Your Sales Training Won’t Stick Until You Modify Your Behavior

By Frank Visgatis

Back in the ’70s, IBM was the gold standard of sales training.

They would put their salespeople through a program that lasted up to six months and relied heavily on high-intensity role plays and simulations. While brutal for the students, the outcome was salespeople, who were accustomed to high pressure selling environments and who weren’t afraid to work whatever hours were necessary to successfully navigate a sales cycle.

When I got into sales in the late ’80s, companies were still, for the most part, willing to invest heavily in training their salespeople on the day’s best practices.

Many programs that I went through were the proverbial walk of fire. While shorter than IBM’s training program, my programs were still multi-day, intensive events, which required commitment, focus and late nights.

But as time went on I noticed the length of most training agendas – and coincidentally the corresponding investment requirement — began to erode. Sales organizations squished week-long training events into one to two day events.

The advent of computer-based training (CBT) became the excuse everyone needed to justify what would ultimately prove to be an ineffective solution.

Over the years, I have seen companies fall into a disturbing pattern of train-fail-rinse-repeat.

In other words, when faced with underperforming sales organizations, someone – usually the new vice president of sales — decides to train her salespeople. She then ventures forth into the marketplace, much the way their buyers do, and evaluates various sales methodologies and approaches based on who recommends it or whatever pops up on Google.

Then they face a real challenge.

Often times, the vendors in the sales training space fail to effectively communicate the value they provide – usually by not following their own approach — and they immediately cave to not only price pressure, but more significantly, time pressure. Their customer demands that what used to take a week to accomplish must now be done in a day or two and sadly, the training vendor acquiesces.

But logic says that you can’t magically compress 96 hours into 48, so “something has to give.”

And that something is usually the most time and resource-intensive part – the role-play, skill development and case study exercises. Without these components, the training becomes an intellectual experience that makes sense to everyone, but since no real behavior modification has taken place, salespeople leave with some interesting knowledge and perspectives, but then default back to their old ways of doing things.

With no real behavior modification, and often only lip service support from first line management, nine months go by, and nothing changes. No improvement in revenue production. No improvement in forecast accuracy. Long sell cycles that continue to die the slow death of indecision. Then management thinks they chose the wrong training program.

Train. Fail. Rinse. Repeat.

In order for companies to break this vicious cycle, they need to recognize that as much as their salespeople need training, they need behavior modification more.

Salespeople will only embrace and succeed with a new approach when they believe they can be more effective; make more money; and achieve their personal goals and objectives by changing the way they do things. That will only happen when they experience that change firsthand – through the self-discovery process of leaving their comfort zone and actually trying to do things differently in a controlled and facilitated environment.