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Make sales training work for you

Robert NadeauIndustrial Supply columnist Robert Nadeau says sales training can pay for your company, but only if it delivers measurable business results.

by Robert Nadeau

My previous article described three selling skills that greatly increase a person’s chances of succeeding in the selling profession. These skills increase a salesperson’s ability to prospect for new customers, identify and develop customer needs and close sales at higher prices.

Salespeople can put these essential selling skills to work with the right kind of training and after-training support.

However, there is a growing concern among sales managers regarding the overall effectiveness of sales training. Many wonder whether sales training is worth the investment of time, money and effort.

In this article, I will explain why sales training often fails to deliver measurable business results. But more importantly, I will explain what you can do to make sales training work for you.

Sales training is a major investment
Most sales managers are keenly aware of the fact that their sales force is the primary revenue engine for their business. In addition, they know that providing their salespeople with the right kind of sales training can be the difference between getting the numbers — or coming up short.

Pulling your salespeople out of the field for sales training represents a major investment of time, money and effort. In today’s economic environment, every investment you make in your sales force must deliver business results you can measure — such as positive changes in revenue and profits.

The most common complaint I hear from sales managers is that sales training, whether it was delivered in the form of a workbook, seminar or online course, has little or no impact on their business. In other words, they aren’t seeing a measurable return on their sales training investment.

Does sales training work?
Unfortunately, these complaints are backed by a number of studies that confirm what many sales managers have concluded for themselves. The evidence clearly shows that a large percentage of sales training does not deliver measurable business results.

Who’s to blame? Should we blame the trainers and the methods they use? Should we blame sales management? Or perhaps we should blame the salespeople. All of these share some of the blame.

The primary reason sales training fails to deliver measurable business results is that the concepts and methods presented in the training never get applied to the day-to-day selling activities of the men and women who participate in the training. In other words, the content of the training never gets put to work.

Three common barriers keep the ideas and techniques presented in sales training from being applied to the job of selling. I will explain those barriers below. More importantly, I will explain what you can do to make sure the dollars you invest in sales training deliver business results you can measure.

Common Barrier No. 1
Salespeople can’t make the connection between the sales training and their jobs.

The goal of sales training is to help your salespeople do a better job of selling. Sales training — no matter how well it’s designed or delivered — is of no value until your salespeople put the concepts and methods presented in the training to work. Any sales training you invest in must help your salespeople understand how they are going to apply – step-by-step — what they learn to their daily selling activities.

Imagine that you sent your entire sales force to a one-day training session titled: Selling During Difficult Times. During this training session, your salespeople learned tips and techniques for selling in the current economic environment.

You assume you’ve made a good investment because your salespeople gave the training session high marks on their evaluation forms. However, one month later, you notice that nothing has changed as a result of the training. The sad reality is that you, like many other sales managers, invested in sales training that didn’t deliver.

This is a classic example of well-intended sales training that fails to help the participants understand how to use what they learned.

To overcome this common barrier, make sure the sales trainer has a clear understanding of how your salespeople currently sell. Ask them to explain how they are going to help your salespeople apply the concepts and methods they intend to deliver in their training. If they can’t, find another sales trainer.

Common Barrier No. 2
Salespeople are not held accountable for applying what they learn in the sales training.

Most salespeople have every intention of applying what they learn in sales training to their day-to-day jobs. But here’s why those good intentions often don’t get translated into action. Sales training occurs in an environment that is very different from the real world of selling.

The training environment is relatively free from normal disruptions salespeople contend with. In the training environment, salespeople have time to focus on, think about and learn new selling concepts and methods. Salespeople leave this environment with their heads full of new ideas and techniques they fully intend to put to work.

But here’s what usually happens.

Immediately following the training session, the salesperson receives a call from a customer who wants to know the status of their order. Next, the salesperson receives an e-mail from management requesting sales projections for the next quarter.

In a matter of minutes, the salesperson is pulled back into the real world of sales. The salesperson’s good intentions of applying what he or she has learned quickly take a backseat to the demands of customers and management. Their good intentions get put off again and again, and then abandoned altogether.

Sales training cannot deliver measurable business results until your salespeople apply the concepts and methods they have learned. To overcome this barrier, you must hold your salespeople accountable.

Establish a realistic time frame for your salespeople to apply the new ideas and techniques they learned to a real-world selling situation.

Common Barrier No. 3
Salespeople are not supported in their attempts to apply their new knowledge and skills.

All too often I hear salespeople say, “I know exactly what I need to do to put these new selling concepts and methods to work, but times are tough and management is on me to get the numbers, so I’m just not comfortable changing the way I sell.”

This is a classic example of where sales management is working at cross purposes. On one hand they had the foresight to invest in sales training. On the other hand, they pretty much guarantee this investment will never deliver results because they fail to create a supportive environment for their salespeople.

Applying new selling ideas and techniques for the first time can be awkward and stressful for the salesperson. However, with practice, encouragement and more practice, your salespeople can overcome this stress and become comfortable applying what they learned in sales training. Then, and only then, will your investment in sales training start delivering results.

To overcome this common barrier, make sure every level of management in your business understands that it’s not going to happen overnight. Be patient. Give your salespeople the time and encouragement they need to practice, refine and get comfortable applying these new selling ideas and techniques.

Selling is hard work and has recently become even harder. In today’s economic environment, every investment you make in your sales force must count. Sales training remains one of the best investments you can make in your sales force, but only if it delivers measurable business results.

Taking action to overcome the three barriers I described in this article will help make sales training work for you.

The Industrial Performance Group specializes in helping manufacturers and distributors increase sales volume and improve profitability. Go to or call 800-867-2778.

This article originally appeared in the Sept./Oct. 2009 edition of Industrial Supply magazine. Copyright 2009, Direct Business Media, LLC.


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