Perhaps the title of this article is a bit insensitive. But it’s accurate. I am poking a stick in the eye of 95 percent of the sales training initiatives that are deployed globally, and for good reason: They are not working. Investments in sales training and technology have steadily increased over the last five years. In fact, U.S. companies spend about $15 billion on sales training each year, according to LinkedIn’s most recent “State of Sales” report. The sheer size of sales training investments is not the problem. The problem is that during the same period that investments have grown, all important markers of sales performance are down.

The percentage of salespeople at quota is at an all-time low and has been in a steady decline for six years. The most recent estimate from Aptology, a firm with thousands of salespeople in its database, sits at 35 percent. That means that 65 percent of the salespeople in its benchmark database are failing to hit quota. In addition, according to the Bridge Group, 34 percent of new salespeople will be gone within 16 months. With statistics this frightening, is it any wonder that sales leader tenure is also down?

Why are these monumental investments leading to such disappointing results? Because the primary investment organizations make in their sales force is salesperson training. And the training they are providing is, well, a four-letter word. Why? Read on.

Today’s Sales Training Is Based on False Assumptions.

There are a few false assumptions that are to blame for the sales performance malady affecting organizations today. One is that there is one best way to sell. All we need to do is find that one best way, train our sellers in that particular methodology and voila! Performance will improve. That’s simply not the case. According to the Florida State University (FS) Sales Institute, more than 60 percent of sales leaders report disappointing results from the deployment of a new sales methodology. The big question is, why are sales methodologies not delivering on their promised lift in sales?

Researchers from the FSU Sales Institute conducted a series of studies to figure out why the state of sales is so bad. The first study, on sales methodology and its impact on sales performance, indicated that any particular methodology was only effective 25 percent of the time. That means that your methodology fails in 75 percent of the situations your sellers face. When the researchers dug deeper, they found that the only sellers who adopt a one-size-fits all approach are average performers. When you establish your one-size-fits-all sales process and deploy this single methodology, you are indeed training your salesforce to be average.

Training to a Single Sales Methodology Fails.

FSU researchers found that high-performing salespeople exhibit four patterns of selling behavior consistently over time. More importantly, high-performers evaluate their buying situations and select the sales approach that is most likely to lead to a win in each situation. Low-performers do not have discernible patterns, which is alarming (but not surprising.) Again, average performers were the only salespeople who adopt a consistent sales approach and use it in every buying situation. Average performers are doing what you asked them to do – what you trained them to do. Are they failing, or is the training they receive failing them?

High Performers Use More than One Strategy.

An interesting twist to the FSU research was that although high-performing sellers exhibit four discernible patterns over time, the situations these sellers face varies greatly. The selling patterns are secondary in order of importance, and accurately assessing the buying situation is critical. Then, and only then, can high performers select the best sales approach.

The finer point here is that buying situations differ significantly from company to company, even within the same industry. Not only is a one-size-fits-all approach failing miserably, but the situations your salespeople face are unique and meaningfully different than the situations salespeople face at every other company. This reality is the reason that any given sales approach, at best, works about 25 percent of the time.

What Should You Train?

To provide training that works, determine the factors that lead to the unique buying situations your salespeople face. Everything depends on the accuracy of those buying situations. Get it right, and you can tease out what high performers do that lead to wins in those situations. Then, codify that information and teach it to the rest of your salespeople. Get it wrong, and your expensive sales training initiatives will fail.

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