Sales training – it is not just about fixing things that are broken

Let’s tune in on a conversation that a VP of Sales is having with her front-line sales managers.

“Last year was not a great year – only about half of you made your targets.  And the year-to-date data doesn’t look a whole lot better.  I spent last week riding with some of your reps. I was stunned.  We need to go back and get better at the fundamentals – blocking and tackling.  I asked Jerry, our sales training director, to look into getting some solid basic sales training for our people – we have got to get this fixed.”

Although the actual words may differ and the tone may be a bit harsher, this conversation occurs in many a sales meeting – year after year.  The need for sales training is created because things are broken. The sales team is not doing what people thought they were doing.  What is common among these occurrences is training is about fixing something.  The fundamental purpose is remediation – let’s do sales training so we can correct deficiencies in our sales team.

Let’s drop in on another conversation between another VP of Sales and their front-line managers.

“Tip of the hat everyone.  The last 12 months have been absolutely on the money.  And, the really good news is our Acme acquisition is a done deal – we will have it wrapped up in 3 months.  This gives us what we need to move to the next level – we will be able to shift from selling individual products to selling an integrated solution.  Of course, our sales team will need to sell something different, in a different way, to different people.  I want to get ahead of the curve so I have asked Sally, our sales training manager, to look for a sales training program that we can implement across our entire sales team.  Our people need to come off the block ready to go – they need to be trained today for what they will be required to do tomorrow.”

This narrative is much different than the first one and it occurs much less frequently.  This conversation is not about deficiencies and remediation; it is not about fixing something that is broken. It does not focus on correcting the past – it concentrates on building for the future. Let’s review these two conversations.

First, there is nothing wrong with fixing things that aren’t working right.  So, the first conversation is okay.  If a sales team is struggling because they are not skilled in the fundamentals, then it makes perfect sense to implement a training program and perhaps a coaching effort to correct that deficiency.

But what about the second conversation? It’s held less frequently but is a little more interesting to explore.

In today’s business environment, change is not something that happens once and awhile – it happens constantly.  Customers are changing what they buy, how they buy, and what they are willing to pay for it.  And, suppliers are responding to these changes in a variety of ways – acquisitions, new products, reorganizations, new go-to-market strategies etc.

All this turbulence means that a sales team must adjust and adapt in order to stay ahead of the game.  A sales team cannot prosper in this time of change by simply doing a better job doing what they are doing. They need to learn new skills and learn to apply existing skills under a new set of conditions.

The key developmental point is: most sales reps are not able to make that skill shift all by themselves – they need help.  And investing in sales training to provide that help is not only legitimate, it is smart business.  The moral of the story is sales training should not only be used to correct the deficiencies of the past but also prepare for the demands of the future.

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©2012 Sales Horizons, LLC

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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