Why isn’t great sales training great?

Sales training

The vast majority of sales training programs have solid content and excellent instructional design.  Any company looking to purchase sales training programs has a wide variety of viable options. Yet, too often  great sales training programs don’t produce great results. Although the reasons may vary as to why many sales training efforts don’t work, the main culprit is the lack of buy-in from the sales force.

For sales people to change what they do and how they do it, they must first decide there is a need to change.  Simply telling the sales team they need to attend a great program at a really nice conference center is not going to create the need. And, the sales training program, per se, cannot be expected to both persuade the attendees that a behavior change is needed and help them to learn the new behaviors.  Sales training programs do the latter – not the former.

So, how do you create the buy-in? How do you persuade the sales team that a change is needed before the implementation of the first program?  Let’s take a look at who has a role to play and some best practices.

First, who are the players?  Two parties have responsibilities.  The company selling the sales training should be the first one in line.  They need to tee up the issue with the client and provide advice on how to address buy-in.  Unfortunately this fails to occur way too often.  The second and most important group is the senior sales leadership in the customer organization  – VP of Sales and Regional Directors.

So let’s review some ideas for getting the job done.

  • Clarify the message. The senior leadership must clarify the message as to why the sales training is being done.  What is happening in the market – in the industry that requires doing new things in new ways. Why is the status quo not okay?  All this needs to be crafted in terms meaningful to the sales team.

Once the message is crafted,  disseminate it to the sales team a number of different times in a variety of different forms and forums.  An email sent two days before the program is not within the spirit of the idea.

As a side note when the senior leadership actually spends time thinking about the “why,” it is often the case that insights will be obtained that will also actually influence the shape of the program itself.

  • Show you’re serious. Again this falls to the senior leadership.  They need to establish expectations.  What is senior leadership going to be doing differently?  What do they expect the front-line managers and sales reps to do following the program?  How will these expectations be measured and how will success be recognized and rewarded?

Buy-in is not about compliance; it is about persuasion.  Notions about the effort being the “flavor of the month” or a “pick and choose” scenario cannot be permitted to flourish.

  • Engage the front-line managers. There is little doubt the front-line sales manager is the pivotal job for creating behavior change in a sales team.  Because of that fact, they need to be engaged in the buy-in effort from start to finish.

The sales training company should recruit a subset of the front-line managers to help customize the program to the type of sales situations the reps face every day.  Next, the senior leadership should engage the managers in disseminating the message about the program to the sales team.  And, last, the sales managers need to go through the program just like the sales people so they can provide follow-up coaching.

Too many sales training efforts fail to live up to expectations not because the company selected the “wrong “ program.  They fail because buy-in from the sales team was never achieved.

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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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