Why Sales Training Programs Fail

Reason #11:

Relevancy drives active participation. Programs tend to fail when the trainer or training organization and the client skip the critical step in discovery to share current best practices, previous training ideas, and concepts that are in use and still working to some degree. And training companies often make the mistake of thinking that all they need to do is show up and train their program regardless of what information has been collected and transferred.

There are some world-class training organizations out there, and there are tremendous trainers who have vast knowledge and experience. However, why programs fail is because sometimes trainers will revert to entertainment or ‘entertrainment’ and mix in too many jokes, anecdotes, and personal stories. When done in moderation these truly enhance the learning experience, but if the trainer does a good job of entertaining and a poor job of transferring the knowledge, the participants may have had a great time, but unfortunately learned very little.

Knowledge capture and knowledge transfer will certainly help the facilitator to be better prepared and will have a tremendous benefit for the participants as discussions, exercises, and role-plays are all built and delivered around relevancy. Companies looking to partner with the right training organization will make sure that they invest the time and resources during the planning phases to make sure that the training organization has a much better understanding of what is going on in a typical day-in-the-life of the sales team. What challenges do they face, what opportunities do they have, how many opportunities are they working where they find themselves in a competitive situation, who are the competitors, what are the differentiators, what is the value, why do they win, why do they lose, etc.

When the sales training company is armed with this type of insight into the client’s world, and they can adapt their selling system and share their stories in the right context, the time that both companies invested in knowledge capture will pay huge dividends in the classroom through knowledge transfer. It will no longer be seen as just another training event or program, the classroom experience will be elevated beyond relevancy, and active participation will help the participants retain so much more of the content/program.

Best Practice #1: Invest the time to make sure that the internal learning and development team understands what is happening within their sales teams. Invest the time with the training partner to help them better understand where the best opportunities for growth might be. As a client, share as much information as possible about previous programs that worked and where some of the content or techniques are still being widely used.

Best Practice #2: Make the sales team available to the training partner. Telephone interviews are an easy way to share information. Going on sales calls and seeing firsthand how the sales team is currently selling is a powerful way to capture relevant knowledge. Listening to live calls or recorded calls is also extremely helpful in learning current questioning and qualifying tactics, as well as hearing objections or concerns and how they are currently being handled. Make sure the leadership and sales managers also participate so that the training company can see the situation through the ears and eyes of the management team.

Best Practice #3: Assessments. If assessments and surveys have been completed, share these outcomes with the training partner. The data gathered from behavior and competency assessments, personality style and communication preferences, and a solid skills gap analysis will help the training partner to combine that data with their anecdotal experiences and information gathered through the interviews, field visits, and listening to sales calls.

Remember, proper knowledge capture and knowledge transfer are often missed. When both the client and the training partner take the time to understand the real-world selling environment and build or adapt content and programs that will create a better learning experience, the program will succeed, and the outcome will be better sales results. When sales training programs fail is when the training partner either doesn’t incorporate what they learned through discovery, or they do not do any discovery, and they just rely on their selling system and methodology and just teach it as is, off the shelf.

Why Sales Training Programs Fail

Reason #1: 

One of the primary reasons a sales training program fails is that management and leadership are not completely sold on the selected training program or even the idea of doing any type of sales training at all. And when there is a lack of buy-in at the top, there is an absolute erosion of adoption within the sales organization.
When organizations look for a professional sales training program it is typically because there is either an acute and painful need that needs to be addressed or there has been an ongoing loss of revenue, market share, or margin, and it is time to stop the losses and do something to fix the problems.
For top-performing organizations, it is different. They don’t wait until there is an identified pain or need, top-performing companies are consistently developing their people to become high achievers. And in an environment or culture where continuous learning is not only supported and appreciated, it is mandatory throughout the organization. So when we look at both types of organizations, one where sales training is a response to a loss or losses of some kind, and the other where sales training is seen as a competitive advantage, it is easy to identify why a sales training program might succeed or fail. The company that sees sales training as an investment in continuous learning and improvement will support that training from the very top. They will embrace the language, processes, and selling system where the company has made a significant investment. But in organizations where sales training becomes reactionary, oftentimes there is a lot of excitement around the idea, and there is a significant amount of time and energy put into identifying the right training partner.
However, as time goes on and the training initiative comes closer to implementation, the buzz and energy that was created in the beginning lose momentum as leadership and management move on to the next project. And what that looks like, feels like, and sounds like to the sales organization is that if leadership and management aren’t going to participate, why should they? Every day the competition becomes increasingly fiercer. Every day salespeople are looking for that advantage and differentiator to win more business for themselves and for the company. When the sales team is asked to take time away from selling so that they can learn new skills, attitudes, and behaviors that will help them to improve, they are expecting that their management and leadership will also invest the time so that the entire company is speaking the same language. A scenario that is played out over and over again is one where a sales team goes through a sales training program, but management doesn’t participate. Or they pop in and pop out of the classroom. Following the training and while going on a sales call together, the salesperson begins to use skills that they learned in class. The manager and salesperson are not in sync, and it becomes evident, uncomfortable, and unproductive in front of the customer or prospect. And then what happens? The sales manager tells the salesperson not to worry about that “new” stuff they learned during training, just focus on the way they used to sell. The most effective sales training programs are the programs that leadership and management will buy into, support, participate in, coach to, and reinforce with their teams.
Best Practice #1: Leadership and management should go through the program first so that they become versed in using the system before their teams participate in and experience the same training. It will become easier to coach and reinforce while setting the proper example and expectations, and that there is complete buy-in and support at the top.
Best Practice #2: Have someone from the leadership team welcome the sales teams and the training organization before the training begins. Let everyone on the team know just how important their success is to the company.
Best Practice #3: Clear your calendars. Popping in and out of the training sends the wrong message, especially during times of role-playing. Make it a point to go through every step of the training with the members of your team and let them see you are all in this together. Never be “too cool for school” especially sales school.
Remember, sales training programs never fail or succeed because of the salespeople, sales training programs fail or succeed based on the buy-in and support from all levels of leadership and management.