Sales Training with a Fire Hose

We’ve all heard the expression “like drinking from a fire hose.” Usually it’s said when someone is trying to take in more information than they can effectively process. All too frequently it’s said when people are enrolled in sales training programs. Now we all know that drinking from a fire hose is probably not a good idea, nor is it a pleasant experience. So, why do we insist on trying to train people in this manner? Is it ever appropriate? Is there a better way?

People can only process so much information at a time. When they are exposed to too much information, inevitably much of it will be lost, misunderstood, or even cause harm. Much like grapes in a vineyard, people must be cared for and nurtured over time. Vintners understand that to produce a great crop and a bountiful harvest each plant must be tended to individually. The precise amount of water needed must be applied over time in order to maximize growth. Too much water causes the plant to rot. Too little water and the fruit will wither on the vine. Can you imagine a fine vineyard, and someone spraying the plants with a fire hose?

Our objective for sales training is to cause a change in the way sales people behave. We have an ideal behavior model in mind, and we want our sellers to adopt that behavior. So what is the best way to develop our sellers?  Let’s start by taking a few lessons from the vineyard.

1. Prepare – Before there can ever be a crop and a harvest, the field must be tilled, and the vines planted. In order to have a fruitful harvest, we must plant the behavior model into the fertile minds of our sellers. We typically do this in a classroom format, and I’ll admit that it may feel a bit like a fire hose. And if that were all we did, the impact would be unpleasant and wasteful. However, just like the vintner, tilling the field is only the beginning.

2. Analyze – The successful vintner understands that the field is large, and there are many plants and many seasons to come. A vintner has to take a variety of samples to understand what is needed in different sections of the field. Like a vintner, managers must examine individual seller’s performance in order to develop a specific plan to close any performance gaps. Your task is to get to the root cause of the performance gap. Only then will you know what the proper course of action to take. Sending someone to time management training when they really need help with qualifying is frustrating and wasteful.

3. Apply – If the Vintner finds that part of the field is too dry he doesn’t simply flood the entire field. He applies only what is necessary to the part of the field that needs irrigation. Now we can come back to the fire hose versus the sprinkler. With sellers, it’s best to trickle information to them in a consistent manner. Giving them what they need, when they need it, and how they want to consume it. I’ll use an example: When is a seller more likely to desire training on negotiating? The day before the big client meeting, or his second week on the job? When is he likely to pay attention, and try to retain it?

4. Monitor – Temperature, humidity, and sunshine change daily, and their impact on the crop have to be measured. Sellers are also affected by changing conditions; they forget, lose focus, get lazy, and sometimes even get a little arrogant. By monitoring their performance and constantly watching their predictive metrics, you can see when trouble is coming, and make sure that corrective action is taken to reinforce the knowledge or skill that is deviating from the behavior model.Vintner in the Vineyard

Highly effective sales leaders understand their primary responsibility is to develop their employees. They look at sales training and development as a long-term process and not a single event. If you’ve ever been guilty of force-feeding your reps with a fire hose take a step back, slow down, and try to think about the vintner and the vineyard.

What kind of harvest do you want to have?