• This Blog Is Inactive!

    On of May 8, 2009, I moved my blog over to a new domain: DaveSteinsBlog.ESResearch.com

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  • ESR’s STVG

    Here is ESR's highly acclaimed Sales Training Vendor Guide, Third Edition.

I’m Presenting At The Sales 2.0 Conference In Boston. Join Me.

boston_7000_feet3I’m delighted to be both presenting and participating in a panel discussion at the Sales 2.0 Conference in Boston on May 21st.

Using recent research from ESR’s Sales Training Vendor Guide, I’ll talk specifically about technology-enabled learning—how technology is changing learning and why today, effective sales learning requires technology.

I’ve not been shy in voicing my concerns about the some of the hype and lofty expectations around Sales 2.0 and the distraction that it causes for some of our client companies struggling through the kinds of sales challenges that Sales 2.0 approaches and tools can’t immediately overcome.

At the same time substantive progress is being made on the technology front.  ESR has given credit to those companies who are making real contributions to sales effectiveness through technology-enabled learning and technology-enabled selling—companies like Kadient, Richardson, The TAS Group, SPI, Holden, White Springs, Primary Intelligence, The Brooks Group, Miller Heiman, LinkedIn, ZoomInfo, Jigsaw, Lucidera, and many more.

As a researcher and analyst, I’ll be in learning mode at the conference as well.  I’m looking forward to understanding more about the approaches and solutions of the companies presenting and sponsoring this event, and learning from those sales leaders who will be attending it.  Please introduce yourselves to me.

Hope to see you there.  If you can’t attend, I’ll keep you informed through Twitter.

Photo credit:  (c) 2008 Dave Stein — Boston from 7000 feet
Donate $25 or more to the human rights charity Witness.org, email your receipt to me,
and I’ll send you the full-size jpg of this photo.  dave.stein @ ESResearch.com
Make sure your credit card number is not on the receipt, please.

Miller Heiman. What A Brand!

When it comes to marketing, Miller Heiman leads the pack.  I recently spoke with Elizabeth Vanneste, their Chief Marketing Officer. Elizabeth brought Miller Heiman into four telecommunications companies where she had previously worked. She joined the Miller Heiman team last June as a sales VP and took over marketing three months ago.

Elizabeth shared with me that her firm just added 15 sales consultants and kicked off a new partnership in India.  They have a new program, Securing Strategic Appointments, in which the participants learn, among other things, how to craft the right message, with valid business reasons, to meet with customer executives.  In addition, the program lays out specific plans for getting those critical appointments.  Elizabeth says there is a lot of interest in using these skills for selling to the government.

We talked about the economy and travel restrictions.  Miller Heiman has set up additional public sessions.  I wrote a post about public sales training sessions a while back.  They are, under certain circumstances, something to consider.

Elizabeth and I discussed technology as well.  According to Elizabeth, Miller Heiman has made significant progress with their e-learning offerings and their sales enablement tools that integrate with the top nine CRM systems (through White Springs).  Miller Heiman consultants are also now performing Blue Sheet reviews via webinars and conference calls, helping to keep their customers’ costs down.

Back to Miller Heiman’s marketing.  Miller Heiman’s brand equity is substantial.  That’s not only because they’ve been around for thirty years.  (Other training companies have been around that long or nearly that long.)  So far as sales training companies are concerned, Miller Heiman is predominant on the Web.  I’ve got Miller Heiman tagged in Google Alerts, as well as 40 or so other sales training companies.  There is no question that Miller Heiman significantly outnumbers the others with hits coming from blogs, articles, other companies’ websites (Hoover, for example), conference agendas, news, and other sources.

“Strategic Selling,” a trademarked Miller Heiman brand, is certainly widely recognized, but has become so often used generically, that it may not be connected to Miller Heiman as often as they would like.  This is similar to the issue that SPI has with their trademarked “Solution Selling.”

Miller Heiman’s leadership position in marketing isn’t something to take lightly.  After all, with the close relationship sales should have with marketing in most companies, a training company’s ability to market themselves effectively is a proof statement of an understanding of some of the most important issues, isn’t it?

Finally, this all may sound terrific to you if you’re searching out a sales training company. I can only warn you that selecting Miller Heiman or any other company based upon this or any other one-page write up is precisely the wrong thing to doESR’s Sales Training Vendor Guide, Third Edition, will be published later this month.  In the Guide, Miller Heiman and two dozen other providers are evaluated, compared and contrasted.

Disclosure:  Miller Heiman subscribes to ESR’s research.

Photo credit: DesignImage.com

Sales Training And Travel Budget Cuts

Click on the image for full size.In my post yesterday I wrote about how sales training companies are faring during this economic crisis.  Some are doing well.  Others less so.

An area of considerable concern to those companies that are investing in sales performance improvement is the cost of travel.  This is yet another area where the traditional hotel conference room training session falls short.

Some of the vendors that have strong technology-enabled learning offerings are in a much better position (all other capabilities being equal) to service those travel-curtailed sales teams.

York Baur, CMO of The TAS Group, provided me with the attached slide, which was part of a recent webinar on the subject of the virtual delivery of “sales success.”  The TAS Group*, along with Richardson*, SPI*, Sandler Training, and others have been investing in non-traditional learning delivery platforms.

If you’ve had to cut back on travel, you aren’t alone.  Back in October, SAP saw the handwriting on the wall, and froze travel as well as other expenses as outlined in this internal email:

* Travel: “Cease ALL internal non-customer-facing travel in October…Any non-customer-facing travel already booked should be canceled immediately, even if this incurs penalties.” SAP sales people will also have to fly coach from now on unless they use miles to upgrade.

“…Until further notice, all external training is to be canceled…”


What’s my message here?  Sales effectiveness initiatives mustn’t stop now.  If you’re engaged with a vendor that already has virtual learning delivery capabilities, work with that vendor on cost-effective interventions to take advantage of the situation.  If your vendor doesn’t have these capabilities, first ask them why they don’t!  Then, work with them to find tactical ways to deliver the required learning and reinforcement to keep your sales coming in.  That could be one-on-one phone coaching, targeted webinars, podcasts, etc.  If the vendor doesn’t jump at the chance, find another vendor.

* Disclosure:  These sales effectiveness solution providers subscribe to ESR’s research.

ESR’s 2008 Sales Training Arena

Click on the image for full size.  Do not make a sales training decision based solely on this chart.Each year ESR publishes its annual Sales Training Vendor Guide.

The 2008 Guide, which was published last December, compares and contrasts 19 leading sales training providers across many different capabilities such as depth and breadth of offering, program effectiveness, educational design, available customization, post-program reinforcement, learning technology support and measurement.

Although the 2008 Guide came in at 170 pages, the ESR/Arena (right) was, for many, the highlight of the report.  With appropriate deference to the Gartner Magic Quadrant, we designed the ESR/Arena to provide a quick, graphical perspective for those who would read the report.

We released a standalone copy of the ESR/Arena early in 2008. We found that some buyers of sales training were leaning toward making decisions about vendor selection based solely upon a single glance at the Arena.  We’re certainly delighted that they have that degree of trust in us, but that is precisely the wrong way to go about such a critical decision.

Selecting the right sales training company—the right way—is a process.  There are no shortcuts.  The foundation, and most critical component of the process, is a comprehensive assessment of the selling company’s situation.  I’m not talking about a quick, “The reps need training in cold-calling,” or “They need to get higher in the customer’s organization.”  Hundreds of millions of dollars a year are wasted on training based upon such short-sighted and matter-of-fact statements.  I know.  Performing postmortems on failed sales training interventions is part of what we do at ESR.  And now is a really bad time to spend money getting your people trained only to find that there has been no measurable improvement.

Now that I’ve offered that disclaimer you can take a look at the 2008 ESR/Arena. (Click on the graphic for full size.)  There are a few things for you to keep in mind:

  • This graphic is a year old.  A number of vendors have gone through changes during the past year.
  • There are eight additional vendors that ESR has included in our coverage that are not represented in the 2008 ESR/Arena.  (Here is a complete list.)
  • There are literally hundreds of other training firms, from one person to many, that could very well be the right one to meet your company’s training requirements.  Your perfect partner may very well not even be on this chart.
  • No single vendor that ESR covers is right for every company.  It’s your job, not theirs to make sure you’ve selected the right one.

ESR’s 2009 Sales Training Vendor Guide will be published early in the year.  It will include 26 vendors and considerably more information about training programs, CRM integration, Sales 2.0 technology, and other critical capabilities than previous Guides.

Embedded Sales Learning

Chris Hens, President and COO of White Springs, presented at the Richardson client forum last week.  The subject was in-context sales learning and reinforcement.

With a background in sales training, Chris has a deep understanding of the challenges companies face with respect to sales performance improvement.  White Springs has worked with Complex Sale, Holden, Huthwaite, Miller Heiman, ValuSelling and SPI, among others, to automate sales and opportunity management processes and to connect those to a company’s CRM system.

Richardson has been, and continues to be, a leader in non-traditional (other-than-classroom) learning.  They’ve engaged with White Springs for embedding and integrating their sales learning content into their established tools and business practices.  Chris calls this embedded sales learning. (See graphic, courtesy of White Springs.  Click for full-size.)


Why is this so important?  In order to increase sales effectiveness, more salespeople must complying with the sales process that has been designed for their selling situation.  When that process is modeled in software such as this and they are provided learning reinforcement within that software, it will increase compliance, contributing to sales performance improvement.

Whether you’re shopping for sales training, sales process work, Sales 2.0 tools, or CRM, be certain that your sales processes (qualification, discovery, opportunity management, etc.) are top-of-mind. The vendors you should consider must have the proven ability to support technology-enabled selling and learning.  ES Research has done a considerable amount of research in this area. 

What’s The Half-Life of Sales Training?

At one point during one of the workshops I facilitated in Ireland two weeks ago, a CEO said, matter-of-factly, “… and you know what the half-life of sales training is…”  He was discussing how his company took a more formal approach to sales effectiveness than just sales training, and the benefits that structure and process was delivering to his company.  I had never heard the term “half-life” applied to sales training.  Brilliant!

Just the other day I finally got around to googling, “half-life of sales training.”  Most of the hits I got back were related to an original article in the January 2004 issue of American Salesman.

The subject of the article was a study commissioned by SPI (Sales Performance International) which found, among other things, that the half-life of sales training is just 5.1 weeks without post-program reinforcement.  For 44% of the participants in the study the half-life is less than a month. 

In the article, SPI Senior Consultant Bob McGarrah said, “According to our findings, without immediate reinforcement the greatest loss in the training investment occurs almost as soon as the training is over.”

Although this research was done more than four years ago, I couldn’t agree more.  ESR has found that post-program reinforcement is the single factor with the most impact on long-term value of a sales training intervention.  There are certainly others, such as management support and matching training to an accurate assessment of needs.  But it’s post-program reinforcement—coaching, follow-up materials, tools, refreshers, etc.—that extends the value of training.

There is a vicious cycle taking place here: 

  1. A sales training “event” is held, but it isn’t part of a strategic sales performance improvement approach.
  2. Since there is no post-program reinforcement, most of what is learned is forgotten or not used.
  3. No measurable improvement is the result. 
  4. That investment in the sales training event is seen as a waste of money by senior executives.
  5. Due to a failure to deliver any benefits, investment for sales training for the next year is again severely curtailed.  No funds are allocated for requirements definition, process improvement and post-program “extras” like management training, coaching, refresher programs, technology support, etc.
  6. Go to #1

The solution to this challenge isn’t a secret.  We’ve certainly written extensively about it and so have the training companies we cover.  What will it take for business leaders and senior executives to break this cycle?

Innovation in Sales Training

Training Magazine recently published an article I wrote.  It’s about innovation in sales training. 

There are a couple of points in the article I’d like to comment on.  The first:

© JJAVA - Fotolia.comInnovation has been slow to come to some of the larger training companies, as well. There are two major reasons for that. First, some of the companies that have been around for many years are still being run by the founders, some of whom are reluctant to invest in content, educational design, technology support, and high-quality facilitators. The reason? Investments such as those impact their personal income, and as a result, innovation suffers.”

Last week I spoke with Tim Young, who joined CustomerCentric Systems (one of the sales performance improvement providers that ESR covers) last January.  Tim’s background is in marketing services.  He’s a savvy guy focused on growing CCS.  Unlike some other companies in the sales training space, here is a company whose principals, Mike Bosworth, John Holland, Frank Visgatis, and Gary Walker decided to invest in the future of their company. 

I go on to discuss special requirements that companies have with respect to sales training:

“Most companies have heterogeneous sales teams with salespeople who are experienced and inexperienced, skilled and not so skilled, with right-brained tendencies (selling as an art) and their left-brained counterparts (selling as a science). Employing a one-size-fits-all approach to training results in little learning and considerable resentment on the part of a fairly large percentage of classroom attendees.”

Companies that are moving toward individualized learn-anytime and -anywhere will have the advantage going forward.  Leaders like SPI, The TAS Group, Sandler, Miller Heiman and Richardson (among others) are providing technology-enabled learning tools to meet those challenges head on.

Public Sales Training Programs

I recently noticed a schedule of public training classes to be run by SPI (Sales Performance International).  I wrote an email to Tim Sullivan, a director at the company.  Tim is a well-respected thought leader in the sales performance improvement industry (and writes the Selling Geek blog, which is on my illumio feed list). 

My email to Tim:

Hi Tim,  I have a question for you. I’m gathering my thoughts about a blog posting on public sales training programs. SPI offers public training courses.

I believe that SPI and ESR agree that sales training doesn’t return much for a company without relevant and underlying business process change and transformation.  If that’s the case, how do you at SPI justify individual or groups of sales people attending a public training program?
[…] Dave

Tim’s response (a downloadable PDF) is well worth reading.  SPI has accumulated some enlightening intelligence around the various applications for, and impact of, their public sales training programs. 

As you can see from my message, I came into this email exchange with a bias against public programs.  I’ve got a different view now. 

Here are a few important take-aways about public training programs:

  1. Some companies using a sales performance improvement provider’s methodology use public programs to bring new hires up to speed.  Of course the public program isn’t customized, so it won’t be a perfect fit. With that in mind, the public program can serve the new hire and the company well until the next internal training event.
  2. Other companies use the public programs as a refresher for selected sales people.  Again, the public program isn’t customized to the specific environment the sales person is working in, but there is still some value.
  3. Tim and I do agree that the maximum results from sales training occur when it is a component of a total business transformation and sales performance improvement initiative.

Let me know your experiences and thoughts about public sales training programs.