Interesting question – best not to hold the conclusion to the end. So no! It is not a career risk to be out front advocating your company place a priority on sales training.
But it is prudent to base your career on more than a leap of faith. So first let’s explore this notion of “lack of evidence” of what constitutes sales excellence which is one of the main reasons why those advocating sales training might feel they are on soft footing and then turn to some research that examines the business case for sales training.
Lack of Evidence of What Works. When the search for evidence is carried out in regard to what works and what doesn’t when it comes to selling, the results do tend to be meager. However, has some solid research been done on what constitutes sales success? The answer is – Yes!
For example, my colleague Neil Rackham did some great research on what specific sales behaviors are more frequent in successful sales calls. More recently, Dixon and Adamson, who did the work around the Challenger Sale, backed up their findings with credible research.
Brian MacIver of BMAC has been and continues to write extensively about the results of an evidenced-based approach to sales excellence. So is there as much solid research as one might want – probably not, but we do know a fair amount about what works and what is merely myth.
Plus, it is important to remember that selling is a social not physical science. Therefore pre-post control group type research designs are not applicable. So you are not going to find cause and effect RIO studies. Second, if one went looking for that same level of research in regard to compensation frameworks, CRM systems, or needs assessments the same lack of data would be the outcome – that is sales has some good company.
Business Case for Sales Training. CSO Insights recently published a particularly informative study that relates directly to our career question – The Business Case for Sales Training. The entire study is definitely worth a read but here are some of the key findings:
- How satisfied were the companies with their sales training? Within the sample of 2000 companies 10.7% said their training exceeded expectations. Forty-two percent (42%) reported that it met expectations and 43.5% felt it needed improvement. So the first point is – there is a perceived need.
- Performance results. The study used the percentage achieving or exceeding quota as a metric to assess sales team performance. Companies with sales training programs that exceeded expectations reported 5% more of their salespeople achieving quota than companies whose sales skills training programs met expectations, and 9% more of their salespeople achieving quota than companies whose sales skills training programs needed improvement.
Those companies reporting that their sales training exceeded expectations also reported both lower competitive loses and less loses to “no decision” as compared to the other two groups.
The bottom line for the study was: “Sales organizations looking to boost sales performance should consider implementing high quality sales skills training programs coupled with sales coaching training for sales managers. Our analysis of the Sales Performance Optimization study indicates that sales organizations that have implemented sales skills training programs that exceed expectations enjoy a higher percentage of salespeople achieving quota, higher percentage of deals won, and lower sales rep turnover.”
If you talk with Directors of Training and VPs of Sales, a modest number have had one or more past bad experiences implementing a sales training effort. Once bitten, twice shy. Unfortunately this expression is ever so true when it comes to doing something where you put your reputation or career on the line.
But our sense is a substantial amount of great work has been done to uncover what constitutes sales excellence. Likewise if you examine the sales training available today versus even five years ago you will be pleasantly surprised. So getting serious about sales training could actually be a reasonably smart career move.
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