Optimizing your sales training investment

In October 2010, McKinsey & Company published an interesting white paper – Getting more from your training programs.  The focus was on optimizing the results from the $100 billion that world-wide companies spend every year on performance skill training in areas ranging from performance management to sales techniques.

The authors made the following observation about how to get more out of training programs: Although it could be improved, the content of the training is not where the improvement is most needed”“The most significant improvements lie in rethinking the mind-sets that employees and leaders bring to the training, as well as, the environment they come back to.  These are tasks that only senior leaders can take on.”

Question: Does this insight ring true for sales training?  Short answer: Absolutely!  As a matter of fact, it should probably be in 24 point bold type when applied to sales training.  Today, there are a large number of content-relevant, well-designed sales training programs from which to select. However, a fair number of these sales training efforts still produce less than expected results.  Reason: Failure to provide the leadership, planning, and communication before and after the sales training program. 

Let’s start with the “before the program issue” and save the equally important discussion of “after the program” for another day.  What can be done for improving the mind-sets that participants and leaders bring to the sales training program?

The McKinsey authors point out – “Before employees can master a skill, they must be convinced it will help improve their organization’s performance, recognize their own performance is weak in that area, and then choose to learn. Let’s try and apply that observation to sales training.  How often have you heard: “If the next two-days is going to be about sales training, I don’t know what I’m doing here,” or “I thought we were going to product training – that’s what I need,” or “The good news is it is only one day and nobody is going to follow-up on it anyway.”

Reactions like these unfortunately are expressed more often than anyone would like.  The mind-set which these remarks reflect start any sales training program on the road to failure – even before it begins. The good news is effective leadership, planning, and communication can establish an entirely different and positive mind-set.  What are some best practices for getting that done?

1. Senior sales leadership needs to be clear in their own minds and communicate to the entire sales team why the organization is committing to the training – specifically the communication should help the sales organization understand how the training helps the sales team achieve the company’s strategic sales initiative.  There should be no doubt that the senior leadership has and will be actively engaged.  Everyone needs to bring the mind-set that the sales training is being conducted so the company can achieve its strategic goals.  It’s not just a training exercise. To achieve that goal the leadership message needs to be clear and compelling and must be repeated and reinforced by all front-line sales managers.

2. If you are implementing a sales training program, it is always a good idea to keep your eye on the ball – the ball in this case is the sales team. Although it is important to be mindful of time out of the field, solicit members of the sales team to participant in crafting the program.  There are a number of ways for creating involvement.   For example, since most sales training is customized, select a small group (4-5) of top performers to provide the information to customize the program exercises and case studies and to provide best practices for the feedback sessions following the role-plays.  These top sales performers should become “ambassadors” for the program.     

3. Sales training managers must reinforce the message from the sales leadership and communicate how the program fits with past and future sales training efforts.  The communication needs to be clear as to “what the program is about” and “why it is being implemented.” The sales training manager must ensure the program is conducted in way that demonstrates institutional commitment.  For example, front-line sales managers can be invited to serve as table leaders to relate the learning to the real world and orchestrate feedbackMarketing can be invited to serve as participants to provide and gain insights

The McKinsey authors pinpointed how companies can get more out of their training.  Their message was loud and clear that the major opportunities for improvement are related to “before and after issues” and results can only be achieved by the active engagement of senior leadership. There is little doubt their observations apply to the world of sales training.  Every sales person walking into a sales training program needs to be crystal clear that the company and the leadership are totally committed to the training before the day even begins.

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©2011 Sales Horizons, LLC

This blog was posted first on TrainingIndustry.com.

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About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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One Response to Optimizing your sales training investment

  1. Pingback: Optimizing your sales training investment – the sequel | Sales Training Connection

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