Making Sales Training Harder

If all boats rise with the tide

When John F. Kennedy, back in 1963, first used the phrase a rising tide lifts all boats, upon facing criticism that the new dam project he was inaugurating was a “pork barrel project”. From then on after, this phrase became famously associated with the idea, that improvements in the general economy will then benefit all participants in that economy.

The same happens in sales context, when a CEO or a sales leader inaugurates any kind of sales training initiative, he expects the performance of all the salespeople to rise with the tide. But now the rising tide seems to lift few boats only, and others will run aground.

Sales Training

Researching the US market spending, reveals that companies spend over a total $70 billion and an average of $1459 per salesperson on training programs; surpassing by 20% what is spent on employees of all other departments. Even so, the ROI of these programs remain disappointing there too. In fact, studies recently indicated that participants in traditional training program forget more than 80 percent of the information they have received within 90 days.

As alarming as these numbers are, once the methodology of these training programs is investigated, they are not surprising. Training programs tend to follow a similar blueprint, with these sessions taking the form of an event-based session spread over 1-2 days, where salespersons are expected to absorb a sizeable amount of information in a limited time. The sessions then end up to be a “fire-up” motivational sessions with inspirational stories and rarely to be followed up with some constant continuous reinforcement means.

Enabling Salespeople for the future by re-focusing training investments

1- Make the training more effective by making it harder

Education has been said to be the best changing agent of society. Formal academia was always a non-fun thing as its name suggests and is designed in a way to demand high respect. Today, they have developed those programs to incorporate fun and joy learning, but not to take over the core of its essence. The same should be applied to any sales training and development program, especially that such programs are tackling a lot of the behavioral skills. I believe the focus is on designing the program to be hard, demand respect, discipline while incorporating the joy of learning rather than focusing on just keeping the attendees happy, and energetic in order to leave the training happy and satisfied but take none of what has been learned into seriousness of setting the required commitment to apply.

2- Include leaders in practice sessions

Research published in the Frontiers in Psychology journal shows that when employees view their leaders as empowering and capable, they work more proactively. This research highlights the importance of leaders to initiate desirable traits and proactively jump into activity and role-play sessions.

3- Run read hard simulation/role playing exercises

Salespeople tend to detest role-plays, claiming that they don’t replicate real-life interactions with clients. In fact, studies have attested that it is much harder for salespeople to sell in a pretense than in a real scenario alone with clients. This is why softball scenarios in which the “prospect” asks only a handful of easy questions are a waste of time. Furthermore, it is important to make practice harder than a real sales call so salespeople are prepared for any conversation, and have reps practice in front of their peers. Don’t help them when they get stuck; wait for them to recover. Don’t let them break out of their roles by feeding them answers. Ask follow-up questions until they find solutions themselves.

4- Practice the entire sales cycle, not just the first meeting or call 

All sales training programs include practicing the initial sales calls and initial meeting; but, few link their training program to the entire sales process and address the other part of the sales steps.

5- Ensure continuity for the program

Since, 80% of the information from training sessions is merely retained for 90 days, reinforcement sessions should be conducted regularly; Thus a uniform practicing across the sales team should be more consistent. In programs where continuous reinforcement sessions were administered, 60 to 65% of the reps shifted their sales approach from presenting and talking to questioning and listening.

6- Leverage on Technology to utilize your trainings

In order for reps to develop new behavioral skills, they must practice a behavior multiple times before it becomes comfortable and effective. And it has to be related to a relevant task. If salespeople are motivated by a deal, they’ll be more incentivized to learn. In other words, in order for training to be effective, you’ll need to deliver the content at a time of need.Technology can help make this happen, allowing reps to continuously learn from mobile content that is customized to their needs. When combined with traditional training, this approach helps reps turn product, market, and selling factoids into coherent narratives and behavioral models.

How We Could Help
As a Sales management consulting firm, we aid companies in driving their sales force effectiveness especially in slowdown economy. We do so by integrating Science into Selling, whether by addressing your sales organization challenges, governance or utilizing on your sales data or develop your sales people through a well crafted continuous A-Z development program.

So, I ask every CEO, GM Sales Leader, and HR Business partners who are tired of the old ways, to have the guts and invest in a new cutting edge methodology and take the first step towards Sales Enablement.

Managing Partner
Founder of HEED, a sales management consulting firm focused on aiding companies to structure, transform or optimize their sales by integrating science into selling.

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