The trouble with sales training

Is sales training worth the bother? Not if sales management is not up to it. What impact does attending a sales training program have on change?


It all depends on what type of training format your sales people attend. Too many companies look for quick fixes and waste heaps of money in the process.


First, forget “Event Style” training — you know those one day rah-rah sessions that promise the world and deliver nothing in the long run. They don’t work! They have the effect of a hot bath — nice while you’re in it, but it soon gets cold.


I am not saying all the content of these programs is wrong (although some of them just plain are) it’s just that one-day-only of anything just doesn’t bring about any real permanent change.


And even if the sales training is relevant, incremental and delivered in bite size chunks over time, if the salespeople are returned to the same environment (same metrics, same rewards, same supervision, same culture) as before the training, no matter how excellent it is, it has no lasting impact either.


Ask yourself these questions: What are you trying to change by offering sales training? Do you want change to occur as a result of the training, and if so can it be defined and measured? What is the point of doing training? What am I trying to achieve with training?


Don’t laugh, most people don’t ask themselves these questions.


Sales training needs to be an integrated process involving role clarity, clear sales plans, sales metrics, regular infield coaching, etc. all linked to a strategy — not some after-thought or isolated event.


No wonder if you walked into your sales staff work area right now and told them they need some sales training you’d get the following responses: “Not another sales training seminar” they’d say, or “it’s so boring, we know all that already”.


Who can blame them they’ve been there, done that. And even if they know it all, the trouble is many of them have not been given the right support to effectively apply what they know.


A study conducted a number of years ago found that within one week of leaving any sales skills training program, salespeople had lost 87% of the new skills they had learned during the training program.


Recent research by ES Research Group shows that 90% of all sales training programs result in a 90 to 120 day increase in productivity — but after that, nothing. It is only a temporary blip! Fewer than 20% of companies show sustainable productivity gains that last a year or more.


What I have found is that sales training only works if it is carefully matched to and directly supporting the use of your sales model, methodology and sales force profile. It really is the last 10%.


Then it needs the role of infield coaching to provide the reinforcement needed to maintain and enhance skills and behaviours. In fact, a well-designed combination of training and coaching is by far the most effective and economical way to develop the “right” skills, behaviours and knowledge and see a change in sales performance.


Effective sales training can be defined as a planned program within the organisation that endeavours to bring about relatively permanent changes in employee knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviours. Behaviour modelling training has been found to be most effective.


To make sure that you are not wasting your money on sales training, I always suggest that you run through a checklist. Check your ongoing sales training agenda. Does it include the following?


  • Company knowledge, especially current strategy.
  • The promise-expectation-experience proposition delivered to your clients.
  • Product knowledge, value propositions, competitive edge, marketing tactics and tools.
  • Market, industry and competitor awareness.
  • Prospecting strategies and plans.
  • The “right” selling communication process and techniques.
  • Human relations; self awareness; salespeople motivations; values, behaviours and attitudes; problem solving and decision making; self management, planning, etc.
  • Clear performance, expectations and rewards.
  • Levels of authority and responsibility.
  • Sales management support.


To give a long-term benefit, the training needs to give your sales staff the opportunity to apply what they learn in real life situations out in the field, and have regular reviews as to effectiveness and efficiency of application.


However, try as we might, we can’t improve sales and salespeople without improving sales management. But that’s another blog for another time.





Sue Barrett, the founder and managing director of the sales consultancy firm Barrett Consulting Group, is not trying to start a gender war but she insists there is a body of overseas research showing that women often outperform men in acheiving sustainable sales results.



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