Guest Blogger: Phil Johnson on Why Sales Training Still Doesn’t Work

Bored Man

Phil Johnson is President of Revenue Revelation – a friend of mine and friend of the firm – The Complex Sale, Inc.  Revenue Revelation specializes in helping organization get the most out of their sales training and are experts on sales adoption / reinforcement.

PhilIf you read Scott’s first installment on this subject, you were probably not surprised by anything he said.  However, when confronted with the realities he cited, you may have gotten one of those “Ah Hah!” moments. More likely it was “DUH! Tell me something I don’t know.” Either way, he points out a problem that has been around for at least the 30 years I have been selling.  I’d like to address the same issue from a slightly different point of view.

It has been said that “People buy from people – people they like and people they trust.”  And to a large extent, I agree with that statement.  I would add that “people buy from people who help them achieve their personal and professional agendas.”  If there are more than one solution, the like and trust factors come into play, but when I am buying something, the main thing is that I spend my time and money on solving whatever issue I have determined to be important and expedient.  It gets very personal when I want it fixed.

Now, back to “Why sales training doesn’t work.”  When was the last time you heard a sales person say something like:

  • “I’m confused by what it takes to sell a solution rather than a product.”
  • “I really need a common vernacular.”
  • “Executives are a mystery to me.  I don’t know what to say to them.”
  • “On a day to day basis, I just don’t have a process to keep the deal moving forward.”

Or when was the last time you heard a sales manager say:

  • “I’m really inconsistent in the way that I manage my people.”
  • “I really don’t add that much value when I am coaching deals.”
  • “When we don’t win enough business – on time – it is mainly because I am not able to leverage my knowledge and apply my experience through clear investigative techniques.  In other words, it is just easier for me to take over the deal than it is for me to use it as a learning experience for my rep.”

Sales training fails at the most common denominator of selling.  It is not designed to solve the stated problem of the participants.  It is not specifically designed to solve personal problems.  The VP’s agenda gets met when the participants show up.  But the sales rep participants rarely confess that they have a problem at all, to do so is a kind of political suicide.  And the first line managers have rarely had enough exposure to the skill sets of leadership to see that they are anything more than “uber sales reps.” Especially now, when the dictate is to just get revenue in the door before the next round of layoffs.

Bottom line: Until the needs are fully defined, clearly articulated, and a desire to solve them is personally expressed by the participants, sales training will never have the impact – over time – that it should have.

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5 Responses

  1. I really can’t disagree with much of what Phil states in his article. But I would quibble with the fact that Sales Training doesn’t work but the type of Sales Training and the way it is delivered and imparted to a company’s Sales force.

    I could ramble on but I will limit my comments to these points:

  2. I really can’t disagree with much of what Phil states in his article. But I would quibble with the fact that Sales Training doesn’t work. If it doesn’t work it is because of the type of Sales Training and the way it is delivered and imparted to a company’s Sales force.

    I could ramble on but I will limit my comments to these points:
    1.Specific Selling Skills
    2. Customers/Prospects business needs
    3. Company’s Products and Solutions
    4. Territory Management
    5. Basic Business Fundamental Skills

    All of these points are required to construct and deliver a quality Sales training program. In addition these basic fundamentals must be adapted and somewhat customized to the company’s culture, image (brand) and their long term business goals.

    Why business fails in successfully training their Sales forces are primarily because they are unwilling to invest in their people which in the long run keeps them from being able to realize their long term potential.

  3. My experience with sales training, having headed a training department and also as a saleperson taking training classes, has led me to believe that training can work, but often times doesn’t because of several fixable reasons.

    One is that corporations don’t often use salespeople or consult with them, in either the design of the training course and materials or as instructors. The class usually suffers through a marketing person giving the standard issue “death by powerpoint”, speeds and feeds presentation.

    There are many other examples where training has been fixed to address this and other examples of the mistakes which Phil points out. Many corporations just go through the motions of providing training to their salesforce. It is then passed along to their channel partners, who also are poorly served by not having training tailored to their needs.

    The issues Phil mentions are important and need to be addressed. They can be solved, but it takes more than just the training department to make it happen.

  4. The article is useful in generating some debate, and clearly one needs to define the terms ‘sales’ and ‘training’ and ‘work’ before engaging in robust debate. However, based upon the evidence of my own experience, I simply do not agree with the premise that sales training doesn’t work. I would, however, agree with the final paragraph which expresses the view that

    Bottom line: Until the needs are fully defined, clearly articulated, and a desire to solve them is personally expressed by the participants, sales training will never have the impact – over time – that it should have

    Having said that, I believe that ‘sales training’ which fails to address those isues, plus others, does not constitute sales training; and does not deserve to sail under the auspices of sales training. My experience may be limited, but I have NEVER experienced sales training, which failed to include those messages. Nor have I EVER experienced sales training, which failed to ‘work’ by achieving the objectives set for it.

    Martin Elford

  5. I think Scott is pointing out something very important. My take is somewhat different, however. Sales training is not monolithic – there are different kinds. Most organizations don’r really put much thought into what the actual needs of the sales organization are, in my opinion because too many companies treat sales forces as a necessary evil to some degree (we make too much, too much turnover, we’re cowboys, inconsistent performance blah, blah). If I was to put together a comprehensive curriculum, it would look something like this.

    Sales Skills Training – Train or refresh on basic sales techniques. Topics could include:

    Prospecting Effectiveness – Optimal cold calling techniques, emails, prospect profile development etc
    Sales Call Basics – Establishing rapport, discovery techniques, presentation skills, objection handling, closing
    Sales Tools – How to use automation to increase effectiveness and selling productivity (from contact mgmt to webex)
    Solution Selling – How to develop and prove a solution hypothesis for a given client.

    Strategic Selling – Use selected methodology (TAS, Shark Charts – whatever) and trains sales reps how to analyze deals STRATEGICALLY and to develop winning strategies and closing plans

    Product Training – Self explanatory. I personally would emphasize this as product knowledge is key to building and maintaining credibility with prospects, contrary to what some people believe.

    Mentoring – Make all reps who make club mentors to reps who don’t.

    As a part of the evaluation of rep performance, specific training recommendations should be made by the sales manager. I’m often amazed at how lackadaisical the approach to training and developing sales reps is in many organizations. Sales people speak to the marketplace on behalf of a company. Many customers and prospects in B2B settings say that sales people form the majority of the impression they have about a company (there are ample studies to support this conclusion).

    Okay, back to the fray.

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