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Why sales training fails

What? Did I just hear a sales trainer make that statement?  In a survey conducted by the American Society of Training and Development, 69 percent of survey respondents believe that formal sales training they receive was effective. However, that’s at least a 30 percent failure rate.

If the objectives are clear as to what sales training can do for a company or for an individual, then why does sales training fail 30 percent of the time? Most of us do not understand that learning professional selling skills is like learning any other body of knowledge.

If you analyze the traditional learning process, there are three fundamental tools to assist you in learning something new: (1) a teacher, (2) reinforcement materials, and (3) a system in place for handling questions. Take a look at courses in elementary school, high school, college, trade school, etc. First, teachers required you to read a textbook. For most of us, reading books just wasn't enough.

Second, we also attended classroom lectures or sessions on a regular basis. Third, if we couldn't get an answer to a specific problem between the textbook and the classroom sessions, we eventually found the instructor or a mentor who could coach us to solve the problem.

Naturally, if we continued to major in a specific discipline, this process was repeated and reinforced with additional materials and successive training. With this in mind, why would anyone think that learning professional selling skills would be any different?

This means that stand-alone sales training such as one-day sales courses, audio CDs and books, and coaching and advice are truly only temporary solutions, not ways to achieve lasting behavior modification.

Here is the number one reason why some sales training fails: No provision was made for follow-up, regular, ongoing, reinforcement training after the initial program was launched. We all know impact training (one, two, or three-day workshops), does not last, nor seldom changes people. People leave these programs excited, but no lasting change occurs. This means that most "traditional” stand-alone sales training such as one-day sales courses, audio CDs and books are truly only temporary solutions, not ways to create long lasting success.

Here are a three( although there are many more as well), additional  reasons why many sales training programs fail and fail to change a salesperson.

It fails because of:

 (A) The sales manager and/or top level person/owner,

#1 The sales manager and/owner did not take the time to learn for himself/herself the contents of the training program.

#2. The sales manager and/owner proceeds with the training program for the sake of doing training, not for changing and growing salespeople.

#3. The sales manager/owner sometimes shows little or no interest in the salesperson and/or the training he/she receives when he/she returns from the training.

#4. The sales manager and/owner expects quick fixes.

#The sales manager/owner makes no attempt to arouse the salesperson's interest level before sending him or her to a training program. As a result, salespeople attending are hostile and not in a learning mode. They feel as though they are being forced to participate (“prisoners”), instead of wanting to participate (“learners”). There are a few salespeople who view training as a company-sponsored reason to stop working (“vacationers”).

#6  The sales manager/owner fails to present the training program as a reward, status symbol, or privilege.

It fails because of:

 (B) The trainer

#1. The subject matter deals only with techniques such as “Closing Skills” or “Presenting Skills.” Ideal training will changes people’s "negative" belief systems by addressing “self-limiting attitude and behavior ” issues and “self-concept” issues, in addition to great selling techniques.

#2. The trainer has no “street scars,” and it shows. When the trainer walks into the room, participants should hang on every word, because it’s very obvious the trainer is not a “rummy in preacher’s clothing.” The participants very quickly realize the trainer “walks the talk.”

#3. The trainer sticks to a pure lecture format. Boring training insures little transfer of skills. The best training is done in “safe” groups, where participants band together and work on real-world exercises under the trainer’s guidance.

#4. The trainer doesn’t allow participants to share their experiences without repercussions. In other words, the trainer does not protect the individual who wishes to be honest about what they struggle with.

#5. The trainer has no plan or vehicle to work on participants’ self-esteem, their self-concept. Great trainers understand if you can help an individual raise his or her self-concept, then that person will put himself or herself in higher risk situations. And that’s what professional sales is all about.

 It fails because of:

(C)  The participant. 

#1. The participant is not proud he/she is in the training process, doesn’t take the program seriously, and he or she is not excited at the prospect of growing professionally and personally as a result of the training.

#2.  The participant fails to have some “mental" skin in the game. In other words, there’s no buy-in they can grow from training and if so then there’s no growth.

#4. The participant fails to admit to himself or herself he/she needs help in sales. What I call no "intellectual humility."

#5. The participant lacks the maturity necessary to embark on a mission of personal improvement.

#6. The participant may have a bias against the selling profession. Those professional services, like accounting, engineering, law, consulting, high tech, medical, etc. may have a stigma against the whole idea of “selling” to increase their respective practices that prohibits them from starting a sales training program.

Hopefully this sheds some light from a trainer’s perspective why 30 percent of training fails and why all three parties I refer to need to share in the responsibility of making it succeed.

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Gary Harvey

Gary Harvey is the founder and president of Achievement Dynamics, LLC, a high performance sales training, coaching and development company for sales professionals, managers and business owners. His firm is consistently rated by the Sandler Training as one of the top 10 training centers in the world. He can be reached at 303-741-5200, or gary.harvey@sandler.com.


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