The market for training just in the UK is significant. The Inquiry for the Future of Lifelong Learning back in 2009 reported that UK company annual spend on external company training is around £2.95bn per year. Within the sales training arena, there is a significant and potentially bewildering choice of sales training companies. From single consultants to large global organisations; from e-learning to classroom; it’s not difficult to feel a sense of pity for the person who is asked to ‘Go and source some company sales training.’
Where do you put your first spade?
Most people operating in the commercial arena have had good, bad and indifferent experiences of company sales training and it can go wrong for a number of reasons from an “I could have got that from the internet” to an “It’s all well and good in theory…” and everything in between. So it doesn’t feel great when a significant investment in training not deemed a success. A bad outcome is not good for the sales trainer, the sales person or the company that invested in the programme. No-one wins.
So, in no particular order, here are three reasons why investment in company sales training, at corporate level, doesn’t always lead to what you expect and, more importantly, what you can do to prevent it.
1. Use the mirror before the computer
It is easy and very common for research to be undertaken on any potential sales training partner prior to any conversation. We would expect it, and we would also research any potential client. Nothing wrong with a bit of internet stalking (note: this does not apply to ex’s). However, the key to ensuring that you buy the laser beam that will solve your sales problems, rather than a sledgehammer, is asking the right questions of your company before you talk to the market.
Where are your sales challenges? Are they early cycle in terms of building value in your customers’’ minds? Or even earlier in finding potential customers? Do you suffer from the inertia of stalled opportunities that creep along the sales pipeline with the speed of landmass with no real clue as to what could speed them up? Maybe you are quick to get sales, but struggle when it comes to securing mutually beneficial deals? Maybe your problems lie in what you do after the sale: are you stuck in a rut of phoning customers once a quarter because the CRM tells you to?
These are the sort of questions that any sales training provider should be asking you to make sure that a) you need help and b) that they can give it. So if you can ask yourself these questions before you go to market, the conversation will be much more efficient on both sides. It also means you can narrow your search for potential providers, or focus your RFI to the areas you have some evidence that you need help with.
2. Fishing for experience
The saying goes “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for life.” To that, we would add “Enlighten the man about fishing, and he’ll open a chain of seafood restaurants.”
The point being, if you are investing in sales training on a significant scale, you want the people undertaking it to have the opportunity to both practice the techniques and understand why those new techniques are better than their current practice if you want behaviour change to truly happen. A changed attitude can lead to a behaviour change but it isn’t guaranteed: it comes with reinforced practice.
Let’s face it, doing something new is often uncomfortable and feels awkward and the temptation to revert to the pain-free comfort zone is strongest when we are first starting out. Ask anyone who has learnt to play the guitar. What drives us is a belief that it will get easier, and that we will get better. Where does that belief come from? It comes from Eric Clapton, Martin Taylor, Jimi Hendrix… in other words, evidence. So be critical when choosing your sales training partner, and ask ‘Where is the evidence this training is actually going to change behaviour?’
3. The Men in Black moment
Which brings me to the final point. The huge risk that, after the intensive company sales training you had significantly invested in, after the two or three days of enthusiasm, smart-casual dress code, role-play, and eating your own body weight in custard creams, you walk out of the classroom and…zap.
It’s all gone.
Because reality bites in many forms once the training is over. It might be the existing processes that ‘don’t quite support’ the new methodology, or the work colleagues who haven’t been through the training who openly question the new techniques. You might find that people try the new techniques once, full of enthusiasm, and it may go horribly wrong.
In some cases, the ‘zap’ can occur because there isn’t sufficient post-course coaching and the management, who are perhaps relieved to have merely ticked the box labelled ‘Invest in staff’ aren’t really that interested in changing sales behaviour long-term.
Practicing skills helps change behaviour, but we find that effective, measureable post-course coaching in the right culture contributes so much toward skills reinforced and helps resist the urge to revert to the comfort zone. So when you are talking to the market, ask ‘How are you going to help us change behaviour in the long term?’