Mark Robilliard

Sales is one of the few areas that gets a clear investment return for training dollars spent.

Sales training gets the hard sell

In early December, SmartCompany super-blogger Sue Barrett wrote a terrific blog called “You’re on show”. While there are obviously still some “charmers” and “snake-oil” sales people out there in sales-land, there is no doubt that the sales industry is becoming much more sophisticated.

And given that sales is such an obviously critical part of your business, it makes sense to invest in it and specifically in the education and professionalism of your sales people. US-based research firm Bersin & Associates reports that companies in all sectors are spending vast sums to improve the competency of their sales forces. Sales is one of the few areas in which a business gets a very clear investment return on their training dollars, so it’s a popular spend.

The needs of the typical customer are also becoming more sophisticated and in some cases complicated as modern-day businesses tend to be more organic and flexible than the rigid structures of the past. Your sales people may end up consulting with stakeholders from different strategic areas of the customer’s business and therefore require broad-based business competencies so they can sell strategically rather than transactionally.

Many organisations are now realising the value of increasing the financial/business literacy of their sales people. When the sales person is at ease in consulting with the customer about the various financial impacts of the sale, the customer is more likely to trust them.

I recall a mid-level lawyer from a very large international law firm in a workshop I was running in London. He said that he was unable to participate in financial conversations with his mainly-millionaire clients because he was accounting illiterate – he felt like there was a closed door between him and his clients in this area. Once he addressed his financial illiteracy, he was then able to comfortably discuss these matters with his clients and, here’s the kicker, create more billable time (sales).

An insurer in the US with a turnover of $US15 billion in 2006 set a sales growth target of 50% ($US7.5 billion) by 2010. They quickly realised the necessity to improve the success rate of new agents and to challenge their existing agents to set new records. They conducted some extensive research and then in 2007 began applying those findings in a new training program.

Jim Harwood, an assistant vice president of training and development, reported that the average productivity increase for agents and district managers has been about 20% in the first year. He believes the sales growth goal is attainable.

Some thoughts:

  1. Review the required skill set of your sales people, including the managers. Do they have sufficient business savvy and financial literacy to be able to sell strategically to your customers?
  2. Make sure that everyone, yes everyone, who comes into contact with a customer has some basic sales and communication skills training. The customer assesses your business based on all of their interactions with it, not just the sales process itself.

    As an aside, this also includes all of the “messages” that the customer sees from your website to your car park and through to completing the transaction. Often businesses spend a fortune on their corporate image and marketing only to let untrained employees develop ad-hoc messages that can degrade from the very experience you are trying to provide for your customers. When was the last time you walked around and saw your business from a customer’s perspective? Have you called in on the phone numbers that the customers use?

  3. Look at some other industries to find the key players producing the type of growth you want in your business. Then go talk to them. You may be surprised how forthcoming they can be.
  4. There’s at least as much “snake-oil” in training as there is in sales, so whatever training you may invest in, make sure that it is practically applicable immediately. You really must ensure that you get what you have paid for.


Mark Robilliard and business partners Peter Frampton and Carmen Mettler started a journey to find a new way for anyone to ‘get accounting’ and use it in their job and life to create value. Accounting Comes Alive was born and now provides workshops all over the world using their unique and friendly Colour Accounting™ learning system that really does work, for everyone.


To read more Mark Robilliard blogs, click here.



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