Do You Need to Improve Business Sales Training?
U.S. companies invest over $70 billion per year on business sales training, an average of almost $1,500 per salesperson and significantly more than developing employees in all other functions.  The question is, “How effective is your sales training investment?”  CSO Insights asked that question to over 2,000 companies and found that…

Companies that Invest More Outperform
Companies with sales skills training programs that exceeded expectations spent an average of $2,870 per salesperson –  almost twice as much the typical average of $1,500.  That increased investment was worthwhile because, when compared to lower investments, it resulted in:

  • 14% more reps making quota
  • 23% higher close rate
  • 55% better differentiation
  • 59% better alignment to customer needs
  • 38% less sales rep attrition

The sad news is that only 10 percent of companies surveyed exceeded expectations and over 40 percent did not meet expectations.  Those are not good odds for sales leaders counting on sales training to drive higher levels of sales performance.

Only 20% of Sales Professionals Change Behavior
The truth is that most sales training does not change on-the-job behavior or sales performance.  In fact, we have measured over 800 different sales training programs and know that stand-alone business sales training will only change the behavior of 1-in-5 participants. 

Something needs to change if you want to improve profitable revenue growth, shorten sales cycles, or increase win rates.  It’s clear from our research that sales training on its own, regardless of the level of customization, quality, and interactivity is simply NOT delivering on the promise to improve sales team effectiveness. 

If you are investing in sales training and not getting the desired business results, then your approach to solution selling training needs a rapid tune-up.

What’s Missing?
Like learning how to swim, bike, or golf, the acquisition and adoption of new sales skills, behaviors, and attitudes take far more than just training.  In fact, our research found that the most likely benefit from standalone sales training for 80 percent of participants is nothing more than improved awareness, insight, and appreciation of the opportunity to learn and bond with peers.  And awareness and insight do not improve profitable revenue growth or customer satisfaction.

For sales training to be relevant to your company’s unique sales strategy, sales culture, sales talent, and sales challenges, you need to methodically monitor, reinforce, and coach to the critical few sales skills and scenarios that matter most.

Before Business Sales Training – Alignment, Clarification and Assessment

  • Alignment
    First, make sure that you have a clear and believable sales strategy and that your sales culture – how sales-related work gets done – is one hundred percent aligned with your sales strategy. Do not underestimate the importance of this step. 

    Our organizational alignment research found that the combination of strategic sales clarity and cultural sales alignment accounts for 71% of the difference between high and low performing sales teams.

  • Clarification
    Once your sales strategy and culture are aligned, it is time to agree upon how performance improvement from your business sales training will be measured – e.g. revenue, margin, win rate, sales cycle, or portfolio mix – and how gains in those areas directly contribute to the overall sales strategy. To create focus, we recommend selecting no more than two sales-related metrics to move.

  • Assessment
    Once your sales success metrics have been agreed upon, it is time to conduct a sales training needs assessment to identify the money-making skills, activities, knowledge, processes, and scenarios that matter most to sales leaders and your target audience. Your goal is to agree upon the most important sales gaps to close in order to meet your targets. 

    Once all key stakeholders agree on the key gaps, you can identify the role that sales training can play in improving performance and then design your learning solution accordingly.

During Business Sales Training – Relevance, Practice and Feedback

  • Relevance
    It makes little sense to try to teach new sales skills or behaviors if they are not relevant to (1) the participants, (2) their boss, and (3) the sales strategy as whole. Make sure that relevancy is high at all three levels and continuously reinforce and test it throughout all sales workshops. 

    Then time any training as close as possible to situations when the new skills and behaviors will be needed.  Not only will your salespeople be more motivated when there’s a real deal at hand, but they will be naturally incentivized to learn. 

  • Practice
    Once you have established relevance, it is time to ensure that your target training audience can learn and practice the skills within the sales scenarios that matter most to successfully executing your sales strategy. Learning how to sell differently is not easy.

    The reality, however, is that the only way to learn something new and improve your proficiency is through experientially practicing, getting feedback, making adjustments, and practicing again – for somewhere between 20 and 10,000 hours depending upon which research you believe.

  • Feedback
    Learning new sales skills means initially making mistakes, correcting course, and trying again. While it can be uncomfortable to be pushed out of your comfort zone, you need targeted feedback so that you can learn and improve without reverting back to old, and no longer effective, habits.

    Our recommendation is to have at 70 percent experiential practice and feedback built into any sales training.

After Business Sales Training – Continuous Monitoring, Reinforcement and Improvement

  • Continuous Monitoring
    Actually you should not think of “after” training as if it has an end; learning should be ongoing. To know where you stand and how to adjust, set up a system to continuously monitor how often people are using the new skills and behaviors, what is working and not working, and how frequently they are being coached. 

  • Reinforcement
    High performing sales teams consider training as an ongoing way of selling and serving customers, not as a one-time event. In terms of reinforcement, top performing sales organizations provide proven sales, marketing, and reference tools, capture and transfer sales best practices from “A” players unique to their situation, and train and hold their sales managers accountable for coaching their reps.

  • Improvement
    Learning is the key to continuous improvement. The data from continuous monitoring should be used to identify the specific skills and behaviors that are making the biggest difference.   Then you can double down on what is working to lift everyone’s performance.

The Bottom Line
Don’t waste precious resources on sales training that does not produce tangible results.  If you want to move the needle and improve business sales training, you must treat your sales training as an ongoing change initiative, not a one-time training event.  Does your sales training program need an overhaul? 

To learn more about how to improve business sales training, download The 6 Top Reasons Business Sales Training Initiatives Fail according to sales reps

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