Sales Training Article: Why Sales Training Fails

By Frank Visgatis, President & Chief Operating Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® – The Sales Training Company

I had the pleasure last week of meeting with a company that is proactively evaluating their company sales process even though they are currently making their revenue targets. Many times I’m contacted by someone whose house is already on fire and they are looking to buy insurance.

Despite the proactive nature of this recent meeting, I still felt compelled to share with this organization some lessons I’ve learned over the past 20+ years of helping companies define and implement a company-wide sales process.

Namely, I find that there are seven (7) fundamental reasons that sales training initiatives fail:

1. No real management commitment to change.

a. While some senior management think they are setting the proper tone by kicking off a workshop, it is like nails on a chalkboard when I hear them say something to the effect of, “If you take just one thing away from this training..” Think about the message that’s just been sent. What has been effectively communicated to the group is that this is about tactical skill development, not organizational change.

b. The other sure sign of failure is when the first line sales managers refuse to participate in the same training they expect their salespeople to embrace. I often hear comments such as “This is good for my people. I don’t need to go through it though.”

2. No integration with Marketing or Support.

a. The reality of the situation is that anyone who touches the customer, even if it is once removed via the creation of messaging (e.g. product marketing) must be in lockstep if change is going to happen and consistency is going to be the standard.

3. It’s education, not training.

a. Think about it. What do you do if you want to get better at something? You practice. Salespeople only have two opportunities to practice their craft. They can role-play with a manager or a coach who can guide them through the learning process, or they can practice on an innocent prospect who might have spent some money with them. No role-plays = no skill development. I often see training classes with a single lead instructor and 30 students. At various times they will do breakout sessions where the students are told to “go off and role-play” with no facilitation. These typically devolve quickly into 30-minute group chats.

4. The training is generic – “you connect the dots.”

a. To introduce a completely new process to someone, expect them to learn it, and then expect them to connect the dots on how it relates to their everyday selling reality is simply too much to ask. Whether it’s customization in advance or integration of their products and services into the learning experience through group exercises, the student needs a clear vision of how this will help them moving forward.

5. Your CRM system doesn’t support the process.

a. Salespeople have to feel they are getting value in exchange for information. That’s why many CRM initiatives fail as well. If, as a salesperson, I have to input 37 data fields just to create a new “opportunity,” chances are I’m only going to do it when I absolutely have to. This means that management has no real visibility into the pipeline and is why sales forecasts are so often inaccurate.

6. No follow-on reinforcement.

a. Two, three or four days of training followed by “good luck and Godspeed.” If management doesn’t have a proactive plan of not only how they are going help their salespeople actually implement a new approach but also how they are going to consistently reinforce what has been learned, the knowledge and skills have a very short half-life. It’s well documented that even under the best of circumstances, students will only retain between 20 and 35 percent of what is covered in the training. Whether it is via technology or good old sales management, the learning shouldn’t stop when the training is over.

7. No consequences – managers don’t inspect what they expect.

a. In at least some cases, this relates directly back to reason number one. If adherence is viewed as optional, salespeople will typically only adopt the parts they “like,” which usually aren’t the ones that help the company drive meaningful change.

There’s a lot of “drive-by training” that takes place out there. Don’t be the next victim.

Take a look at the sales training workshops available to you.