A 2026 excursion to the future of sales training

Sales Training - 2026

Sales Training – 2026

As a way of exploring the future of sales training, let’s time travel to the year 2026 and examine the major trends of the day.

Suspending disbelief, assume you have time traveled and have arrived in the summer of 2026.  You are journeying south on Highway 1 towards Big Sur in your Apple Titan 2.0.  You have preprogramed your new Titan including a stop for lunch at Nepenthe.  You have about an hour before reaching Nepenthe so you have downloaded a presentation from the Holographic Sales Training Journal about the present trends in sales training by Dr. William Beckett the Vice Chancellor of the Sales Domain for the Deep Learning Institute.

Let’s tune in and listen to what Dr. Beckett has to say.  The presentation was developed as a comparison to what is happening in 2026 versus ten years earlier in 2016.

Inflection point.  A number of the authors writing back in 2016 suggested that sales training was at an inflection point.  The notion was if one looked backed 10 years to 2006 and compared what was going on in sales training to the happenings in 2016, things looked strikingly similar.

More importantly, however, some suggested that was about to change dramatically driven by shifts in the business environment, changes in the demands of the millennial generation and advances in learning technology.  Those authors turned out to be correct.  The period of 2016-2026 has proven to be one of those “hold on to your hat” periods that has ushered in significant changes in all aspects of sales training.

Design philosophy.  In the past, there was a tendency to design and execute sales training in isolation.  A propensity existed to underestimate the importance of viewing sales productivity as a puzzle of many pieces where sales training was but one piece.

From 2016 to 2026 both suppliers and customers took a more holistic and integrated approach for improving sales productivity.  They have looked at sales training while simultaneously examining other factors such as territory design, compensation and go-to-market strategy.

Learning methodologies.  The trend towards the use of new instructional methodologies has increased at an increasing rate – particularly those combining emerging technologies and experiential based learning models.  Three technologies that have had significant impact are: mobile application technology, virtual meeting technology and augmented reality.

A classic example of the latter was the recent development of a virtual reality product sales training curriculum developed by one of the leading MedTech companies that enables sales reps to actual walk through a human heart to better understand the clinical factors related to implanting their latest absolvable stent.

New mobile platforms such as the iPhone 12 have provided “bit-sized” learning consumables that are individualized for each user and are self updating and available anytime – anyplace because of the new nationwide USA Internet Network.

The standup trainer with the 50-slide PowerPoint deck that was still dominant in 2016 has disappeared.  Classroom training is limited to advanced interactive skill training that is conducted in small groups scattered across wide geographies connected by holographic imaging devices and monitored and coached by senior sales consultants who provide feedback and facilitate discussions.

Content.  As the time period unfolded, companies were faced with a continuous set of disruptive changes in the market.  As a result they came to recognize the challenge was more about reinventing than improving.  As a consequence they started to look for sales performance improvement partners with reps that could function as trusted advisors that could provide insights that make a difference versus product facilitators who simply have solutions to sell.

As the notion of the trusted advisor took hold there was a demand for sales training programs to integrate new content. The areas that received the greatest attention related to the skill sets associated with providing business insights such as: business acumen, adaptive thinking, data retrieval and interpretation skills plus the skills to work effectively and efficiently as a member of a virtual group.

Customized programs.  By 2020 the migration from generic to customized programs became complete.  It became clear that generic programs simply were not effective for delivering the level of skill development demanded by the transformational changes in the buying environment.  Technology advances that enabled materials to be customized more affordably and more efficiently facilitated the transition. Market leaders put in place mechanisms for program materials to be updated automatically in real time.

As part of the demand for more affordable programs, solution providers began to replace the traditional per head pricing models that were common in 2016 period with license-to-use arrangements that negate intellectual property concerns.  By 2026 per heads pricing models have become almost completely nonexistent.

Alignment with strategic business initiatives. Companies and sales training vendors have stopped organizing programs around content topics like: sales call execution, account strategy and negotiation.  This has meant that some of the most popular and widely used sales training programs in the 2006-2016 period have largely fallen into disuse.

In the past sales training was often conducted based on a “we haven’t done any it a while” model or the emergence of some sales model from a new popular book.  In 2026 that is no longer the case, now investment in sales training is driven by the need to implement the company’s business initiatives.  The business initiative is used not only to define when training needs to be provided; it also defines what the training should look like.

For example, if a company is moving from selling individual products to selling an integrated solution, then the sales training is designed to help the sales team adapt and adjust their skills to executive that transition.  Or if a company has decided to shift from selling on price to selling on value, then the program addresses the skills required for making that shift.

The design point is programs must incorporate the comprehensive skill sets relevant for selling in the newly defined market. This is the exact opposite of immediately defining every training challenge as “pounding a nail” because you have a hammer at hand – or teaching a sales strategy model because that is the intellectual property base that is presently in vogue.

Sales training providers.  In 2016 there were a wide variety of players engaged in sales training from large companies with worldwide capability to small one and two person organizations that extended their reach by using 1099 personnel.  What was particularly interesting, as one author of the time noted, was a number of the smaller companies that were extremely innovative; hence they were “on a good day” able to win and successfully implement projects with major B2B companies.

As the time period from 2016 to the present unfolded, the profile of the market of training solution providers changed.  The shift was driven by the above noted trends related to the business environment and the need to leverage the emerging learning technologies. These trends changed the nature of the talents required and increased the capital investment needed to function in an ever increasing competitive market.

As a result a number of new types of business relationships emerged as the time period unfolded.  Three proved to be particularly noteworthy:

1. Alliances and Partnerships.  A number of the smaller sales training companies failed to adapt to the changes in the business environment.  They tried to adjust to the new demands by simply improving doing what they were doing versus reinventing themselves.  By 2026 many of these companies had closed their doors.

On the sunny side of the street, a fair number of the smaller sales training companies adapted to the need for greater depth and breath of talent and the requirement for more capital investment in new technologies by forming alliances and partnerships with other sales training companies.  These new relationships took on a variety of business forms ranging from informal alliances to formal partnerships to mergers.

Some of the small sales training companies pursued novel approaches and sought out alliances and partnerships with training companies in closely related areas like leadership development while others moved to form relationships with small high technology companies specializing in areas like virtual reality and gaming.  Many of these latter partnerships have proved to be highly successful.

2. Acquisitions.  Back in 2016 there were 3 to 4 well-established, large and highly successful sales consulting firms.  These firms provided a wide portfolio of services ranging from sales compensation to go-to-market strategy to territory design.  None of these firms emphasized sales training for a wide variety of reasons.

By 2026 two of these firms had purchased high performing sales training companies to fill out their portfolio of services.  Because of purchases the firms were able to provide a “one stop shopping” approach to sales productivity improvement.  The sales training offered by these firms are now rated among the best of breed.

3. New Players.  One of the unanticipated and perhaps most exciting trends has been the entry into the sales training market of companies that heretofore have not been in the sales training industry.  Four companies (names have been withheld) have produced a great deal of initial promise:

  • Media Company.  Prior to 2016 Company A had been doing outstanding training in professional development as part of their Learning Institute.  As the 2016-2026 time-period unfolded they leveraged their extensive internal expertise and expanded that work into other domains including sales training.
  • Internet Company.  Historically Company B’s Training Center had done outstanding work related to helping clients use mobile devices as tools for learning.  In 2020 Company B started developing downloadable learning modules for mobile devices in a wide variety of domains including sales for both the B2C and B2B markets.
  • Computer Company.  By 2016 Company’s C’s Virtual Academy was offering 100’s of free online courses in areas like cloud development, gaming and data base development.  They also made an early investment in augmented reality technology.  As the application of that technology expanded into training and education they started to offer online courses in a wide variety of personal and professional development areas ranging from early childhood education to sales training.
  • CRM Company.  Because of its farsightedness to expand its portfolio beyond CRM, Company D has continued its unabated growth.  As a part of that growth they have parlayed the work of their university in self-paced online learning – developing a number of client–centric application modules which incorporate the client’s CRM database.  These modules have provided an affordable and easy-to-use vehicles for the client’s sales and marketing groups to use their CRM database in new and exciting ways to improve their sales effectiveness.

Back to the present … On April 1, 1976 Apple was founded to develop and sell personal computers.  If Steve Jobs and his colleagues at Apple can revolutionize not only the computer industry but also the worlds of animation, music, mobile communication and perhaps America’s true love the automobile industry, why can’t a Media or Internet company dramatically change the landscape of the sales training world?

As Peter Drucker once noted – “Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window.”

With that caution in mind this particular article was not about attempting to paint a desired picture of the future of sales training but instead to encourage those who care about sales and sales training to pick up a brush.  Because Drucker also shared with us the idea that – “the best way to predict the future is to create it.”

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2016 Sales Momentum® LLC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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 A 2026 excursion to the future of sales training

  1. Sales training is an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to crafting an effective team. Although training tactics do differ greatly, the important thing to remember is that the methods that are chosen should reflect the uniqueness of the business.

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