Why Sales Training Programs Fail
If there is one thing companies should consider when launching a sales training program is that a “one size fits all” approach may not work. There are so many factors that go into deciding who we should have participate in the training program. Do we train everyone? Because it wouldn’t be fair to give some of the team training and others have to wait for their training or possibly never receive training at all. This is not where companies should get hung up or try and do too much.
Let’s think about the traditional bell curve. If we used numbers that make the math simple, we may see 5% of our team our super high achievers, 15% are high achievers, 60% are somewhere in the moveable middle, 15% are underperforming, and 5% are not on their way out as they are not producing any results at all. So when evaluating who to train and what content you want to train, it really doesn’t make any sense to try and bring them all together to develop skills in the same area. Top performing salespeople and super high achieving salespeople are probably not looking for sales 101or the basics. Depending on the types of products and services the company is selling, these sales reps are probably looking for advanced selling skills, advanced questioning techniques, maybe one or two new skills, attitudes, or behaviors that can help them achieve even greater numbers. Maybe content around expanding their penetration, selling complex opportunities, or advanced negotiation skills. The sales team who is underperforming or failing and may be on their way out are usually failing because they are missing the basics, the blocking and tackling of selling, and they have no consistent system or process that they follow. And when we attempt to put high performing and super high achieving salespeople in a class full of new hires or salespeople who need more of the basics two things happen.
The first is that the top producers feel like it is time that is not well spent, a waste of time. They are unhappy and unmotivated about attending the training. The underperforming salespeople are intimidated by the high achievers and so they hold back on their questions and are very nervous when role-playing or participating in exercises. The myth is that it is good to bring high achievers into the program with underperformers so that they can help teach and share best practices. The reality is that high performing salespeople have gotten to where they are and want to remain as a high performing, results-producing superstar. They are typically not interested in helping others (Although there are some that do, and they do take a more holistic team approach). Teaching net new, or even new to sales salespeople should include things like understanding your market, personal confidence, and motivation, pre-call planning, and preparation, prospecting, qualifying, questioning, communication skills, presentation skills, proposing and negotiating, closing, etc.
Advanced and high achieving sales teams are looking for deeper, richer, behaviors and skills required to grow beyond where they are today.
Now, what about our 60% who are in the moveable middle? The problem here is that the “moveable middle” is never just right down the middle. There will be some salespeople who are moving closer to the top-performing side of the bell curve, there will be salespeople who are closer to the middle. And then there are salespeople on the team that are not quite underperforming, compared to the moveable middle, but they are at a critical point in their developmental needs. Our goal is the bring them closer to the middle and even get them into the top-performing group. The challenge is making sure that we see their potential and provide training and coaching to make sure that they have the opportunity to grow and move up and not backslide into the lower performing and non-performing side of the bell curve.
Best Practice #1: Recognize that a universal approach or “one size fits all approach” may work if the organization has limited products and services, a smaller team, a good culture of sharing best practices. If the company has a sales organization made up of many business units, levels of skill, and levels of tenure, including salespeople who have already been through multiple training programs, the universal approach or “one size fits all” approach will fail.
Best Practice #2: Don’t try and teach net new or new to sales salespeople advanced selling techniques and likewise don’t try and train high performing/high-speed selling professionals the basics. New salespeople will be confused and successful and tenured salespeople will resent it.
Best Practice #3: Focus on the “moveable middle” and work with a training partner who has or who can develop a program based on the various points within the moveable middle. By doing this, the company will increase and accelerate the success and win rates of the salespeople who are in the middle, and the content can be modified and adjusted to meet the needs of the high performing sales teams as well as the salespeople who are currently underperforming.
Remember, the best of intentions is to create a one size fits all or universal program that everyone must learn and follow. There is merit to this in the right situation. But if organizations really want to make the most of their investment in developing their sales teams, they will do well to have content and programming that is flexible enough and robust enough to meet the needs of everyone on the team.