Why “Sales Training” Doesn't Work

September 25, 2017 Nick Rini

One of the most memorable takeaways from our interview with Sales Enablement expert Roderick Jefferson was this line: “I believe you train animals and enable people.” After pondering this for quite some time - about 1 second, we agree!

At Selleration, we talk a lot about the importance of a rep’s mindset, and we strongly believe that an individual rep’s sales outcomes can be positively influenced by a shift in mindset. But Jefferson’s line about sales training reminded us of a whole other factor in the equation - that of the sales manager or sales trainer leading the session. How does their mindset influence the success of a sales training or enablement program?

Does the phrase “sales training” put sales leaders in a mindset that dooms their efforts to failure? Yes.

Here’s why “sales training” fails:

  • Training is finite.

Dogs attend a training session and learn how to sit on command in the span of an afternoon. “Sales training” has historically had the same approach. Attend a day, or week, of sales training sessions and seminars, engage in some sales Q&A and consider the rep sales “trained”.

Developing selling judgment is far more complex and involved, and takes a different, ongoing approach. According to the Association for Talent Development, 80% of new sales skills are lost within a week of training if they aren’t used. So while learning skills during intensive sessions can have value, that value can be lost.

Sales leaders need to shift their mindset from trainers to ongoing mentors, with an expectation that positive results will be seen over an extended period of time - not after a few days in a classroom.

  • Training anyone - or anything - is inherently authoritative.

We’re living in a network-connected, smartphone-enabled world. Parking sales reps in a classroom is not going to win you their attention. Think back to the last time you were attended a sales training session as a rep. Remember thinking: “So, this is the part where you tell me what I need to do”?

You wouldn’t be alone. Sales reps are inherently skeptical of changing their selling behaviors - after all their sales skills and behaviors have gotten this this far - on the advice of a sales trainer who they may have never met. Also, reps are adults- and no adult enjoys being corrected and lectured to by a stranger.

When a sales trainer approaches sales training with an authoritative mindset, they will be met with a  “mind your own business” attitude and skepticism in attending reps that is difficult to overcome.

  • Teaching Tricks - Instead of Developing Sales Behavior

Animal trainers teach their trainees tricks designed to amaze an audience, or how to behave. Too often, sales training can take this same path - focusing on teaching tricks, hacks or “simple techniques” rather than focusing on helping sales reps make real behavioral change based on their individual needs.

Teaching tricks may seem like an shortcut to sales success, but true sales development comes when selling skills and judgement are developed. A sales leader who enters the room in a “training” mindset where their goal is to teach the entire class a list of sales hacks will be doomed to fail.

So what’s a sales trainer to do?

“Sales training” must be abandoned - as must the “trainer, trainee” mindset. It’s far more effective for sales leaders to adopt the mindset of coaches, or developmental experts - or simply, enablers - and employ tactics that help individual reps succeed.

One underutilized sales enablement tactic is to apply sales assessments to reps and allow the results to dictate the course of sales training or sales enablement programs. Does your sales organization attempt to train, or enable? Leave a comment with your thoughts!

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