sales training
If you’re thinking of investing in sales training for your sales people you might want to think again. If you’ve invested in sales training for your team before, how did it go? What were the demonstrable, sustained improvements in sales coming out of it? If you’re like thousands of other CEO’s around the world, you won’t be able to. So ask yourself:

Why you’re about to saddle up and commit all that money again? After all, if you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve been getting.

Hundreds of millions of dollars invested globally in sales training are having no demonstrable effect on revenue performance. Even the training companies will tell you that – if you ask them nicely enough. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the training or that it isn’t required. The problem isn’t with the training. The problem is much deeper and broader and calls into questions what we are doing to create revenue and how we are doing it.

Despite a compound annual increase in the amount spent on sales training during the last five years of 12%, the Business-To-Business (“B2B”) sales pipeline conversion rate continues to decline – now at 2.4% and down 35% in the last five years [1]. In the same period investment in CRM systems skyrocketed also. And yet, not only does pipeline conversion remain chronically low, but nearly half the sales reps in the country continue to miss their targets.

Reinforcing the wrong process

A recent study by the Corporate Executive Board (“CEB”) across 1,400 B2B organisations found that nearly 60% of the typical purchasing decision was being made before engaging directly with a supplier. This trend has been growing progressively over the last few years, yet many organisations have not taken the time to sit back and look at how those changes were affecting them – or how to react.

Faced with what can seem to be overwhelming challenges, it is far too easy to “tweak” the sales processes that matches the already pre-formatted steps in the new CRM; steps which in fact bare little if any resemblance to the way in which customers want to be engaged – or want to buy.

“Pre-packaged” sales processes also assume that one size fits all when it comes to buyers – a blatantly ridiculous assertion, but one that nearly every training program delivered today, is based on. Think about it. Does your sales process – including the tone and content of your marketing communications, reflect the fact that individual buyers have their own unique personalities and behavioral preferences? Do your sales people have the situational awareness to change their conversational deliveries in response to what they hear on the phone or see across the table? Have they been trained to even recognise the difference?

When did you last look at revenue as an end-to-end process and try to align your CRM and the skills of your sales teams to your customers and how they really want to buy – as opposed to how you want to sell?

Training the wrong people

When did you last take the tough steps to move sales people on from your organisation? How did you decide who should go and who should stay? By who was generating the most revenue, or who were the best people? The two are only rarely the same.

As we profile sales people across the country we have discovered what everyone already knew. There are some great sales people significantly under performing, and some very average sales people generating great revenue. Perhaps one has ended up in a great territory and been there for years or another has been stuck in a difficult team with a leader or organisation that holds them back.

Even armed (or not armed) with this intuitive knowledge, we still hold onto the great performing sales person despite the fact that they often disrupt the culture of our organisation, refuse to follow the rules and take far more than their share of management’s time. It’s easier to make the obvious (and incorrect) assumption that revenue equals performance and jettison everyone under a certain line in the spreadsheet. We see so many talented sales people shown the door when the root causes of their under-performance were organisational and had little if anything to do with them personally.

It is important to understand how each of your sales leaders and sales people perform at each stage of the revenue creation process. Once this is understood, value can be leveraged from collaboration within teams, and the skill that need developing can be identified and appropriate training put in place.

To do the wrong thing

If you have not stopped to get your process right – how can you know if the things you are providing training on are useful?

As the way buyers buy changes, many sales people are going in to have their traditional ‘solution selling’ conversations and find themselves out of their depth. The customer already holds all the information that they need about your solution and have in fact compared it to your key competitors already. Many sales people find themselves with little to offer and end up defaulting to a discussion about price.

When they get back into their sales meeting they report that the market is tough and margins are being squeezed and that they need more discretion around pricing. While some of this may be the truth, if they do not have the tools to deliver value in a new way they are going to battle to be at the table to even have the conversation in the first place.

Not reinforcing the training

Research carried out by Huthwaite shows that 87% of knowledge picked up during sales training is lost a month later. Perhaps this is good news if we are using the wrong process to train the wrong people to do the wrong thing.

However – when we do train – we need to make sure that we are delivering the training in a way that promotes learning and that we are reinforcing the training to maximise value. The blend of tools in the market now means that staged roll outs, on line reinforcement and assessment, coaching and other tools can drive significant improvements in the value of training.

A clear picture of the strengths and weaknesses of our individual people and our overall desired revenue process mean that we can put in place clearly measurable outcomes that both drive further accountability and learning as well as measure the effectiveness of the training being implemented.


Many of the organisation we work with do end up needing to put in place sales training because as part of re-engineering the revenue process there will be gaps that need to be filled in the skill levels of those that are retained to sell.

However, this only happens as a result of careful analysis of the individuals, the process and most importantly the end customer, who they are and how they buy, and therefore how best to market and sell to them.

Once the sales training need has been identified, it is then crucial to identify how best to roll it out to maximise the learning, how it will be reinforced and how the value will be measured over time.

[1] Revenue Performance Management Index 2011