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ATD Blog

Why Sales Training Fails and What You Can Do About It

Friday, June 16, 2023

In a recent webinar, I asked attendees why they think their sales training fails to deliver long-term results.
Four factors rose to the top:

1. Lack of follow-up by sales managers
2. Sellers quickly revert to old habits
3. Lack of executive leadership buy-in
4. Sellers don’t fully engage with the training

The common denominator, and the one thing my organization sees when working with our clients globally, is sales training that is not approached as a change initiative.

When you view sales training as a change initiative—trying to change sellers’ behaviors and daily habits—you can see how you mitigate each of the above risk factors.

For change to occur, you need executive buy-in, sellers engaged in the change, and managers prepared to support their teams.

The Goal of Sales Training

Why is getting sales training right so important?

Ultimately, when sales training is done right, it improves your organization’s win rate.

In a recent study, the RAIN Group Center for Sales Research found that respondents with effective sales training see an average win rate up to 11 percentage points higher than those with less effective training.

We’ve written before about the major impact small increases in win rate can have. The significance cannot be overstated.

Encourage Sales Manager Involvement

But the formula for success is not just effective training. The same research found that when these three factors are combined, sellers are 63 percent more likely to be top performers:

1. Effective sales training
2. Effective manager
3. Regular coaching


The second factor, effective manager, is also one of the major reasons sales training fails—the lack of follow-up by sales managers. To ensure your managers are effective, you must include sales managers in your training for sellers and provide them with sales manager-specific training that includes coaching.

This is a win-win-win combination.

Sales manager involvement is not just about the coaching; it’s about the accountability—and this is often a missing piece.

Sales managers must hold sellers accountable for applying the new skills and using the training with their buyers. The skills and concepts learned need to become part of the language and overall approach of the entire sales organization.

Instill New Seller Behaviors

Humans tend to do what we are comfortable with, and we don’t get comfortable after just trying something once. Even with great intention, inspiration, and motivation, we could revert to old habits and behaviors. This happens all too often. Behaviors must be repeated so they stick.

In addition, ambiguity is the enemy of accountability. If anything is unclear, sellers will experience discomfort and go back to doing things the way they’ve always done. Take the time in and around your training to clarify concepts and actions, and provide the reasons for doing them. Seek clarity. Only when sellers are clear on what they’re supposed to do and held accountable for those specific things will you be able to instill new behaviors.

Get Executive Leadership Buy-In

When sellers and sales managers must change habits, behaviors, and mindsets across the sales organization, executive sponsors and key stakeholders must be involved to affect this broad-based change.

Executive sponsors and key stakeholders must:

  • Collectively define the shared vision.
  • Set expectations for sellers and sales leaders.
  • Define the initiative as a priority.
  • Provide the “why” behind the initiative—it’s critical to keep returning to this point to drive consistency around this message and its importance.

We see amazing things happen when we get executives together on a call or around a conference table to discuss the commitments to drive the successful application of the learning and achieve defined business outcomes and results. Sales leaders, directors, and team leaders all get excited about it. Sales leaders want to improve sales performance across their teams.

If you’re thinking that your sales leaders or executives are too busy, you need to quit thinking that way and get them involved. Executives make the time for these meetings when asked, especially when you show them how they can get involved to provide the top-down support required to drive change and achieve the agreed-on outcomes and improvements.

Communicate Early, Often, and Across the Organization

Closely paired with executive involvement is the use of cascading communication to reinforce the change initiative message: It’s not disappearing and is here to stay, so sellers and sales managers must pay attention.

Start by having the most senior person in the selling organization be the first point of communication to introduce a change initiative that involves training, coaching, application, development, and embedding the initiative.

Depending on the organization, this senior leader may be the CEO, president, global leader of sales, or similar. Then, have subsequent communications leading up to the training—with different messages—coming from different leaders. These messages are used to clarify and underscore the importance and strategic priority of the initiative.

Too many initiatives fail because someone did not clearly communicate expectations.

Tailor Training to Your World

Finally, to get sellers to engage with the training, it must be relevant to their role and world. This means tailoring examples, case studies, role plays, and exercises to mirror the interactions your sellers have with buyers. This will make the training highly applicable and something sellers can easily transfer to the job.

Offer sellers support with job aids, tools, and playbooks that help them bridge the gap from classroom to on-the-job application.

In Summary

You’ll increase your chance of sales training success by approaching it as an initiative to change sellers’ behaviors and habits. Minimize the risk of a failed effort by getting executive buy-in, enabling sales managers to support their teams, and engaging sellers in the change.

About the Author

Andy Springer is co-author of the bestseller Virtual Selling: How to Build Relationships, Differentiate, and Win Sales Remotely and Chief Client Officer of RAIN Group, a global sales training company helping clients improve sales results through training, coaching, and reinforcement.

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