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Why Doesn’t Your Sales Training Work?
Blog / Sales Training / Aug 27, 2017 / Posted by Jane Gentry / 999 

Why Doesn’t Your Sales Training Work?

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Last week, I left yet another meeting in which the executive wanted to schedule a training class as a solution to a development problem. This short sightedness occurs so frequently that it really frustrates me, and I know I’m not alone.

Training has been an important part of my business throughout the years, so I’m obviously a fan of it. But there is a crucial difference between the organizational terms learning and development–and development is not learning.

On its own, learning is useless–nothing more than the delivery of content. If that’s all that was required to change behavior and create superheroes, then Superwoman would have a serious competitor in me just because of the 120 books I read last year alone.

Learning is interesting by itself. But development is powerful. I’ll explain.

“Only 10-20% of the impact can be attributed to the quality of content and instruction.”

Dr. Robert Brinkerhoff
Professor Emeritus, Western Michigan University

Behavior change happens in development, which is comprised of multiple activities that take place outside of a classroom environment. Examples:

  • Building team strategy
  • Being part of a cross-functional team
  • Rotational assignment
  • Instructing the team in a skill
  • Regular practice
  • External representation of the organization
  • Being coached
  • Taking part in an advisory board
  • Engaging in role play
  • Presenting to senior leadership
  • Stretch assignments
  • Mentoring

Responsibility for this kind of development falls on the shoulders of front line management. My bringing all this up might surprise you–because at least according to statistics, your management isn’t engaging in this kind of activity. They’re likely all about the numbers, and if you’re not involved in sales, the focus is on productivity. So why the shortsightedness?

Within sales, frontline sales management has a greater impact on sales transformation, sales execution and sales productivity than any other role. But, they are constantly pulled by competing goals and motivations of their team and corporate executives, as well as between those of customers and the internal organization. Also, the lack of manager interpersonal skills is costing companies $360 Billion dollars a year.

When senior leadership focuses on developing these sales managers and teaching them to develop others, win rates can increase up to 9% and revenue plan attainment by 18.4%. Millennial engagement will also lift. For most organizations, these numbers are a game changer.

We see repeatedly that when managers are focused on behavior change (development) rather than BHAGs (big, hairy, audacious goals), they are more likely to reach those goals.

In other corporate functions, the results are similar. Developing front line managers measurably moves the needle. Research shows a 29% increase in top-line performance due to the skills of managers, independent of the skills of their people. The high-skill managers had 47% higher employee satisfaction (ESI), and 16% higher customer satisfaction (CSI) than did managers with low skill ratings.

Clearly, managers who are great people developers have a profound impact on an organization. But, development takes time and effort. And, frontline managers themselves are one of the least developed groups in an organization. They are put under pressure by senior executives to focus on quarterly or annual numbers rather than on the behaviors that will get them to the numbers. Shooting for some far-off measure of success – a performance-based goal – works against you. Performance is an outcome. It happens because of what you do in every single interaction and how you prepare for them.

Frontline Managers should be one of the first groups you spend L&D (learning and development) budget on. They are among the biggest catalysts for success in an organization. The behavior they model and the coaching they give are the easiest way to get a lift in your numbers – or not.

Here is a good start to training and developing that will deliver the numbers I mentioned above.

  • Be clear that a training program online or in a classroom is only the beginning of behavior change. No real change will happen because of that interaction only.
  • Be sure that the manager is clear on the value of the skill, is proficient at the skill and will model the behavior before putting others through a program. Without manager engagement, your money is wasted.
  • Consider what types of continuous small learning chunks you can apply after the training until you see behavior change.
  • Consider developing the manager’s skill in Coaching and Communication.
  • Include development as part of your business strategy.
  • If you are a frontline manager and have the authority, engage L&D or Talent Management and partner to build out a development process for your team.

When training doesn’t succeed, it is usually a result of one of these things. The manager himself wasn’t trained. The manager isn’t engaged. Or, the learning and development ended after the class ended.
Learning and Development is changing rapidly. L&D and Talent Management leaders are working to give you the best tools for improving team success. But, they only provide the tool, the hammer per se. If you use the hammer to wash your clothes it isn’t L&D’s fault it didn’t work.

If you aren’t developing managers first and then building development strategies for them and their teams, you are using the tool incorrectly. If you are teaching them, through your cultural norms, that the solution to any problem is a training class, you are getting the outcome that meets your effort.

What successes have you had in sales training? Leave a comment and let us know.

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About Author

Jane Gentry leverages 25 years of experience with Fortune 500 clients to help mid-market companies grow revenue by solving key sales issues like: process, client engagement, leadership, relationship management and hiring. She speaks worldwide on topics about sales growth and leadership.