Four Warning Signs That Your Sales Training is a Waste of Time and Money

Businesses in the United States spent $67 billion on training their employees last year. You read that right, that’s billion with a “b” and dollars with a “d”. Sixty-seven of them! The sales training  portion of that price tag is estimated at $4-5 billion.

With 49% of all sales reps under quota in any given fiscal year, I’m pretty sure these dollars could’ve been better spent elsewhere. How can you tell if your sales training investment is a waste of time and money?

Here are four warning signs:

WARNING SIGN ONE: Sales Manager Misalignment

The way sales training is rolled out in most organizations is that sales managers hear about it at roughly the same time as their reps. And while you have every right to do that as an executive leader, it’s unwise.

Here’s why.

Unlike any other role in your company, sales managers are charged with the direct supervision of a process from which a significant amount of their pay is derived. Remove them from having a say in how that process is carried out, and you remove a powerful partner in generating revenue.

Most sales managers won’t actually sabotage sales training they don’t have a say in developing, but they won’t reinforce it either. Add to that end of month, end of quarter, and end of year pressure to hit their number, and they’ll stay loyal to what’s working for them, not some newfangled ideas.

Not to mention the fact that you may not know what your salespeople need anyway. I once worked for a company where the General Manager purchased an expensive piece of software that didn’t do a particular task that frontline employees needed to do a dozen times a day.

He made this costly mistake because he didn’t know that his employees even did that task, let alone needed it in the software package. And, really, how could he? Sure, he was a smart guy, but he didn’t know everything. And when you don’t know everything, you ask before you buy something for someone.

In fact, your sales managers can be the very best resource on what’s really happening in the frontline of sales in your company. Stay close to them. Listen to them. Learn from them. And let them help you shape the way your salespeople are trained.

WARNING SIGN TWO: Sales Process Disconnection

The next warning sign that your sales training is a total waste of time and money is that no real thought has been given to integrating it with your sales process. I can’t tell you how many rolled eyes and blanks stares I’ve seen from salespeople who’ve been pulled out of the field to participate in training that was in no way connected with what they were actually doing everyday.

Now I’m sure you have a sales process in place. And I’m sure everyone knows what it is. But what I find in sales organizations large and small is a tremendous lack of clarity about what that process actually means in day to day activity.

Want proof? Conduct this experiment:

Sit down with a few frontline salespeople in your company and ask them what the most important activities are in the execution of your sales process. Don’t give them any ideas, suggestions, or prompts. Just ask the question and listen. Now ask the same exact question to some of your sales managers, and compare the two lists.

Whenever I have done this in the sales organizations I’ve served, without exception, the lists have few items in common. It’s like these people sell on two totally different planets!

Before initiating any sales training program, review your sales process rigorously and identify the specific steps of action that need to be taken to execute it. Clearly define exactly what it means in your company to fully complete each step and train to those steps.

If you involve your sales managers in developing your training, as I recommend above, have them rank which steps are the most important to address based on what they see their reps struggling with in the field and adjust your training accordingly.

What this undoubtedly means, however, is customizing any curriculum you use and not buying something off the shelf. The best sales trainers are more than happy to do this for you because they want to deliver something to your people that actually works. And the extra investment is worth it, because, again, it’s an investment that’s connected to completing your sales process, not learning some generic curriculum.

WARNING SIGN THREE: The Compensation Effect

Upton Sinclair, author of the Jungle—a story about the brutal days of factory work in America at the turn of the last century—wrote this, “It’s difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

This is just as true today as it was 100 years ago, and no more so than in the world of sales. A sales person’s paycheck is the ultimate teacher of what your company values most in sales, not a two day workshop. And if you’re training them to do one thing and paying them to do something else, it’s just a waste of time and money.

For example, I once worked as a consultant at a company that was making a strategic sales shift to growing revenue by deeply serving existing customers. This made sense because of the rapidly shrinking prospect pool due to mergers and acquisitions in the industry. The problem was, sales from new business was still being commissioned at a higher rate than sales from existing business.

Guess what their salespeople did?

If you’re going to invest in sales training, make sure that sales compensation reinforces your training, not undermines it. If you work at a bigger company, I know this is harder to accomplish that in a smaller, more entrepreneurial firm. But find a way, some creative way, to reward the behavior change you’re seeking to instill.

WARNING SIGN FOUR: Drinking from a Firehose

The final warning sign that your sales training is a waste of time and money is the way most training is delivered today: from a firehose.

What I mean by a firehouse is that people are put into a classroom for one or two days and pummeled with waves of input from well-meaning instructors. But even the most interactive methodologies, practice sessions, case studies, and role plays fail to produce permanent behavior change, quite simply because that’s not how people learn.

People learn through spaced repetition and gradual progress. What this means in real life is delivering a little bit of training, and following it up; delivering a little bit more training, and following it up, repeating this process all throughout the year.

Spaced repetition, gradual progress. Spaced repetition, gradual progress.

How can you afford to bring a trainer in that many times to your company? You can’t. So I recommend not buying sales training programs at all but buying train the trainer programs, bringing sales training in-house and rolling it out little by little.

The added benefit of that is your sales managers and seasoned sellers, many of whom would be your in-house trainers, will know exactly how to reinforce the training with your reps. In this way organizational capacity grows, along with sales, and your training budget ultimately shrinks.

Not a bad deal!

Photo courtesy Images_of_Money

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