By day, I manage a sales training team that trains over 800 sales representatives in the U.S. and Canada. By night and weekend, I am a self-proclaimed animal nut who works with dogs at local rescue groups and has rehabilitated three rescue dogs. I believe it is our duty to train our dogs and give them the skills and knowledge they need to be successful in a home. Training teaches our dogs how to act in our world and gives them a job.
I see parallels to the challenges we face in successfully training one of an organization’s highest paid assets – the sales team. Organizations need to ensure that sales teams have the skills and knowledge to be successful, drive revenue and enhance profitability. In no way, shape or form am I trying to compare an educated, ambitious sales force with the average canine. But I think we can draw parallels between training best practices for the two groups.
All organizations find themselves falling short on sales training at some point. We overwhelm them with information, we keep them sitting in chairs all day and we don’t refresh their memories on what we already taught them. How can we expect sales reps to learn?
Here are three lessons from dog training that we can apply to sales training.
1. Avoid Information Overload.
When I train dogs, I start with one concept at a time and have them practice until they understand what I am trying to get them to do. If I introduce too many concepts – sit, down, stay and shake – in one day, the dog becomes overwhelmed and checks out.
If you have ever sat through a multi-day sales conference or long virtual training session, you know the signs when a sales rep checks out. After sitting for an hour or more, being shown slide after slide with volumes of data on each page, the average mind starts to daydream. The signs that learners have checked out are being on their phone, whispering to their neighbor or maybe even taking a nap.
More data does not equate to more training. A course needs to have discrete training objectives and only include relevant, actionable data. Remember, data and information can always be delivered as a handout – save face-to-face time for interaction!
2. Keep Things Active.
When I train dogs, I keep them active and energized. I would never make them stay sit or stay for hours on end.
We often hire reps because they are energetic, social and engaging individuals. But during training, many companies expect them to sit still and passively listen to the presenter. Research shows that sitting is the new smoking. How can we keep our brains active when our bodies are not?
At a minimum, make time in your training for participants to move around. Sit, walk and take frequent breaks. The optimal face-to-face training should be designed to include equal parts listening and active participation.
3. Practice, Practice, Practice.
If I teach a dog to sit one day, don’t work with him again for three months, and then see if he remembers the command, chances are he will not. It’s important to work with dogs to remind them what they are supposed to do.
Many organizations forget to give sales reps time to practice their lessons. They throw a new product or service at them and then never refresh what they have learned. Training technologies such as gamification and video coaching are powerful knowledge sustainment tools. Organizations should also empower sales managers to become coaches to help reinforce learning.
Just like we want all rescued dogs to receive the training they need to find a good home, we need to make sure our sales teams have the training they need to be successful. By making sure training is active, targeted and reinforced through practice, organizations can take one step closer to this objective.
Kerry Troester is co-presenting a workshop at the Training Industry Conference and Expo in June called “Making a Business Case for Incorporating New Training Methods and Technologies.”