The statistics certainly make for uncomfortable reading. According to a substantial body of published research - some of it by sales training companies themselves - only a tiny fraction (less than 15% seems to be the consensus figure) of the content delivered in traditional sales training programmes has any practical impact on the sales person’s subsequent behaviour.
The audience might have enjoyed a nice few hours or days out, but the exercise has had no lasting impact. That’s an ROI of zero - but that’s not all: you’ve also got to factor in the negative opportunity cost of what else they could have been doing that would have been more productive.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way, and I’ve observed some notable exceptions, but only if certain conditions are met. Here are my recommendations - and if you’re thinking of kicking 2013 off with an investment in training, you ought to be factoring these considerations into your planning as of now:
1: Establish clear, measurable goals
What do you want the training to accomplish? What knowledge gaps are you trying to fill? What changes in behaviour are you trying to drive? What outcomes are you trying to influence? How can you tell whether you have achieved them?
If you can’t set clear and simply measurable goals for the project, you’re unlikely to be able to select the right training programme in the first place - and you have little to no chance of achieving any meaningful change.
2: Get management involved in advance
Your frontline managers are the critical influence on the success or failure of any sales training initiative. Without their active buy-in, support, and field-level reinforcement you can absolutely guarantee that everything you have tried to teach the sales people will evaporate away almost instantaneously.
But it’s not just a matter of getting your sales managers on-side: you also have to equip them with the tools, skills and insights they are going to need to reinforce the lessons learned on a day-to-day basis. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that you need to train and equip your sales managers before you train your sales people.
3: Tailor the training to your situation
Off-the-shelf, standard sales methodology training packages (and particularly public courses) tend to be generic, with very little reference to your specific sales environment. Even if the methodology is potentially suitable to your environment, its impact is dramatically reduced if the examples and emphasis are not tuned to your specific situation.
There are many highly effective sales methodologies available. You need to start by thoughtfully choosing the one that seems most relevant to the sales behaviours you are trying to inculcate. But you absolutely have to ensure that you tune the implementation to make it relevant to your sales people.
Make sure that the training organisation you choose is willing and able to personalise the material. If they care as much about outcomes as you do, they ought to enthusiastically embrace the idea - and be able to show how they have done the same for other clients.
4: Reinforce the lessons learned
Before you conduct the training, I strongly suggest that you have your reinforcing systems and materials prepared. This might include ensuring that your CRM stages and definitions are aligned with the methodology and preparing qualification guides that reinforce the approach.
You might also consider developing conversation planners and other sales tools that reflect your chosen approach - and, of course, you need to ensure that your opportunity review process, pipeline management system and forecasting are all in line with your chosen approach.
5: Support through targeted coaching and mentoring
A generic sales training programme can never hope to address the specific development needs of individual sales people. So you need to blend your group training with individually-targeted coaching and mentoring.
Conduct regular needs assessments and personal development plans with every member of the team - that way you’ll be able to target your interventions towards the areas where they can really make a difference to individual performance.
So there you have it - 5 key recommendations that could help you ensure that your organisation’s investments in sales training pay off - and deliver the desired improvement in performance.
What are your experiences of implementing sales training? Are there any other lessons you’d like to share?
* one last thing: my inclusion of the above photo from Glengarry Glenross in no way suggests that I support the "Always Be Closing" mantra. There's no better way to irritate your prospect than to take Alec Baldwin's advice - 'nuff said.