Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sales Training Programmes Rarely Provide A Proper Return On Investment

Writen by Jonathan Farrington

In my opinion, hundreds of millions of pounds world-wide are wasted every year on irrelevant, unnecessary or inappropriate sales skills development and there are four obvious reasons.

To begin with, the one off programme may supply a short term motivational buzz and provide the delegate with a number of thought provoking ideas. However, in reality, once they are back at the "front-line" the day to day pressures of hitting quota etc take over again and the reactive mindset returns. It is rather like the Chinese meal effect; when you leave the restaurant you feel full but by the time you arrive home you want to eat again.

Secondly, most, not all, but a very high percentage of courses on offer today, deliver what I term "generalised" skills development.

For example, a guy operating within the aerospace sector, negotiating multi-million pound contracts can find himself sitting next to a young saleswoman who markets insurance policies and is based in a call centre. On her right is another guy who is developing a successful career in manufacturing, selling hydraulic components and next to him…..I think you will appreciate my point. To achieve sustained success in all of these disparate industries requires specific skills sets and the "generalised" workshops simply cannot deliver them.

Thirdly, most and again I would estimate it is at least 80% of training organisations today, make the assumption that all delegates are at the same level in terms of experience, expertise and have the same "commercial bandwidth". This is of course, totally unrealistic.

Whilst it is not possible to equate age and experience with success, the reality is that although some professional salespeople do have ten years experience, most have one year's experience ten times!

The very best salespeople – the ones that consistently exceed expectation, have usually received ongoing skills development from the "emerging" stage all the way through "advanced" right up to "consultative" level, if appropriate but the keyword is "ongoing"

Finally, and this is the most significant and blatant error of judgment most Sales Directors make, is that every member of the team receives the same training, i.e. they are all dispatched off to the same course regardless of whether or not they already have those skills or if indeed they need to have them in their current role.

The point here is that there is far too little planning, assessing, and objective setting; it is much easier to abdicate responsibility to the training company. The downside to this approach is of course, so much money is wasted. So what is the answer?

The first step for any company deciding to make a change in their sales approach is always an assessment of the situation. What processes and methods are currently being employed by the company? What has their sales performance been? What percentage of sales people are delivering against plan? What are the biggest obstacles to success? How dynamic or stable is the company's environment? What are the practices and expectations of the buyers? These are only a few considerations.

Training must be based on what the salespeople need and should be tailored to address diagnosed performance gaps. Using a diagnostic approach – a formal sales team skills audit, saves an organisation money and time because there is nothing to be gained from teaching people something that they are already doing well or, conversely, that they don't need to do in the first place. A well-targeted programme is far more likely to engage participants' full interest because they'll see its immediate relevance to their daily results.

Any training programme will be more effective when the skills that participants learn are reinforced on a regular and continual basis. For maximum impact, every level of management must reinforce training. Such reinforcement can come in many forms, but the best way is for the sales manager to serve as a "model of excellence" who provides an ongoing demonstration of required skills so salespeople begin to live and breathe them.

How Do You Choose The Right Training Company For Your Needs?

Most sales training companies have a unique philosophy and therefore a specialised approach. Perhaps they are strong in the area of selling business value to board level members at the expense of competitive positioning. Perhaps attention on strategies for winning very complex sales situations dilutes their efforts toward working with students on the details and tactics that they need to execute in order to win—down to the actual words they need to be saying and to whom.

A training company that specialises in one or more areas of sales expertise will not necessarily perceive or look for your requirements in other areas. If the training/consulting provider is left to define your approach, there will more than likely be a gap in the methodology, and of course a resultant gap in the subsequent training.

One way to handle this is to employ two independent providers. One would assist in assessing your situation, defining your requirements, and perhaps in building your methodology. The second would provide the training and would be evaluated and selected based upon their ability to meet your specific (and complete) requirement set. That would insure that the first provider would not be defining your requirements to meet their expertise.

The best alternative is to employ a firm that is completely independent of any training or sales consulting provider and can offer the proper guidance throughout these steps to achieve the best possible result. Important to any company that makes an investment in sales team development is measurement.

Benchmarking current levels of performance, setting reasonable goals and objectives based upon a careful assessment of the situation and measuring progress against those goals is a necessary, but for the large part overlooked component of most training initiatives.

When progress is at or above plan, everyone is encouraged, motivated and continue to perform and excel. If expectations are not being met, the opportunity exists for immediate problem diagnosis and adjustment, assuring that the initiative will get back on track and provide the return on investment expected.


At jfa we have developed a range of assessment tools which allow us to benchmark current performance levels and provide a totally objective view of a sales team's current and future requirements – typically our report costs a fraction of the training programmes currently being utilised and in fact, in nearly every case, results in considerable savings.

Copyright © 2006 Jonathan Farrington. All rights reserved

Jonathan Farrington is the Managing Partner of The jfa Group jf-assocs.

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