The Top 5 Reasons Your Sales Training Will Fail

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Jeff Hoffman
Jeff Hoffman



Sales training is a big investment. Not only are you paying for the training itself and related expenses, but your sales team is also losing prime selling hours to attend workshops and sessions.


Nonetheless, this investment can reap significant benefits and set your sales teams up for success. Research from SiriusDecisions found high-performing sales organizations are twice as likely to provide ongoing training as low-performing ones.

So, how do you make your training a success, not a flop? In the past 15 years, I've trained more than 20,000 salespeople working at companies of all types and sizes. Here are the most common reasons I've seen training fail -- along with ways to overcome them.

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1. Your managers aren't involved.

If you spent three days in a language class, would you walk out as a fluent speaker? Of course not. Even if you already had some familiarity with the language, fluency requires both immersion and regular practice.

It's the same idea with sales. Some leaders view sales training as an injection of concepts and best practices that their teams should be able to implement immediately. But unless those lessons are combined with a guided application on the sales floor, the training will ultimately have no impact.

Motivating reps to consistently practice what they've learned requires total buy-in from your front-line managers. They can set the right expectations and inspect what salespeople are doing on a daily basis.

However, you won't win their full commitment if you bring them in at the end of the process. Make them true partners: Ask them to help select your training vendor and curriculum, review the proposed agenda, choose the venue and date, and so forth.

I'm always confident training will go well when an organization's front-line sales managers are involved, as this tells me they'll actively reinforce the lessons when training is over.

2. Every rep is required to attend.

Most organizations require every salesperson to attend training. If you've ever attended a mandatory session, you probably know what this policy leads to a room of people with varying levels of motivation. Some salespeople are excited to take their sales knowledge to the next level. Some are neutral. And some wish they were anywhere else.

As with any educational experience, the sales trainer ends up teaching to the lowest common denominator, or the reps who are disengaged and unmotivated. Not only is this unfair to the salespeople who are eager to learn, but it also lowers the quality of the training itself.

I advise companies to make sales training a reward, rather than a requirement. If your reps hit a specific activity or quota-based milestone, invite them to attend.

With the money you've saved on attendees, host the event at a nicer hotel or hire a high-end caterer. These touches will reinforce the idea training is a privilege.

You'll raise the dialogue to a more mature level. It'll also incentivize salespeople to apply what they learn: If they don't, they'll waste the "reward" of new insights, strategies, and techniques.

Some sales leaders say, "We can't exclude reps from training -- they're horrible at [core skill]!" If your sales team isn't proficient at calling, prospecting, and other foundational competencies, that's a hiring issue rather than a training issue.

Sales training isn't designed to bring reps up to the basic performance levels: That's what your hiring and onboarding processes are for. Training should help your salespeople gain an edge over the competition.

3. Your objectives are vague.

Without a specific goal or desired outcome, you can't measure the impact of sales training. Some management teams say they're investing in training because they want their reps to "work harder," "close more deals," "speak the same language," and so on.

Who doesn't want those results? It's incredibly difficult to plan and implement sales training around a vague objective such as, "Make our salespeople harder workers."

The more specific the goal, the better. For example, you might want to reduce discounting by 10%, win 25% more competitive deals against a competitor, or reduce your average sales cycle by two days.

These objectives are highly focused, enabling you (or the vendor you hire) to craft your curriculum around them. If you want to discount less, for instance, you might cover alternatives to discounts, strategies for selling on value rather than price, and potential responses to discount inquiries.

4. You want everyone to speak the same language.

Reevaluate your objectives for training if your primary goal is to get your sales team "speaking the same language."

Great sales training introduces common disciplines and common language for talking about your products, but it shouldn't teach a one-size-fits-all sales style.

The goal of training shouldn't be to fit each salesperson into a predefined box -- cookie cutter sales styles are unattractive to reps and prospects. Katelyn Craine, a Culture Program Manager at HubSpot, says, "The strongest teams create an environment where each salesperson is able to find their own authentic voice." This, in turn, helps salespeople relate to and build trust with their prospects.

Sales training should provide your team with a set of tools and strategies each rep can apply their own style to. They'll bring their authentic selves and unique perspectives to each sales call, meeting, or email -- and this allows them to build rapport with prospects and customers from diverse backgrounds.

Plus, a sales team with reps who have a wide range of talents and skill sets leads to knowledge-sharing and innovation for your sales team -- it's a win/win for sales reps and leaders.

5. There are no corresponding dashboards.

Let's say you spent $2,500 on a comprehensive sales training package. Your team completes the training and they return to their day-to-day routines and activities.

How can you be sure the sales training was effective? Are reps using the tactics they learned?

If you haven't created a dashboard in your CRM to measure the results of the training, you're not seeing the return for your money or the time your reps were away from the sales floor.

Take the time to create a CRM dashboard that reflects the results of the training. It should include reports that track the new behaviors and activities your salespeople adopted.

When managers comment on the dashboard or reference it during meetings, sales reps will take the training seriously and be more likely to implement the strategies they learned. And you'll clearly see the results of your investment.

The success of a sales training program is a team effort. Sales managers must set clear objectives and need to be involved at every step. This way, your salespeople will be motivated to learn and adopt new selling techniques and strategies.

Ready to put this advice to the test? Check out Hoffman's sales training programs.


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