Why Do-It-Yourself Sales Training Has Limited Effectiveness

Carl Erickson

It can be extremely tempting for medium-to-large scale organizations to provide in-house training for their sales managers and staff. After all, many of these organizations already have trainers whose job it is to develop training plans, work with managers and supervisors to ensure training is occurring, and being delivered when necessary.

But if your organization is committed to long term development of work winning excellence, in our experience, leaving the development of sales knowledge, skills and abilities to internal trainers over a long period of time is a mistake.

While there are many cookie cutter approaches to sales training that may have relevancy to certain sectors, these training programs simply will not create and sustain the level of sales excellence companies need in an increasingly competitive world. This perspective is not meant as a slight to the many seasoned and skilled sales trainers in various industries. Instead, it is an exposure of the organizational thinking behind the lack of strategic thinking around winning work in many large companies. So what has transpired in Beacon’s multi-national research and experience to create this perspective?

Where Sales Trainers Come From

Many sales trainers within organizations came from within those organizations. They were chosen for their knowledge, insight and perhaps even their sales performance. So they were selected to put that profile to work in training others. While their experience can be valuable, they are often limited by their own experiences and not challenged with a steady stream of data from the outside world. Even in the past few years, there are identifiable changes in buying patterns of clients that need to be incorporated. Is that an intentional part of their continued development?

Understanding Sales Cycle Competency

A mind blowing fact is that other than specific revenue targets, an overwhelming majority of companies and subsequently in-house trainers are missing a clear definition of what true sales cycle competency looks like. What abilities are needed to execute on what skills to specifically attain what objectives and why? The reality is that sales cycles are often like decision trees with countless variations. However, the objectives of each layer need to be clearly understood in light of the entire sales strategy. We continue to work with many organizations trying to make the shift from a harder edged selling style to a more integrated relationship and partnering approach. When they use internal people who grew up with the older style they sometimes do not have the change capability or experience to understand the strategic and tactical implications.

A change like this is massive and requires a different set of skills, behaviors and literally a shift in the conversational choreography with clients. Most internal sales trainers will expend considerable energy trying to make this change without external support since it is often not their background. This issue is actually compounded by many companies’ sense of urgency to respond to declining revenues through sales training. Is that really the issue?

If sales knowledge, abilities or behaviors are part of the issue (all three are very different), how well have they been analyzed to understand the true root cause of where the problems really lie? To attain the optimal outcomes it is imperative to know what issues you are trying to fix and what is causing them in the first place.

To do this, you need some basic assessments of which of the six skill sets are hurting the sales cycle the most. How in tune are your internal trainers to this type of analysis?

Being Too Close to the Issues

Another drawback we commonly see when sales training occurs in house is an acute lack of insight into personal or management blind spots. Even the trainers tasked with “sharpening up” the sales team might do an assessment but many fail to then look at the skills deficiencies in the larger context. Many trainers simply avoid the organizational issues that may be contributing to the poor performance. These could be related to partner programs, compensation, policies, strategies or lack thereof etc.

So a question to ask is, how well equipped are your sales trainers or enablement teams to tackle these issues? Can they escalate their insights? Can they challenge without retribution?

‘You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know’

The more complex the sales, the less likely a methodology will work. This is exactly why in the more complex sales arenas it is critical to have a consistent and supported framework with clear deliverables rather than a paint-by-numbers process. When there is no consistent but flexible framework to accomplish specific skill set deliverables, there is a much higher probability that field performance (as well as forecasting) will be inconsistent. So another question to be gleaned here is how clear is the sales cycle framework in your organization? Does the sales training map to it easily?

A final point we see is that there is little feedback into the sales training and enablement teams around client and competitive perspectives on what is truly differentiating, what are the good things being done and what effect are they having. This is all critical information to making any training as tangible as possible.

Making the Concepts ‘Real’

If your internal training is not customized with real deals, real experiences and placed in the context of true client perspectives, you are wasting your money. It is essential to apply sales principles to actual, live deals and opportunities training participants are facing. This helps participants make the conceptual leap to application faster and most importantly has a quicker impact on real deals.