Four Situations to Avoid for Sales Training

Thinking of training the sales team? Wonderful. However, before you engage the services of an outside firm, or even an internal training department, make sure that these four scenarios are put to bed first.

1. Training is done in the midst of turmoil.

Many times I have talked with senior sales managers who say something like, “We’ve just had a layoff / reorganization and we think our regional managers need to learn some team building / change management / motivation so they can help their reps be more positive.” When I hear this, I cringe.

People have difficulty learning when there is great change and emotional upheaval all around them. I have found that managers often greet management training at this time with great skepticism if not outright cynicism.

Tip: Implement sales training when things are going relatively well (before serious problems arise). It works best as a long-term approach to prevent problems and build organizational strength and not nearly as well as an after-the-fact crisis fix. If you are in the midst of problems now and your sales managers need help, first make sure operational issues such as new processes, policies, etc., are well discussed with them and your time frames for change are realistic. After confusion, frustration and emotional upset have died down, sales management training can start to be effective.

2. Sales training objectives are not clear.

When I talk with companies to see what they want from management training, I ask, “How will you know the training was successful?” Most often, the response is that they’re looking for improved closing ratios, more accurate forecasting, higher productivity, etc., but they’re not really sure how to determine the success of the training.

Tip: So many factors beyond sales training impact these issues that it may be better to focus on activities that can be tracked. For example, if your company wants better, or more cold calling, what activities would demonstrate that? One might be having managers conduct regular team meetings that (a.) have an agenda, (b.) include everyone in the discussions, and (c.) produce written summaries. This can be specifically trained, readily observed and easily assessed. And it will improve communication.

3. There is no follow-up after the training.

Managers attend a training session, work diligently throughout, go back to work and then-nothing. No more is said about the information by anyone. Why is this a problem? Shouldn’t we expect adults – especially those who have demonstrated a higher level of capability such as managers – to just take the information and put it into action? Unfortunately, training doesn’t work that way. But it appears that most companies have exactly this expectation.

It is well known by psychologists, teachers and training professionals that repetition is key to learning. This means re-visiting and re-stating a given block of information several times in different ways to help remind participants of key points and reinforce their importance. Most follow-up after training today is given 6-12 months after the original program. Certainly, that helps but it is also well-known that reinforcement of learning must be immediate to have the most impact.

Tip: Send training participants a short written summary, then perhaps a quiz, then a brief example of how someone has or could use the training once a week for three weeks after training. These are re-statements that reinforce the information. Then, you should have brief follow-up discussions with training participants over the next two months.

4. Sales managers are not held accountable to improve their performance after training.

After spending significant money on training their managers, most bosses never ask them two simple questions: (a.) “What will you do differently as a result of the training?” and, (b.) “When will I see it?” This is puzzling because managers are held accountable for so many other things-why not for performance improvement after a substantial investment?

Tip: It’s true that getting hard number results from management training is difficult because there are so many factors that affect a company (ie. turnover, productivity, etc.). But it’s still possible to hold managers accountable for their personal activities, such as holding team meetings, writing notes of recognition for employees and documenting problems properly, just to mention a few. It’s not asking too much of managers to demonstrate improved behavior after training, and these activities will help achieve desired results. Specific new personal activities can be made part of each manager’s quarterly or annual performance goals.

At the same time, companies must recognize that when managers attend a class and become enthused, they often return to their jobs and are confronted with catch-up work and fires to put out, as well as skeptical colleagues and subordinates who prefer to stick with the old, familiar ways. These are powerful discouragements that hinder any manager’s efforts to change. So there must be positive reinforcements when managers do show improvement.

Make sure your managers receive certificates of completion and that the training is noted in their files. Offer some additional percentage of their raises or bonuses contingent upon successful completion of the course and continued demonstration of certain behaviors. Provide enhanced eligibility for promotion, additional training and other perks. Whatever you choose to do, the objective is to make it valuable to them to change their behavior.

These four situations can be difficult to avoid but if you’re confronted with them, look for ways to minimize them, even if it’s only by some small measure. The good news is that anything you do to address these issues will add significantly to the value of your sales training.

Post originally written by Geoff Nichols of EDUCO and the author of the book, Taking the Step Up to Supervision, as well as numerous published articles on management.

SalesForce Training & Consulting is a professional services firm and training firm based in Toronto, with training centers in Boston and Chicago, providing sales leaders with the direction and support to ensure that their sales training programs are properly designed and executed.

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