Sales training is not a luxury – it’s essential

Keeping you and your sales team “match fit” and actively engaged is paramount to your survival and success. How do you do it? Here’s how… Keeping you and your sales team “match fit” and actively engaged in the market place selling effectively is paramount to your survival and success in today’s market. Yet too many businesses, large and small, do not train their sales teams in the vital skills needed in the much more consultative, value add, less product-focused market of today.


I was reminded of this again when I was speaking with a veteren of more than 35 years experience in sales and sales management who works in the office equipment and facilities management industry.


We were discussing the sales team he has inherited recently, and how they cannot seem to get their head around talking about facilities management and business processes. They have their heads well and truly stuck in the box (that is, their products).


In order for them to survive they (and others like them) need to transition from selling products to selling in systems and solutions, but as it happens they have had no training in how to make that transition. While they have received some training in the past, it was only product training.


Why do we keep doing this to our sales teams? Why don’t we invest more in their ongoing development amd help them adapt to the changing business world? Why do we invest in occupational health and safety training, for instance, and not in sales training?


Most likely because we will get fined if we don’t have our OH&S in place or our Workcover insurance premiums will rise. In the OH&S scenario sense we are forced to (by the way, I am all for OH&S).


Yet without a good sales team we cannot survive. Sadly, I cannot legislate for good sales training, however if you are smart you would realise the continuous development (formal and informal) of your sales people is a type of insurance as well as an investment for your business.


Here is a one of my case studies which illustrates the point:


Banking products: Personal banking investment products call centre (business to consumer telephone sales)


Project purpose and pre-intervention issues

Head of distribution for banking products wanted to create seamless “one bank” approach to meet customer needs and enhance the customer experience in banking products direct (BP). BP embarked on an attitudinal / behavioural change and skill enhancement program.

Issues needing attention:

  • No formal sales process or set structure to guide sales calls effectively.
  • Sales people lacking confidence in their own abilities to sell effectively.
  • Too much focus on building rapport instead of building real business opportunities.
  • Sales people not controlling the sales call and lacking a proactive assertive approach.
  • Sales people not cross selling or up-selling, instead sticking to “one product” and missing growing the “prime accounts”.


Within six months of implementing sales skills, behaviour and process training (two days class room training plus six fortnightly one-hour follow up sessions run by the manager supplemented with some training for the sales manager in how to run the follow up sessions and coach their staff on the phones) the following results were achieved:

  • Accounts opened: 58% uplift.
  • Accounts activated, 43% uplift.
  • Sales per FTE: 39% uplift.
  • Conversion rate, 33% uplift.
  • New TD FUM ($m): 39% uplift.
  • % of total BP accounts opened via BP direct: 106% uplift.


Business climate: Post-intervention results

Apart from the noted uplift in sales, the manager noted a change in behaviour for many sales consultants. Several consultants commented on the program being a ‘light bulb’ moment for them, as that they were suddenly made aware of behaviours and felt empowered to take charge of the situation.

The ROI was definitately worth it. Yet this is the exception in the business world. One of my other clients (another senior sales manager of more than 20 years experience) alerted his young sales team at the end of their sales training program recently to the fact they were indeed very lucky to receive sales training as most people do not get this kind of support or indepth approach to develop their careers. He wanted them to really value what they were receiving as it was not the norm.


I am deeply concerned at the lack of adequate support many sales people get. Instead of giving them the vital skills and training/coaching support they need to flourish and succeed, we (often with the best intentions) mistakenly think our sales woes will be solved by implementing a CRM system, doing more advertising and marketing, or giving them a motivational “rah rah” session, etc.


Yet if our sales people cannot adequately:


  • Define who they should be targeting, or
  • Define what a viable prospect looks like, or
  • Pick up a phone and prospect for new business, or
  • Investigate and understand a client/prospect’s needs, or
  • Use effective problem solving and identification skills, or
  • Present a range of viable solutions, or
  • Make effective customer centred recommendations, or
  • Know their competitive advantage and that of their competitors, or
  • Advance a viable sale towards a close, or
  • Pitch for the business and close a sale, or
  • Up sell and cross sell, or
  • Follow up and deliver, or
  • Manage themselves and their portfolio…


What hope do they have in making effective sales? How is a CRM, new brochure or rah rah session going to fix their lack of skills and process? If their skills, behaviours and attitudes are not addressed, they and you are in trouble.


Yet so many businesses (small through to large) are happy to let luck take its chance when it comes to have a fit and viable sales force. You cannot replicate something that does not exist in the first place. So why risk your business and future sales to luck, chance and the intuitive (non replicable) approach taken by many sales people.


Do you know why most sales people take this intuitive approach? Because they are given nothing else to put in its place. Instead they get a motivation session here and there and, at best, some product training. And the thing they usually need the least of all is product training. Especially if we are trying to get them to be more investigative and client-needs focused.


As you have seen from previous articles I have written, many seasoned sales people are struggling in this market to shift from a “product focused” sales approach to a more “complex solution sales” approach – at least in B2B sales. The skills, knowledge and behaviours now required are more complex. As their market changes many are still left to their own devices to make it up as they go. They need training, just like the rest of us, to move with the times and remain relevant.


Most people do not engage in self evaluation and continuous learning, so they need prompting and our help to source the right training and support for them. At the very least having a regular series of mini (in-house) sessions where they can review and reflect on their actions, the causes and effects of what they do and link it to something tangible will help them in their endeavours.


Sales training does not have to be formal class room sessions – more than 70% of sales training should occur in the field using the right type of coaching approach linked to real tangible skills and behaviours.


We have come such a long way in technical advances in science and technology and now it is time we put good sales training and development on the map and under the microscope. Here is a list of competencies or capabilities that, at the very least, most field sales people and outbound telesales people need to know how to apply to survive and thrive in sales (taken from the BARRETT Sales Competency Dictionary):


Competency name

Competency definition 

Core competencies


Identifies and chases new business opportunities in new and/or existing accounts.


Customer orientation

Understands the customer’s needs and expectations, ensures that all activities are focused on fulfilling the customer’s requirements, and provides exceptional service and product quality.


Building relationships and networks

Proactively identifies, develops and maintains effective internal and external relationships that are useful in achieving business objectives.


Understanding the customer’s landscape

Understands the existing customer or prospect, their business and their needs; uses their knowledge of the industry, products and competitors and utilises this knowledge to engage all stakeholders, influencers and users of the products and services in order to maximise the opportunity for sales.


Results focus

Sets challenging targets and proactively and persistently strives towards the achievement of goals, whilst maintaining accountability.


Planning and organising

The ability to plan, organise and prioritise work activities, time and resources to efficiently achieve business objectives.


Understanding customer needs

Determines the customer’s needs and gathers additional information to identify the business issues and personal motivators underlying the customer’s requirements.


Self reflection and development

Recognises the need to continuously improve one’s capability and identify new areas for learning by proactively appraising one’s performance and competencies in order to initiate development activities.


Copyright Barrett Pty Ltd 2000-2008 



I recommend we give our sales people a fighting chance by investing in relevant, purpose built, evidenced based (competency) sales training programs that are ideally supported by coaching in the field. At least given them training in the three most fundamental / essential areas:


  • Sales and account planning.
  • Sales prospecting strategies and skills.
  • Consultative / solution / diagnostic sales communication process.


(Assuming you have a product/service and business structure that is viable.) If your sales people understood WHO they need to prospect to, HOW they need make contact with prospects and clients, HOW OFTEN they need to do the activities in order to be viable, WHAT their competitive edge is, HOW they help people solve problems and succeed with your range of products and services, WHY they should continue to work for you and your company and WHAT the benefits are for them, the clients and you by being part of your business, then we are on the right track to get more and better quality sales with fitter sales people.


And if you cannot invest in a more formal training or coaching programs, then at the very least talk about the skills, knowledge, attitudes and behaviours they need to work on to make their sales career a success. If it helps, use the competency table above to initiate discussions and see what it brings forth. Most of your sales people will be grateful you took the time to speak to them about this.



Sue Barrett is Managing Director of BARRETT Pty Ltd. Sue is an experienced consultant and trained coach and facilitator. Sue and her team are best known for their work in creating High Performing Sales Teams. Key to their success is working with the whole person and integrating emotional intelligence, skill, knowledge, behaviour, process and strategy via effective training and coaching programs. For more information please go to


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