If you google “does sales training work,” you will find no shortage of information promising that sales training is expensive, has no impact, and is doomed to failure. However, the 2017 Top Challenges report by the AA-ISP found that Training & Development is the third biggest challenge facing sales leaders today. Clearly, lack of sales expertise is a concern for inside sales leaders. But how can they address their needs if training is ineffective?
The truth is that training is necessary for improvement, but it’s what follows training that makes a difference. The best companies and training departments know that real improvement doesn’t come from a training event alone; it comes from a solid reinforcement process that turns skills into habit over an extended period of time.
Successful reinforcement requires effort and input from three sources:
- the individual learner
- the front-line managers (and sales leadership)
- the training provider.
Each party has a set of responsibilities to ensure that training has the greatest impact possible.
What Individuals Should Do
This is simple: sellers need to PRACTICE! All the best training materials, concepts and assistance from managers are useless if the seller isn’t willing to step outside of their comfort zone and try new things. There’s often a dangerous assumption in skills training that comprehension = behavior change. Behavior change comes from practicing over and over until it becomes muscle memory.
It can be intimidating to attempt a new communication method with a prospect for the first time – no one wants to botch an important conversation! Fortunately, there are lots of opportunities for sellers to try out new skills. They can practice in low-risk situations such as routine client meetings or internal conversations. They can try out talking points or questions on an admin or a lower level person in the client organization (most useful for prospecting and outreach skills). They can also role-play with their peers, or even talk to the mirror in the morning or, or the steering wheel during their commute. When it comes to practicing communication skills, the most important thing is to articulate them frequently.
What Managers Should Do
If the role of the individual is to practice, the role of the front-line manager is to facilitate practice, communicate expectations and help team members take that leap. An important component of this is establishing structure for coaching and support. This is best done through a set schedule of opportunities to learn and apply skills that incorporates one-on-one coaching, group discussions and review, and peer work assignments. This means managers also need to become well-versed in the subject matter themselves, in order to understand how to apply the skills in context and hold individual team members accountable for their progress.
What Your Sales Training Provider Should Do
This depends on the degree to which training and reinforcement is “owned” internally by managers and learning enablement vs. outsourced to a third party. In either case, it is the training partner’s responsibility to support front-line managers with reinforcement efforts. This includes helping them identify the right metrics to track, and recommending a coaching structure that aligns with company culture, team composition and internal sales strategy. Training partners can help managers immensely by designing practice activities and a cadence that works for the coaching structure identified. The training materials, such as course books and learning aids are important, but reinforcement resources should focus on application rather than comprehension. The best training providers offer post-training resourcces with this dynamic in mind.
Sales training works when these three groups fulfill their responsibilities over time. Sales training doesn’t work when any one of these parties considers training a one-time event. If you’re evaluating sales training initiatives, remember to spend just as much as time, if not more, on a reinforcement strategy. It’s the only clear path to ensuring results.
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