It is also not about the elapsed time since you last did it. The strategic “it” in this case is the decision about whether you should make an investment in sales training.
If you traveled back in time and drop in on some of the conversations about sales training, you might hear: “We are not knocking the ball out of the park but things are okay plus we have a lot of other things going on so let’s think about that sales training thing next year” or “We just did some training three or four years ago – trained our entire sales team.”
It’s also true if you tune in with your other ear, you might pick up on comments such as: “Say, we have Thursday afternoon free at the national sales meeting why don’t we just fill that slot with some sales training” or “ I just got a call from a training company, why don’t we just try them out in our southern region – we’ll probably get something out of it.”
Fast forward to the present – can you hear those same voices? Our experience says absolutely. But the really bad news is due to the present day competitive environment and the disruption in the markets, the negative consequences of those ideas are far greater.
The notion that one can develop and sustain a superior sales team in today’s buying environment without taking a more aggressive and forward looking perspective on when to invest in sales training and what that sales training needs to accomplish is at the very least questionable. The sales training discussion needs to be updated and reframed.
So, asking if something is broken or asking when was the last time we did it are not the right questions. What is the right question for determining if a sales training investment is appropriate?
We suggest you ask yourself: Is there a change occurring either internally or externally that requires your sales team to adapt and adjust their sales skills to continue to sell effectively? Let’s explore three examples of such a change.
- Go-to-market strategy. Recently we were talking with a client that determined it was necessary to shift from being a low-cost provider to a value-added provider if they were to remain competitive. To execute this shift a number of changes needed to be considered ranging from the sales compensation package to the territory design to market segments – and the skill set of the sales team.
Most sales reps cannot easily move from selling on price to selling on value without some substantial help. Hence considering an investment in sales training is clearly warranted.
- New product. Companies launch a dazzling array of new products annually. They run the gamut from innovative new offerings to minor upgrades of existing products. Yet, regardless of whether it’s a simple upgrade or a “bet the company” new product, the product launch strategy too often looks more like an escape plan than a well-devised blueprint to develop market superiority. The greater the innovation of the new product, the greater the need for the sales team to update their sales skills.
It is a safe bet that many new product launches fail to deliver the expected results because the investment in improving the sales team’s ability to sell the new product is inadequate.
- Disruptive market changes. Companies in a number of markets are going through transformational changes in what they buy, how they buy, and what they are willing to pay for it. The medical sales industry is a striking example. If you are selling in the hospital market, winning is now about selling both the clinical and economic value of your product and you cannot just sell to the doctors, you also have to sell to Value Analysis Committees comprised of people who will never directly use the product.
If buyers change how they buy, sellers need to change how they sell and training needs to help.
There is an added benefit of reframing the need for sales training as a response to a strategic change. It enables a company to not only determine when an investment is warranted, it also helps you to define exactly what the sales training ought to look like. Case in point, the nature and content of the most effective sales training for the above noted examples would be significantly different.
It is unlikely that sales training will ever develop a better track record unless we do a better job determining the strategic reason why we are doing the training in the first place. The need must be clearly defined and it must be a need that matters.