I had the pleasure last week of meeting with a company that is proactively evaluating its company sales process even though it is currently making its revenue targets. That was good to hear -- for a change. Many times, I’m contacted by someone whose house is already on fire and who is just starting to buy insurance.
Despite the proactive nature of this recent meeting, I still felt compelled to share with this organization some lessons I’ve learned over the past 20-plus years of helping companies define and implement a companywide sales process.
Namely, I find that there are seven fundamental reasons why sales-training initiatives fail:
1. No real management commitment to change
While some members of senior management think they are setting the proper tone by kicking off a workshop, it is like nails on a chalkboard when I hear them say something to the effect of, “If you take just one thing away from this training. . . ” Think about the message that’s just been sent. What has been effectively communicated to the group is that the training is about tactical skill development, not organizational change.
- The other sure sign of failure is when the first-line sales managers refuse to participate in the same training they expect their salespeople to embrace. I often hear comments such as, “This is good for my people. I don’t need to go through it, though."
2. No integration with marketing or support.
- The reality of the situation is that anyone who touches the customer, even if the contact is once removed via the creation of messaging (e.g., product marketing), must be in lockstep if change is going to happen and consistency is going to be the standard.
3. It’s education, not training.
- Think about it. What do you do if you want to get better at something? You practice. Salespeople have only two opportunities to practice their craft. They can role-play with a manager or a coach who can guide them through the learning process, or they can practice on an innocent prospect who might have spent some money with them. No role-plays equals no skill development. I often see training classes with a single lead instructor and 30 students. At various times they will do breakout sessions where the students are told to “go off and role-play” with no facilitation. These sessions will typically devolve quickly into 30-minute group chats.
4. The training is generic: “You connect the dots.”
- To introduce a completely new process to trainees, expect them to learn it and then expect them to connect the dots on how that new information relates to everyday selling reality, is simply too much to ask. Whether it’s customization in advance, or integration of their products and services into the learning experience through group exercises, students need a clear vision of how this will help them moving forward.
5. Your CRM system doesn’t support the process.
- Salespeople have to feel they are getting value in exchange for information. That’s why many CRM initiatives fail as well. If, as a salesperson, I have to input 37 data fields just to create a new “opportunity,” chances are I’m only going to do it when I absolutely have to. This means that management has no real visibility into the pipeline and is why sales forecasts are so often inaccurate.
6. No follow-on reinforcement
- Imagine two, three or four days of training followed by “good luck and godspeed.” If management doesn’t have a proactive plan of not only how it is going to implement what has been learned, the knowledge and skills will have a very short half-life. It’s well documented that even under the best of circumstances, students will retain only between 20 and 35 percent of what has been covered in the training. Whether the topic is technology or good old sales management, the learning shouldn’t stop when the training does.
7. No consequences -- managers don’t inspect what they expect.
- In at least some cases, this relates directly back to reason number one. If adherence is viewed as optional, salespeople will typically adopt only the parts they “like,” which usually aren’t the ones that help the company drive meaningful change.
In sum, there's a lot of “drive-by training” that takes place out there. Don’t be the next victim.