Consistent, high-quality execution of every customer conversation is vital to a business’s ability to grow. While every sales leader would agree that their team needs to have the knowledge and skills to excel in every customer interaction, efforts to formalize training and knowledge transfer don’t always work out as planned.
In short, well-intentioned sales training initiatives can fail, and have failed for many companies over the years. Certainly, no sales leader invests time, energy and money to train their sales team in a mediocre fashion. So, what goes wrong?
In this article, I’ll explore five of the most common mistakes companies make, which lead to sales training investments coming up short. If you avoid these pitfalls, your team will more likely translate training into action and achieve the performance improvement you envision.
#1 Avoid Training on Irrelevant Topics
First and foremost, training must be relevant for the sales team. The information, approaches, or concepts taught need to have a clear dot connection to improved performance on the ground with the team. What are the positive outcomes that will result from the reps successfully learning from, and adopting, what is taught? This becomes the “why” for the initiative, and translates into the sales team’s “what’s in it for me?”
Relevance can be relative. What I mean is that different folks on the team may have different opinions about how relevant a certain training initiative is. Sometimes front-line salespeople don’t necessarily know what they need. This can be particularly true with seasoned veterans, who have made a career out of being consistently productive and likely recognized as successful. However, there may be new information or sales strategies that could help these sellers execute even better. This example means there is relevance, even if particular reps’ personal preference doesn’t agree.
To gauge relevance, ask yourself what important metrics will improve if the training is successful. Will the team grow bigger and stronger pipelines? Will closing rates increase? Will customer retention show improvement? Will sales of a key product line take off? If important metrics stand to see measurable change as a result of the training, chances are that it’s relevant.
#2 Avoid a “Soft Launch” Due to Lack of Communication
Assuming a training investment is relevant to the team, the next land mine to watch out for is lack of buy-in from the sales team and sales managers. Communication is critical. Without the right communication, training risks being viewed as a corrective measure that indicates something is “wrong” or, even worse, it can be perceived as a punishment.
Communicate the plan and the rationale for the training carefully and strategically. Share the “why” for the sellers, explained in ways that are meaningful to them, and ensure that there is a consistent, aligned message of commitment from the senior business leaders down to the front-line sales teams.
In particular, sales managers must be aware and bought-in to the initiative before it’s introduced to the sales team. It’s no secret that, as humans, we all tend to be at least a little bit resistant to change, particularly if it requires extra work. Communicating to front-line managers and sellers at the same time can result in front-line managers’ negative reflex pushing back at the exact same time that reps call them up to ask about the training. How well is a manager going to support the success of the initiative if they don’t yet fully understand it or see the positive benefits that can be gained in return for their time and energy?
#3 Avoid Framing Sales Training as an Event
Sales training has been conducted in either half-day, day-long, or several-days-long boot camps for many years. In recent years, virtual workshops have served as a lower-cost replacement that avoids the costs of travel, meals, and other entertainment.
These training “events” provide a high level of engagement, camaraderie, team building, and energy, but unfortunately haven’t always translated into long-term changes in sales performance. This happens when the material that was presented is not properly reinforced over time and given a chance to entrench in the sales team’s culture. If training begins and ends as an event, it risks being recalled as “that time we did the training” to those who attended.
Consider adopting a spaced learning strategy to prevent training from coming and going as a standalone event. If event-based training is still a better fit for your organization, be sure that there is a continued conversation among the sales team in the weeks and months that follow to reinforce and coach the material. This helps the training translate into measurable results for more of the attendees, rather than only the ones who are the most engaged and proactive.
#4 Avoid Lazy Delivery of Training Content
Picking up where #3 left off, great sales training needs to be delivered in a way the sales team can absorb. Seasoned sales trainers have mastered the energetic delivery of content, and structured learning design to provide a series of “a-ha moments” that help training stick with learners.
Where participants in live training classes generally benefit from the interactivity and the energy of a strong trainer, adaptations to virtual formats haven’t necessarily mirrored the energy and engagement. After all, talking slideshows or disorganized live conference calls naturally don’t keep attention the same way a professional trainer can. Yet these have been the default replacements for live classroom training.
No matter the delivery method, topics need to be presented in ways that make the best use of their chosen formats for sales teams to be willing to engage with it. Self-paced virtual content should have a production style that deserves the learner’s attention beyond “checking the box.” Live virtual training should be carefully planned and organized, and earn the attention of the participants just the same.
Beyond capturing and maintaining sellers’ attention, training must successfully employ best practices in instructional design. Simply telling the audience what to do is not likely to transfer the approaches into everyday customer interactions. Instead, new ideas need to be explained, demonstrated, reviewed, and accompanied by common nuances and considerations that play into how they apply to different sales situations.
#5 Avoid Training Without Reinforcement
Even if training is relevant, carefully rolled out to the organization, and delivered in an effective way, it can still fall flat in the long run if it’s not properly supported and reinforced. What’s trained needs to be accompanied by helpful reference materials, job aids, manager resources, and integration into everyday systems and processes. This ties back to the idea of not letting sales training start and end as an “event,” but broadly applies to training no matter how it’s deployed.
The reality is, comfort and confidence in the new knowledge or approaches taught in sales training not only declines over time, but sometimes the seeds don’t even plant in the first place. That’s why it should be tied into the processes and workflow that the sales team uses regularly. And, most importantly, sales managers need to be able to coach and refine the skills and knowledge that the sales team learns.
A Well-Executed Training Deployment Will Translate to Real Results
By avoiding these five common mistakes or shortcomings, your company can reliably turn training content into improved sales results. Select the right training topics, communicate the goals throughout the organization, and deliver well-designed and reinforced content in a way your sales team can absorb it.