a period of time (dependent on the significance of the behavior change and the sales cycle within which is it to be used), these fundamentals will generate results:

  • Focus: Gain alignment on what learning (from the training experience) is most critical to apply, based on the potential positive impact on the individual’s performance
  • Plan: Develop a practical plan for how the salesperson will put the agreed-upon focus into application
  • Measurement: Determine and implement a means to gather quality data and information on the salesperson’s efforts executing the plan and applying the new knowledge or skills
  • Feedback: Provide regular and frequent feedback to reinforce the expectation, celebrate success or hold the individual accountable for a lack of progress

Training works and generates improvement when sales managers take ownership and work one-on-one with their salespeople for a sustained period of time: focusing, motivating, supporting and holding them accountable for putting the learning into action. Only with a committed sales manager focused on developing his/her people to a higher level of performance will sales training generate the outcomes desired and promised.

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