Why Sales Training Doesn’t Work

…And what to do about it

Selling isn’t a great sport in which to come second. In the world of ‘winner takes all’, anything that gives you a small increase in performance relative to the competition can have a huge impact on your achievements. It’s no surprise, therefore, that salespeople and business developers are some of the most frequently trained individuals in the business world.

And yet… we all know that much of the time, sales training has little impact. While the event may be great, and intentions good, all too quickly, salespeople revert to known behaviours. So why is this? And what can we do about it?

Research shows that a great deal of sales training doesn’t have the impact that it was intended to have. For example:

  • Up to 80% of new skills are lost within 1 week of training if not used – ASTD
  • Up to 85% of sales training fails to deliver a positive ROI – HR Chally
  • 87% of new skills are lost within a month of the training – Xerox

Achieving significant impact is difficult, and requires far more than a great training event.

What’s going wrong?

Fundamentally, improving sales performance is not simply about building skills, but about changing how some very specific types of individual behave in their day-to-day lives. Sales training isn’t a fire-and-forget exercise; it’s only ever going to be the beginning of the process.

The field of situational leadership tells us that there are two main dimensions that affect an individual’s performance on a specific task: their motivation (will), and their ability (skill).

Each person is different and has different needs with individuals coming from any corner of the Skill/Will Matrix. Some individuals may be capable but unmotivated, or they may be from the other end of the spectrum meaning they are motivated but unable to perform to the standard of other individuals. Each course needs to be tailored to the specific individual, but as with most change management initiatives, there is no silver bullet that will improve the effectiveness of sales training; the solution is multi-faceted, and the follow-up process is one that deserves to be treated seriously and managed hard. After all, what would be the impact on your business if every salesperson was 10% more effective?

Turning it around

Nevertheless, no good change programme can afford to be too complex. So here, based on Imparta’s experience of global sales effectiveness rollouts, is our list of the Top 10 Things to Make Sales Training Work:

  • Measure results. This can be as formal as a business impact study, or as informal as asking the right questions on a regular basis – but measure results. If you don’t, there won’t be any;
  • Create pull-through by having salespeople report achievements to the senior team after a period (say 3-6 months, depending on your cycle time);
  • Get people to apply skills right after the course itself. And check that they have;
  • Think about this as change management. Consider both skill and will;
  • Use managers and early adopters to coach. And then coach them on how well they’re coaching;
  • Build the new approaches into your everyday tools and processes (e.g. sales reviews, account planning meetings, performance reviews);
  • Quantify the impact of not applying new behaviours; publicise and celebrate successes;
  • Tailor it (really tailor it!) to different groups to ensure relevance while creating a common language across the organisation;
  • Focus the training on key skill gaps to avoid overwhelming people;
  • Start from the top to design the rollout process, and gain commitment to the leaders’ roles.

As with any change process, you can expect to see a gradual take-up of new behaviours and skills. There will always be early adopters, and there will always be people who are never going to adapt. The challenge is to reach the main-stream as quickly and effectively as possible.

To read the main white paper with key facts and figures and for other Imparta white papers covering sales, marketing and customer service training please click here.

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