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Why Sales Training Fails

A Sales Training Report Card

Here are two depressing facts about sales training:

  • Depressing Fact #1―Some 90% of sales training has no lasting impact after 120 days.
  • Depressing Fact #2―Training is really expensive. A three-day offsite training event for 25 reps can cost over $100,000.

That means you just wasted about $100,000 to $150,000 in hard costs (travel, instructors, etc.) and $50,000 in lost selling time (25 people x 3 days x $600 a day).

US companies spend over $20 billion a year for sales training. Often, they have little to show for the investment. Why does this happen?

Some executives think that sales training is a “check the box” exercise. It’s something they do once a year to keep the boss happy. Others think it is a panacea for declining sales.

It is neither.

Sales training is a year-round program with weekly―or even daily―activities. Nor is sales training a silver bullet. It takes months of consistent hard work to achieve results.

Training fails for many reasons but two big reasons are Success Metrics and Reinforcement.

Defining and Measuring Sales Training Success

Don’t invest in sales training without a very specific goal. It’s not enough to say you want to increase sales by x%.

Yes, you want to improve sales results. But you need to change sales behavior first. That’s what sales training does.

Set measurable behavior improvement targets over a three, six, and twelve-month period. If you hit your targets, you’ll know your training is working.

Step #1 is to identify the problem you want to solve. Why―and where―does your sales effort need improvement? This requires a lot of research and analysis.

Step #2 is creating metrics to measure behavior changes. That could mean increasing the number of qualified prospects or identifying larger opportunities. Or it may be scoring system for quality of deals.

As the adage goes, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Find the right metrics and track them consistently.

Reinforcement―Sales Behavior Doesn’t Change Overnight

This may be the biggest reason sales training fails―no follow up. Don’t expect your sales reps to absorb mountains of information in a three-day training session and then magically change their selling habits.

Changing behavior is hard. It requires constant reinforcement and coaching.

As I mentioned earlier, sales training is not an annual three-day exercise – one and done! It is an ongoing program. That program needs to be designed and in place well before the initial training session.

Here are some ways to change selling habits:

  • Weekly Coaching Sessions―One-on-One meetings with the sales rep and sales manager to review the pipeline and to make sure the rep is doing the right things, not just making her number.
  • Weekly Sales Meetings―Interactive meetings with sales manager and her team to share problems and discuss solutions. Include role play exercises.
  • Interactive Tools―These could include:
    • Podcasts
    • Three-minute videos
    • Interactive webinars
    • Testing and quizzes
    • Virtual role plays

Sales Training with ROI 

If you don’t get ROI on your sales training investment, you’re wasting your money and your sales team’s time.

To get ROI, first define the “R” (Return) you want. If you can’t measure that, you won’t know whether the training is effective.

Then, make training an integral and permanent part of your sales management effort. 

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About Peter Helmer

Peter Helmer is a principal in The Sales Management Group (SMG) which provides interim sales management and sales consulting services to middle-market companies. SMG works with CEOs and sales leaders to improve sales efficiency and effectiveness. SMG's services include: sales audits, compensation plans, sales leader onboarding, and territory management plans. Peter writes the Sales Management Blog at www.salesmgmtgroup.com/blog.

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