Note to CEO's: Why Sales Training Fails
Twenty-five years of working with sales teams, with varying degrees of success, has taught me why attempts to improve sales succeed or fail. Progress has been satisfying, but I don’t have all the answers. I do have some, though, so I thought I’d post them here on LinkedIn to invite your comments.
Most sales training is endured and forgotten.
Salespeople approach training with cynicism, because they know from experience that the training is just the corporate flavor of the month. Somebody at corporate headquarters picks whatever program seems acceptable at the time, and runs the entire sales team through it. It feels a bit like sheep being dipped.
Message x Messenger = Impact.
Once the message is right, you need the right messenger.
A salesperson asked a sales trainer how to get to decision-makers.
The trainer said, “Word it in a way that does not offend the current contact or ruin the relationship, but in a way that will get the right answer.”
The salesperson remarked later, “When you get an answer like that, you know the trainer has no more idea than you do, which is why he is longer in a sales role.”
Knowing how is not enough.
Mastery of selling is like mastery of golf, or playing a musical instrument. It is about knowledge, but also skill-building. Optimum selling is counterintuitive. We all naturally try to swing the club too hard. We also sell too hard. Success requires adopting a paradoxical approach. A level of discomfort naturally accompanies the implementation of any new approach. We give it a try, and if it doesn’t feel right, we abandon it. Once the novelty wears off or the first obstacle is encountered, salespeople will fall back into their old habits. At a sales moment of truth, we all revert to habit or instinct. These automatic responses lead to automatic failure.
An ongoing practice regimen ensures that your salespeople move beyond knowledge to mastery. So when they’re under pressure, they are unflappable.
I work myself out of a job.
The mastery phase is training at two levels: your salespeople master selling, and your first line managers master coaching. Once that is done, they can do it without me. Straight and level flight is easy. Take off and landing is the hard part.
It’s trite but true: feature and benefit selling is ineffective. We know it, but we still do it.
As I work with clients, baseline assessments show that most SAS and software companies still train their sales teams primarily on the capabilities of the technology. So the sales team dutifully goes out and delivers the message, only to find that they have trouble keeping the attention of senior decision makers. Demos are seen as the main selling event. Since all the options sound the same to the buyer, price is the only differentiator.
I am often asked why this is true. Here’s one observation.
Most sales training is done by product managers. I love ‘em, but a person with no sales background isn’t going to produce the right training. A solution? Cross train. Send the product managers to sales training. I have had many product managers in my bootcamps. They find it eye-opening. They leave excited. If they come from a technical or marketing background, sales is new to them.
The following six steps will ensure the money you invest in a sales training program comes back to you through increased sales.
- Lead from the top: visible senior management focus and support, from the beginning and throughout.
- Customize the program for top performers, to engage them and their thought leadership.
- Senior leaders must require first-line sales managers to become sales leaders, who lead from the front.
- Ensure the messenger has “street cred.”
- Define quantity and quality metrics, and hold reps accountable for applying new techniques in real buyer/seller situations.
- Measure the impact of the program and celebrate successes along the way.