It’s common practice for sales organizations to earmark significant budget dollars for training. But no matter how cutting-edge the training is, its long-term effectiveness can vary if it’s not carefully planned and implemented from the very beginning. You might have significant adoption of best practices for a while following the training period, when enthusiasm and learning are still fresh, but unless the training is carried forward with a sustainability strategy, you could end up back where you started. And next year, you’ll do it all over again. With the same mixed results.
With a sales training solution in place, sales organizations often encounter internal barriers, one of the biggest of which is skepticism—laced with a little cynicism. Experience will have taught the skeptics that training may not be carried forward in a meaningful, thoughtful and productive way once the classroom has returned to being a boardroom. At the root of this problem is a perception issue: Stakeholders often think of training as a one-off process that, once completed, will somehow automatically turn into work habits that transform the organization for the better. When this transformation does not happen, those stakeholders are disappointed, and they fault the training.
But that perception is false, the logic is flawed, and we need to recognize that attitude as a barrier and move past it.
Taking an Active, Not Passive, Approach
To be effective, sales training must be understood and embraced as an ongoing process that involves active participation. That means you need a strategy for integrating the training into the sales function. The ongoing result of training can and should be that all those best practices become the new routine.
Rather than viewing training as separate from other activities that undergird the sales team, companies should take a holistic view, focusing on how sales training will influence behaviors over time and make a lasting and positive impact on the organization as a whole.
Any successful sales strategy must focus on a sustainment initiative for the training in which the company just invested. Start with a vision for how sales training connects and aligns with business goals and outcomes. This vision involves knowing your organizational capacity for change—determining how likely people are able to change and how prepared they are to follow through.
To begin actively putting a holistic sales training strategy in place, first, identify who will fully support and help shepherd in change. Next, analyze the company structure to match skilled individuals with training, planning, and coaching/implementation roles.
Agreeing to Agree
From the C-suite to middle management to the shoes-on-the-ground sales force, everyone’s messaging needs to align with agreed-upon and clearly established goals and projected training outcomes. Only after those actions are taken will the barriers vanish and the training plan be put in place. Note that activating that plan involves two major initiatives: creating a sales training curriculum that is relevant and tailored to the organization and identifying highly skilled sales trainers who have relevant sales experience. You’ll need people who can engage, keep the attention of and inspire the audience. It’s not enough for trainers to have skills and experience; they must also possess a captivating quality—something akin to stage presence.
During the post-training phase, there are a number of ways to ensure that the sales training is sustained going forward. The three main branches of the organization that need to be involved in those actions are the executive team, the sales management team and the team of individual sales contributors. Training sustainment involves the whole company, because you’ll need to ensure that:
- Sales managers are skilled and talented coaches with a deep knowledge of the training curriculum. They need to be able to reinforce the skills, practices and content of the curriculum.
- Role-play and gamification are used as tools for driving home positive training outcomes—applying all that freshly acquired knowledge and those newly minted skills.
- You are integrating real-world scenarios into one-on-ones, team meetings and coaching sessions, placing sales reps in situations where they put theory into practice. This is another step in the direction of ensuring that the sales force—as well as the rest of the organization—is on point with their messaging and are applying the skills correctly.
Training is necessary. Most organizations seem to understand that. So why not get a good ROI on training by nurturing it and fully integrating it into the business? If it’s not sustainable training, you’re stuck with the opposite: disposable training. And, frankly, that’s just a waste.