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Back to Basics: Considerations for Creating Sales Training

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Wed Mar 06 2013

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At this time of year, most sales training managers are well into planning for the year ahead. Priorities have been set and budgets finalized, so it’s a good time to not only think about what sales training needs to accomplish, but also to review some of planning fundamentals. 

Sales training isn’t always the answer. Sales training programs should not be relied on to fix all performance problems. Sales training programs can do many things:

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  • address a lack of knowledge or skill

  • effectively jump start new sales reps by providing them with a base of knowledge

  • help ensure that a new product lives up to expectations.  

However, sometimes a performance problem is not about a skill or knowledge deficiency. For example, sometimes it’s a motivation issue. Perhaps the source of the problem has to do with management issues inside the company? Maybe the performance expectations aren’t clear, or the compensation system is dysfunctional. When sales training is expected to solve performance problems in situations like these, the end result is misspent money and a sour taste about sales training.

The same sales training isn’t always for everyone. Companies often institute company-wide sales training initiatives. Sometimes this makes sense—like when you’re goal is to institute a common sales language for the sales force. And, of course, corporate-wide sales training is a good idea when a new strategic initiative is introduced.  For example, if the sales team must move from selling individual products to selling an integrated solution, then everyone needs adjust and adapt their skills to the new sales challenge. 

These are specific situations faced by many companies where the same program for everyone is the right answer.  On the other hand, sometimes it is a better idea is to target programs for specific segments of your sales team. For example, a “Top Gun” school for your high performers could be a major payoff. If you are experiencing high turnover, a program targeted just for new hires is smart training priority. So, keep in mind that every program should not be for everyone. 

Sales people, like everyone one else, learn best when they’re motivated. Telling sales people that they need to attend a one- or two-day sales training session next Tuesday may get “butts in the seats,” but their minds will likely be elsewhere. Sales training yields much better outcomes when sales people want to be there—and when they come to the sales training program with a positive attitude. 

So, how do you get sales people “to want” to attend sales training? Buy-in is not about compliance; it’s about persuasion. Senior management support is key; they can clarify the message as to why the sales training is occurring and just how serious they are about the sales training effort.  

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But that shouldn’t be the end of the effort. One approach is to generate positive buzz. One of our clients rolled out a sales training initiative by inviting the most successful, respected sales people to attend the first three programs. They called the programs “Inaugurals.” When the very best spread the word that the sales training program was worthwhile, a positive buzz was created. After those first three programs, it was easy to fill the slots in future programs. In fact, we had a waiting list and in the end, everyone in the sales force attended by choice.

Bottom line: It is hard to over emphasize the point that time spent planning how to position sales training before it occurs, as well as how to reinforce learning after training, is time well spent. With that notion on the table, these three other ideas are worth considering as well if you want your learning initiatives to be successful.

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