by Lou Schachter, Executive Vice President and Global Head of BTS Sales Practice Area
Clients often call us saying that they’re not hitting their sales numbers and they need to improve their sales training. The last thing we want our clients to do is to buy something from us or another organization that they don’t need. So we’d like to lay out a few instances where, at the very least, sales training buyers need to slow down and reconsider, if not go in a different direction entirely.
Here are some things we commonly hear, and our thoughts in response:
"We just need to reinforce what they already know."
Sales numbers are growing steadily, and everything seems to be going according to the plan. But people can always improve, right? And let’s be honest, “use it or lose it” especially applies to training budgets. But there’s no real reason to train on a new sales methodology, and the needs analysis that has been conducted doesn’t show a consistently weak behavior or any significant skill gaps.
Taking your sellers out of the field for two days for relatively low-impact learning probably isn’t the best use of your time or money. One alternative would be to deploy training for sales managers and give them better skills and tools to manage to the current sales process and methodology when they return to the field. Another could be to develop practical tools that provide assistance, reference and learning back on the job, but know that unless the tool makes sellers’ work easier, learning tools rarely achieve high adoption and usage rates.
- “We want our people to be solution/insight/fill-in-the-blank sellers.”
We have clients come to us all the time wanting to change how their people sell, and they believe that the latest books, research and/or models from sales gurus have the answers. This is tempting, and we’ve been guilty of wanting to use research-based models into our own business. However, these models are always the average of averages, and we often find that they’re difficult to make work in your specific business as there really is no standard way to sell that will work for everybody. We wish it were that easy.
There’s nothing wrong with learning from the best minds in sales, but you can’t make your people solution/insight/fill-in-the-blank sellers. It sounds clichéd, but it’s true: every organization and sales force is unique. One best way of selling won’t work, unless it’s your best way of selling. We happen to believe that in order to define what great selling looks like for your organization it takes the combination of research, what is already leading to the success of your top salespeople, and your go-to-market strategy. Only then can you craft sales training that is relevant enough that sellers will be engaged by it and drive the results that you are looking for.
- “We’re on a burning platform here.”
The flip-side of number one is that if changing consumer behaviors or stronger competitive forces are working against you, sales training could be part of the answer - but it almost certainly isn’t the entire solution.
For example, with the commoditization of the copier, for Xerox the answer was not to put their people through sales training that taught them to sell higher or “build the pain,” or that taught them a new sales process that would help them sell to their current customers better and faster. Xerox instead recognized that their customers, markets, business model, and technology were all shifting, and knew that they had to make big changes. So they drastically altered how they went to market, used their current strengths to develop new services, AND trained their sales people to focus their customer conversations on achieving business results, rather than product features or problems that keep them up at night. Xerox adjusted their broader thinking first – and during the process brought training vendors into the conversation – but knew that sales training was only part of the answer.
- “Our people aren’t hungry/smart/likeable enough.”
New sales leaders often come into organizations and find that their sales force is made up of people who aren’t ideally suited to sell in a constantly changing environment. Part of this challenge is to make sure that their salespeople have the current capabilities in place. And if not, unfortunately, these sales leaders often find someone willing to take on the task of changing core characteristics of their teams. It never works. Training on a new sales process might be part of the plan going forward, but if you’re serious about creating a successful sales team, then you’ll need to focus more on defining what personal attributes will be required for future success – and how to assess for these during the recruiting process – before then standardizing and streamlining your selection.
There are a lot of ways that sales training can be a breakthrough experience for sellers. However, there are just some things that training can’t do, or can’t do well enough to justify the time and cost. If you’re facing these scenarios, we’d love to help you find the appropriate response, but don’t expect it to be just another sales training program.