Sales training – managing a conundrum

Sales training

Sales training

Here’s the conundrum …

  • You have a 250 person sales team
  • You are a new, first time Sales Training Director
  • You replaced a sales manager who did no sales training for a long time

To add urgency, revenue numbers have been stagnant for too long. The VP of Sales now feels that sales training is definitely needed and it needs to be done in short order.  And by the way, it needs to work.

Context. To complete the picture, let’s just note a couple of contextual factors that make the path forward a little more challenging.

  • Sales training is not inexpensive.  If you go with an outside vendor and customize the training materials, the training will be in the neighborhood of $1,000 to $1200 per sales rep.  This may or may not be a shared vision.
  • Expectations are likely to be dated.  Your company has not done any sales training for a long while; therefore the expectations are likely to be all across the board.  Some people will flash back to training they liked 10 years ago in another company – others will question “why now” after all this time and still others will have a completely unrealistic vision of what it takes to get sales training right, for example, all that stuff about reinforcement and coaching.
  • Lots of options.  If this challenge was on the table 10-15 years go, there were not many viable sales training vendor options from which to select.  Plus, they were all household names in the industry.  Today that is no longer the case.  There are now many great choices, a fair number of which may be unknown to the key players in your company.  Not only are there more sales training companies, these companies deploy significantly different approaches.  Now, there are clearly upsides to this development – but the downsides are there as well.

Selection dilemma.  So, who is your sales training partner going be?  How do we narrow down the list of prospects?  After you have generated an initial list, clearly you need to check with some other companies that have used that sales training vendor and ideally it would be great to see a program or at least review the program materials.

Let’s take that last must-do step – reviewing program materials.  Here, the second-order question is how.  Is there a “gatekeeper” criterion – a criterion that should be applied first and must be met?  To qualify, this criterion would need to be both critical and easy to measure accurately.

Gatekeeper Criterion.  When it comes to sales skills training we suggest the Gatekeeper Criterion relates to the amount of time devoted in the program to practice and feedback.  For sales skills training programs at least 50% of the classroom time should be devoted to practice and feedback. 

To meet this criterion ook for other approaches for knowledge transfer such as online training.  So what is done in the classroom is that which can uniquely be done in a classroom – that is high-level practice and feedback.   

It’s suggested the “at least 50%” criterion can be achieved across content areas and levels of training from new hire to advanced salespeople.  Going a step further, the best option is a customized sales simulation where 80-90% of the classroom time is spent on practice and feedback. 

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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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