Sales training – it’s time to play beat the clock

sales trainingOne important core question presently circulating among those who care about sales training is: What percentage of sales training ought to be done in the classroom vs. some form of guided self instruction? The obvious secondary question is what goes where – that is, what should be done in the classroom vs. what should be assigned to some form of guided self-study.

There is an underlying principle that helps guide this decision process – only do in the classroom that training that can uniquely be done in the classroom – that is training requiring practice and feedback.  What does this look like?

Let’s over simplify a bit and divide all the possible content into two bins labeled – knowledge and sales skill.  Examples of knowledge would include knowledge related to: product, marketplace, company background and sales best practices.

Sales skills on the other hand are all about the ability to integrate and apply that information in the real world.  The distinction is all about knowing vs. doing.  Think about it … many know the principles behind shooting the 3-pointer in basketball.  But far fewer, like the Splash Brothers in Oakland, have mastered it.

An example in the world of sales training of the distinction would be: one could learn the sales best practices for handling objections in an online course.  Then learn to apply and execute those best practices in a classroom using role-plays customized to portray a typical customer.  Or, when a new product is launched one could learn all the features and related information about the new product in a customized e-book and then learn to plan and execute sales calls on targeted customers in a classroom where practice and feedback in maximized.

So as to the “what goes where” question, the short answer is knowledge training can be done outside the classroom but sales skills training is best done in the classroom because the quality of the practice and feedback need to be optimized.  But what about the percentage question?  When using the blended approach what does the time split look like?

If you answer that question with regard to the traditional sales content areas like call execution, account strategy, and negotiation, then a rough percentage split would be 50-50.  Historically, using classroom training only, we did two-day programs in each of the aforementioned content areas.  Now using a blended approach we have reduced the classroom time to one day.

But why beat the clock?  Why not just continue to do all the sales training in the classroom?  What are the reasons to shift to a blended approach?  Three three reasons that stand out:

  • Less time out of the field.  If you consider salespeople engaged in complex B2B sales and you start listing the barriers to conducting comprehensive sales training, the concern about time out of the field bubbles to the top.  This concern is mainly about lost opportunity.  The larger the sales team, the greater the concern.
  • Lower sales training cost.  As an example let’s assume a company that has elected to use an outside training provider.  The typical cost for an outside trainer from a top training provider for one day is usually around $3,000.  The per-head cost varies but it’s probably around $400-$500 per day.  These numbers start to add up with sales teams over a 100 salespeople.  Any top sales training provider should be able to provide one-day of self-study based training for the knowledge component of the blended training at a fraction of that cost.
  • More engaging classroom training.  How many salespeople really enjoy sitting through a day of sales training where the day consists of an instructor running through their standard 50 PowerPoint slide deck?  Yet even today that is not an uncommon experience if the day is about knowledge transfer.  On the other hand, if the knowledge transfer happens by some guided self-study approach, then the classroom training can be limited to practice and feedback using more engaging training designs such as customized sales simulations.

Salespeople today must know more and know it at a higher level of proficiency then in days of yesteryear.  Companies simply cannot do what needs to be done if all the sales training is conducted in the classroom.  They will run out of time and money before they ever get started.  Today the price for that failure is staggering.  There has to be a better way and fortunately there is.

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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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