Sometimes it seems like everybody and his uncle is in the sales training business. And a lot of the the sales training that's out there is substandard. (See: "World Weirdest Sales Training Videos")
Even so, companies spend billions of dollars every year on sales training. And a lot of that money is just being flushed down the toilet, according to Dave Stein, who's probably the world's top expert on sales training. Dave's company, the ES Research Group, studies the sales training market and periodically issues a detailed report on the strengths and weaknesses of the top vendors.
One of the ways that I know Dave is that he's a frequent commenter on this blog. He's also an active blogger himself (you can check the blog roll at the side of this column for the link). Anyway, I was wondering how so many companies could hire so many lousy sales trainers, so I asked Dave for the straight scoop.
He says that the poor quality of sales training comes from the following 13 myths about sales training:
Myth #1: One or two new ideas justifies the effort. Wrong! Research shows that 90% of all sales training programs result in only a 90-120 day increase in sales productivity. Spending time and money on ineffective sales training is worse than no training at all, since it provides management with a false sense that they have done the right thing.
Myth #2: The top training firms are a safe bet. Wrong! Research shows that every training company has been successful in some situations, but not in every one. If the root cause of your biggest sales problem is not a core competency of your favorite sales training company, you will simply not get the best return on your investment, if any at all.
Myth #3: A motivational speaker is sales training. Wrong! It's not even close. If your intent is to entertain your team, fine. But motivation doesn't do anything to fix the two root causes of sales ineffectiveness, such as not having the right people in sales positions or not having a pragmatic selling methodology, or not training sales people on its use.
Myth #4: Classic sales training is now obsolete. Wrong! Companies are bombarded with so much hype about new approaches to selling that few realize that most of these programs are simple repackaging of the old, proven basics. Every salesperson needs to be competent at the basics of selling no matter how much buyers and the market have changed.
Myth #5: My best people don't need training. Wrong! The world's top earning sales professionals know that if they don't keep their skills honed and up-to-date, they'll be scrambling to make the quarter, just like everyone else. While training for top performers must be tailored to their unique needs, simply not providing them with training is the wrong approach.
Myth #6: Managers and executives need not attend. Wrong! Managers and execs are involved in selling, so they must be competent with respect to selling skills. They need to be part of the sales support infrastructure to provide coaching and guidance, and they need to prove to the salespeople that the training is so important that senior execs attend it.
Myth #7: You can't measure sales training ROI. Wrong! While it seems as if there are too many variables to measuring sales, it is actually rather easy to measure the performance of a sales team before and after training, after adjusting for changes in the economy over the period being examined. All that's needed is a "control" group that doesn't undergo the training.
Myth #8: Learning is mostly in the classroom. Wrong! When training is done the right way, upfront work is involved-building processes, tools, metrics, a sales support function, for example. And post-program reinforcement is critical to success. That comes in the form of coaching, technology (or other) refreshers and reinforcement.
Myth #9: I can train the mediocre to excel. Wrong! You can't train intelligence, drive, integrity, personality, analytical thinking, optimism and confidence into someone and these are required traits for most sales jobs. What you can train is sales skills such as communication, relationship-building, motivation, product knowledge, negotiation skills, and so forth.
Myth #10: Classroom training is the best medium. Wrong! As sales teams become more and more diverse (generational, cultural, geographical, experiential) classroom training doesn't do the job for a larger and larger sampling of the audience. Research reveales that a mixture of classroom, self-paced learning, coaching, e-learning, etc., is optimal for most situations.
Myth #11: Providing "sales tips" is sales training. Wrong! Under the right circumstances, carefully selected tips and tricks can be incorporated into an overall approach to selling. But signing your salesreps up to sales tips newsletters (even Sales Machine!) as the primary form of education does them a disservice.
Myth #12: "Off the shelf" sales training works. Wrong! Trainers must tailor or customize their content for each unique situation. A pharmaceutical sales rep will not connect with a case study of how someone else sold $3 million of SAP software. Similarly, a medium-sized business isn't likely to learn much from studying the "best sales practices" inside a giant company like GE.
Myth #13: I can skimp on the "extras". Wrong! Sales training that doesn't include manager training, post-session follow-ups and tools to reinforce behavior cannot possibly drive the long-term changes that will create ongoing revenue growth. These are critical components of any sales effectiveness initiative; they are not optional "nice-to-haves.'
So there you have it. If you want your company to spend its sales training dollars wisely, simply send the URL of this post to your management team. And you might want to point them at ES Research's 2008 Sales Training Vendor Guide.
Of course, you can always hire one of the weirdos in "World Weirdest Sales Training Videos" instead.
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