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Make Your CRM Your Best Sales Training Resource

So much has already been written in recent years about the fundamental shift in how people buy and the corresponding need to change how sellers engage with these buyers. Today’s buyers are using the internet and social networks to research alternatives BEFORE engaging sellers, meaning sales professionals must shift from being the primary source of information about a solution to a collaborative partner or trusted advisor.

In this role, the salesperson must be capable of helping prospective buyers analyze their situation more thoroughly, develop clear and differentiating criteria, and ultimately make a more informed buying decision.

So how will sales enablement and learning and development professionals affect this change in selling behavior?

Unfortunately, this is an area where methods have not kept pace with the changing environment or seller profile. Despite the advances in neurosciences and technology, and the increased number of younger people entering the sales profession, companies continue to rely predominantly on traditional instructor-led sales training events to improve selling behaviors.

In this post, we will briefly examine the fatal flaws of this approach and describe an alternative that has the potential to radically improve sales force development — the CRM.

Why Traditional Sales Training Doesn’t Work

It may well be the worst secret in business – search for the phrase “sales training doesn’t work,” and you will see several thousand articles. Many of these articles were written by sales training companies and discuss why so few people adopt new behaviors after attending training events. From the forgetting curve to the lack of effective reinforcement and coaching, nearly every organization that has invested in sales training has experienced the disappointment of positive class reviews that only result in 10% to 20% adoption of new skills and behaviors.

So why do companies continue to spend billions of dollars annually on sales training?

There are two key reasons:

  1. First, some impact is better than no impact at all. While it certainly isn’t ideal, elevating the skills of 20% of the salespeople can improve performance and, in most cases, to a sufficient degree to justify the cost of the training.
  2. Second, the profession as a whole is generally led by people who HAVE applied skills they learned in traditional training events – either because they participated in training programs that lasted much longer or because they were among the relatively small percentage of people who could effectively manage their personal development AFTER the training event ended.

Unfortunately, their personal experience and associated success often keeps these sales leaders from fully appreciating the underlying reasons why most people won’t change after attending a training event. Armed with a better understanding of the root cause, many of these same leaders would likely work to drive the conventional sales training providers to deliver more innovative solutions.

When Sales Training Was Truly Effective

There was a point in time when sales training programs did produce dramatically better results. Back when organizations such as IBM, Xerox, and AT&T decided to bring the sales effort in-house and invest in developing professional sales teams, training programs lasted months. During this extended period, participants could acquire new skills and behaviors using the proven skill development learning cycle of Learn, Practice, Apply, and Evaluate (LPAE).

As each new skill or behavior was introduced, sellers explored it intellectually, practiced it in a controlled environment, and then applied it in real-world selling situations. In addition, these same sellers worked with sales coaches skilled at evaluating their performance, identifying any gaps, and providing the feedback and corrective action to shrink the gaps and further refine their execution. More recently, neuroscience has helped further explain the underlying reasons why this approach is so effective, including the critical role sleep cycles play in learning and development.

This leads us directly to the business change that destroyed sales training effectiveness – budget constraints.

Budget & Time Constraints

Over the past four decades, businesses have been forced to cut costs to compete and deliver the returns investors require. As a result, sales training programs that once lasted months now last days. In fact, many training and development professionals are hamstrung by their internal customers who demand comprehensive sales training programs but will only commit to “pulling the team out of the field” for two to three days. In this amount of time, even an exceptional instructor delivering the best training program will likely only lead students through the LPAE cycle once or twice.

No wonder training is less effective now than it was in the past – we have gone from dozens of LPAE cycles and continuous improvement over 6-12 months to a couple of cycles over two days with little to no effective follow-up after training.

In areas such as manufacturing, technology adoption helped bridge the gap when budget constraints forced companies to find ways to do more with fewer resources or in less time. However, this hasn’t yet taken hold for sales force development. Not that there isn’t a sea of new selling technologies, many of which will increase the efficiency of salespeople who use them. From CRM and CPQ to intelligent content delivery solutions, these technologies can help improve selling efficiency. What they do not accomplish is to actually help improve the effectiveness of the sales professional.

There simply isn’t technology to help sales organizations embed the LPAE model into their normal operating cadence so that sales teams continually improve while they work. Instead, we rely on outdated methods and settle for marginal improvements.

It’s time for business leaders, sales enablement professionals, and workforce development people to demand more.

Bringing a High-Tech, High-Touch Solution

The advent of the CRM as the “system of record” for sales organizations presents a tremendous opportunity to leverage technology to embed learning and development into the normal cadence of the sales organization. Further, the growth of CRM platforms the investment by third party partners has helped to create an ecosystem to support new solutions to this decades-old problem. As a result, it is now possible to embed the LPAE skill development model into the normal cadence of sales operations. To do this, companies will need an integrated solution that includes:

  • Comprehensive models or methodologies for coaching and selling customized to their unique selling environment. The selling model should help sellers to become their best selves by building collaborative relationships with prospects and customers, while the coaching model should help managers deliver true value to their sellers by helping them realize their full potential.

  • Micro-learning content based on these models and built based on a consumption paradigm, so each module is independent and delivers value to the learner in 20 minutes or less. This content should support both concept introduction and mental practice.

  • Learning technology and applications for selling, coaching, and account management that trigger the need for learning, deliver learning at the point of need, and track learning and the associated impact on selling behavior.

  • A partnering model whereby the solution provider is invested in helping the sales team drive sustainable change that gains momentum over time. The engagement team should be evaluated based on the same objectives as the client sales team to ensure this alignment.

This high-tech, high-touch model is already allowing some of today’s leading sales organizations to transition from training events to continuous learning and improvement. The rewards for making this shift can be significant. One global technology company improved revenue per rep by nearly 16% over two years while simultaneously reducing travel expenses and ramp-up time for onboarding new hires.

Let’s Wait Until Everyone is Using the CRM

Perhaps the most significant barrier to this new approach is the status quo. While the number of companies implementing CRM grows daily, many continue to struggle with adopting their new high-powered CRM solution. Contrary to common perception, integrating a continuous learning solution into the CRM should not be sequenced AFTER adoption. This solution will DRIVE adoption. The same company referenced above implemented the solution in coordination with their initial CRM deployment. By doing so, they dramatically reduced implementation expenses and enjoyed exceptional adoption. 

Sales enablement and learning and development professionals finally have an alternative to traditional training events. This radical new approach has the potential to transform the sales organization through continuous learning and improvement, engaged coaching, improved selling behaviors, and even greater CRM adoption.

Want to talk about how you can apply this approach in your organization? You can schedule a call with us here, we are happy to help in any way we can and you can be certain you’ll get ideas you can use, not a pitch.

At Axiom Sales Kinetics we’ve spent thirty years helping sales teams coach, learn, and sell more effectively. We offer a unique, mindful alternative to traditional sales training. Unlike traditional sales training events, we embed our methodology into your sales cadence, delivering dramatically better sales results. To learn more about Selling the Axiom Way, our Kinetics Sales Effectiveness Platform, or our unique, guaranteed approach, please visit us at www.axiomsaleskinetics.com.

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