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Why Sales Training Fails

It’s been said that top salespeople are born, not made. Rubbish.

You may be tempted to believe in that saying when your salespeople fail to deliver results after you put money into training them. But effective training, like a salesperson, is made, and made well. So why has sales training failed to make a substantial difference to your bottom line?

Three reasons sales training fails:

  • Sales skills are taught separately from product knowledge.
  • Training fails to make learning stick and often does not provide follow-up.
  • Most training programs do not target learner motivation.

Here are some recommendations for these issues:

Sales skills are taught separately from product knowledge.

It seems smart to teach skills apart from product knowledge because you don’t want to overload your learners with too much information at once. But effective sales training includes skills practice, often in scenarios, and learners have to practice selling something, so why not practice with the products they will be selling? To avoid cognitive overload, try limiting product knowledge to only what is essential for meeting the desired skills performance.

Here’s one way to do it: As learners work through a scenario, they reach decision points. To advance, they look up product knowledge that is important at that point in the sales process. With this type of training method, learners are getting chunks of information when they need it, instead of all at once at the beginning of the scenario. And they remember the information because they apply it right away in the decision point.

Training fails to make learning stick and often does not provide follow-up.

Perhaps you had solid course-completion numbers but your sales staff still struggled to recall, let alone apply, the material. To make learning stick, try the following:

  1. Have your learners practice new skills as soon as possible (like in the scenarios discussed above) so they can get feedback and answers to their questions from the instructor.
  2. Offer opportunities for reflection throughout the course. Help learners consider how they will apply this learning on the job.
  3. Use stories to improve recall. Stories are easy to remember because they are interesting.

Follow-up is essential if learners are to retain product knowledge and skills. The following tools and methods will keep your salespeople sharp and focused:

  1. Job aids and resources, such as action planners. Coordinate with sales managers to follow up on goals learners set during training.
  2. Delayed practice opportunities. Repetition impacts your training’s effectiveness. Schedule simple practice activities at regular intervals.
  3. Rewards. Salespeople are a very goal-oriented bunch. Find ways to recognize and reward them for applying the training.

Most training programs do not target learner motivation.

Perhaps your sales staff tuned out during training because they felt unmotivated and unengaged. Maybe they failed to see the relevance, or they felt their way of selling was working just fine. They didn’t see what was in it for them. Effective training is designed with the question “What’s in it for me?” in mind, asked from the learner’s point of view.

It could be as simple as a financial incentive. Here’s another incentive: competition. Salespeople are often competitive types, so they need a training solution that runs on that drive. One solution could be an instructor-led training that employs healthy competition among sales teams, complete with tallies and rewards. It’s a realistic simulation of the sales environment.
Don’t let your next sales training fail. Review these three reasons that training comes up short, and adjust accordingly. You’ll be making better salespeople in no time.