Several years ago, when I was a regional manager for a communications company, I was COMMANDED to attend sales training. Did I want to go? Absolutely not. But it was mandatory and I wanted to keep my job and set the right example for my team. The program will remain nameless to protect me from a libel suit, but I will say it was a well known, internationally delivered product, the standard for it’s time. And, yes, that same program is still being delivered today. Anyway, I attended with the intention of being a model student, getting what pearls of wisdom I could from the class. I freed my mind of any preconceived notions that might have turned me against the material in advance. I even overlooked the fact the person delivering the workshop was from human resources and had never sold a thing in her life.
I did everything in class by the book.
I participated in every role-play, every exercise, every presentation, and nailed them all, at least in the opinion of our instructor from human resources. Her objective of transference of skills and knowledge was being met, at least with me. I gave her every indication I was absorbing the material and would likely be a tremendous example of success for the program. The truth is, once I left the workshop, I never looked back, never looked at the materials, never used any of what I had seen. For those of you who have seen the movie “Men in Black”, all I could think of was a “Neuralyzer” to wipe away all memory of what I had just been through.
The problem is sales training initiatives are launched with the intention of increasing sales and margins by improving the performance of the sales team through transference of skills and knowledge.
The typical approach is to expose participants to new and/or different techniques, processes and methodologies through exposure/instruction, instructor modeling and participant role-play with tests for retention and proficiency. In many cases, just like me, students score well on end-of-course tests for knowledge and demonstrate adequate proficiency with new skills. Then they return to the field and continue to sell the way they did before. Impact is minimal, if not non-existent, and everyone scratches his or her head wondering what went wrong. Is the training flawed or are sales people just not taking the time to implement their new skills? Probably both.
The reality is for sales organizations to experience impact from sales training, the behaviors of individuals have to change.
For individuals to change their behavior, they must believe that what they are learning is in their best self-interest. That is the only way they will return to the field and practice what they have learned. So while transferring skills and knowledge has to be included in course objectives, neither is relevant without the participants talking full ownership of the material. That’s right. The course of objectives must include skills, knowledge and OWNERSHIP.
Here is the challenge:
In order for sales people or managers to behave differently, they must first decide for themselves there is a gap between their current behavior and their desired behavior – they must own it. Senior leadership cannot simply decide that sales people and their managers must change and then dictate what the new behavior will be. As expedient as this approach may seem, it isn’t enough. What leverage does leadership really have in this case? None, management by compliance becomes the call of the day (we recognized the need to change, spent the money and bought the programs, so do it or your fired) and it just doesn’t work. We have also seen well intentioned leaders (implement) programs that simply offer up new ideas for the audience to “pick and choose” those things they deem most valuable. Unfortunately, if participants don’t perceive they have a weakness in a particular area, it is ignored as irrelevant. The result can be the perception that the training being delivered is a passing fad (flavor of the month) with people in the sales organization waiting for the next one to come along. The organization ends up with the same results they began with.
So if you want sales training to stick, if you want significant improvement in selling skills and ultimately sales performance, keep the following things in mind:
- Develop and deliver training with ownership in mind.
- Conduct pilot sessions for all sales courses to ensure as close to 100% ownership as possible. If you can’t get close, don’t launch the program.
- Make sure ownership is a stated objective in the classroom.
- Have classroom ownership checkpoints at the end of every major segment of the training.
- Leverage ownership. If you are a student and you take ownership in the classroom, hold yourself accountable. If you are a manager of a student who takes ownership on the classroom, hold them accountable.
By focusing on and securing ownership for selling skills you can develop a selling culture that drives continuous improvement and delivers exceptional results for the company, your customers and your sales team.