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Sales Training Doesn’t Work Because ________.

Sales down? Consider a strategic approach to training.

Sales down? Consider a strategic approach to training.

You’ve probably read a lot of articles by sales trainers entitled something like, “Why Sales Training Doesn’t Work.”  Google that phrase and see what I mean.  You can also look again at the title of this post for another example.

The TAS Group’s CEO, Donal Daly, wrote a post on The Sales 2.0 Network blog that provides examples of things companies do (in this case, three Fortune 500s) that demonstrate they have no idea how to drive sales performance improvement.  Brian Dietmeyer, a guest blogger wrote a post with a similar theme.

At ESR, when sales training doesn’t work, we look at the reasons.  Here are some predominant ones:

  • inadequate (or lack of) requirements definition
  • inadequate funding
  • lack of executive buy-in
  • engaging with the wrong training company
  • not having a sales methodology in place first
  • irrelevant training content (e.g. not using examples based upon real customer experiences)
  • training delivery and medium not designed for effective learning
  • no post-program reinforcement
  • not including other departments within the company where appropriate 
  • not providing first-line sales management with training and process for coaching the reps
  • not having appropriate technology support for learning and sales enablement
  • not having the right people for the sales positions in place
  • not having a measurement process in place for real-time feedback on what’s working and what isn’t
  • not having specific learning objectives in place
  • using a one-size fits all approach
  • management doesn’t participate in training
  • not having tools available for immediate use (cold-calling scripts and ROI models, as examples)
  • no thought has been paid to the behavioral changes required for sales performance improvement.

One can easily predict, with considerable accuracy, when sales training is not going to have an impact on the performance of the sales team.  There is no randomness.  No guesswork.  Hoping won’t work either.

To put it simply, if sales training is looked at it tactically, it isn’t going to work.  When it is viewed strategically, it most often does get the job done.

Do you look at sales training strategically?  Take this test:

  1. I can state most of the learning objectives of the next two training interventions. (True or False)
  2. We track leading performance indicators that warn us early on about sales performance gaps. (True or False)
  3. We have an institutionalized, ongoing coaching program in place for sales reps and their managers. (True or False)
  4. Ongoing sales effectiveness is seen by our CEO as critical for achievement of corporate goals and objectives. (True or False)
  5. We have invested in technology to support effective learning and selling. (True or False)

If you have answered “false” to more than two of these items, you’ve got some serious work to do.


3 Responses

  1. Having worked for two sales methodology providers, I can relate to this post. If you go up a level, I think a lot of the issues with sales training are similar to what you find with other change initiatives – need sponsorship, alignment to goals, enabling infrastructure, etc., etc. When all is said and done, most change initiatives fail or don’t live up to expectations – understanding the success metrics is another story. With the average tenure of a VP of Sales of around ~18 mos., it becomes more and more challenging to really inculcate the cadence into the sales org. The C-suite has only a slightly longer tenure. Add into this mix – for public firms – the quarterly “EPS” cycle + the quick hit nature of sales, and you get a lot of “popcorn” projects that don’t really have a foundation. Per the ESR list of reasons for failure, the heavy lifting up-front is never really done. With the risk of using a well-known adage: “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”

  2. I’ll confess that I too have written an article with exactly that title! I guess it’s a good thing that so many of us are focused on this issue. I’d agree with your points Dave, and also the governing thought on strategy vs. tactics.

    At the end of the day, changing behaviour requires both “skill” and “will”. People emerge from the classroom with various levels of each, and the follow-up (and indeed the preparation) for any training has to ensure systematically that issues with both are managed. Although much of what is needed is “top down”, it’s only by thinking through the impact on the individual salesperson that we can really test our approach.

  3. So very true Dave.
    Thanks for a fine article.

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