One of the most common complaints that I and other sales trainers get from both salespeople and companies is that sales training in any form, whether via book, workshop, seminar, or on-line course, has little or no impact for most of the men and women who take the training. Unfortunately, their complaint is backed up by a number of studies that confirm that training does not change the behavior, attitudes, or results of the vast majority of salespeople.
Where does the fault lie for this miserable return on investment from training? Does it lie with the sales trainer who performed the training? Is the problem with the content of the training? Maybe the issue is with the teaching methods employed? Perhaps the real problem is with the salespeople themselves?
No doubt blame can be affixed to all of the above. But there seems to be a more basic issue that is obvious but often overlooked. Sales training is not simply an intellectual activity; by its very nature it demands behavior change. To be effective, sales training requires that negative or ineffective behaviors be replaced with positive or effective behaviors. Sales training has more in common with sports coaching than it does with academic teaching. It is action oriented. The lessons must be integrated into one’s behavior, not just filed away in one’s mental filing cabinet.
Changing behavior is different than absorbing information. The basic problem with sales training is that the delivery format-even in a workshop that entails role play and group interaction-is predominately information oriented.
To be effective, sales training must be converted from information to behavior and that can’t be done in an hour or half-day or even a two or three day training session. It takes time. It takes repetition of action. It takes making and learning from mistakes. It requires the student be able to analyze performance, isolate mistakes, and institute new behavior that corrects the mistake.
It takes coaching.
There are a few salespeople in each training class that really seem to get the training. They understand not just the concepts being trained; they understand how to implant those into their daily activity. They also have the drive to work through the mistakes, the false starts, the missed opportunities, the disappointments they encounter while honing their newly learned skills. They are the exception. They are the few who management sees a positive change in and wonder why the others didn’t make the same changes.
Most of us don’t have the ability or the patience to implement the training, work through the issues, and hone the skills while consistently ‘blowing’ the implementation on our own. We have to have help. We have to have an outside observer, a sounding board, an encourager, a disciplinarian. We have to have a coach.
Coaching has been a staple of sports for thousands of years. Every athlete, from the youngest to the best player in the world, has a coach. Their coach performs a number of duties but the primary duty is to oversee behavior change. Teach information, yes. Discipline, yes. Encourage, yes. But all of those are supplements to the primary goal-behavior change.
A few years ago a friend of mine, a minor league baseball player, was trying to improve his prospects of being promoted to the majors. One area where he thought he could add value to his game was learning to bunt. Not a power hitter, he needed some additional ways to help his team and bunting could be one. He read several books and watched videos of a number of the game’s top bunters. After reading the best books and watching the best bunters could he bunt? No. He had the concepts, but he didn’t have the behaviors. So, he headed to the field with his hitting coach. Over the course of weeks-and untold hours of work-his bunting skills improved markedly. But they still weren’t major league quality. He ended up hiring a bunting coach during the off season that could spot the tiny mistakes and negative behavior in his bunting technique and help him replace those actions with the positive actions that would result in success. It took him almost a year and a half to become a really good bunter-almost three years to become a top bunter. Translating what he learned into actions, into behaviors, was a long-term process that required a great deal of practice and coaching–and lots of blown opportunities in games.
Selling is no different. Knowledge in sales is useless unless you use the knowledge, and that comes in the form of action-whether that action is instituting the referral generation process, dealing with those pesky objections, or closing the sale. And just as with an athlete, translating the information into action requires coaching.
If you want the sales training you or your teams engage in to ‘work,’ that is to instill positive behavior and eliminate negative behavior, you must have a coach.
Individual salespeople must find their own coach, whether through a formal paid coaching arrangement with a professional trainer/coach, their manager, or another member of their team.
More and more sales trainers are including group or individual coaching in their corporate sales training proposals. Some trainers are including ‘coaching the coach’ segments into their training proposals where they train the management team to be the team’s coach. Some companies are simply relying on their management team to coach without formal coaching training for the particular sales training that was just delivered.
Sales training doesn’t work if it is information oriented only. Sales is a contact sport. It requires salespeople to learn not just information but to perform certain actions, and those actions don’t come naturally or easily for most of us.
Sales training can have a high degree of success for you or your sales team. Not on its own, but in conjunction with active coaching. Whether you’re an individual salesperson or a manager looking to train your team, if you’re not going to back the training up with active coaching, you may as well save your money. However, if you choose to add coaching to the training mix, you’ll see a significant change in your sales performance-and your paycheck.