I've been quietly following my friend Dave Stein's posts, tweets, and rants about the state of sales training this week. I guess the ASTD conference set him off, but I've been quietly cheering him along.
Sales training seems to be one of those things people constantly complain about --- management, sales people, training people --- yet somehow we are content in not doing anything about it. Billions of dollars/euros/yuan are spent, with little impact; but those dollars will be spent next year (maybe a little less) and the same complaints will persist.
Where does the fault lie? I'm not sure, I'm not sure I care. Training is blamed a lot of the time, often justifiably, but often their hands are tied. Management is not engaged as they should be, but given their time pressures, finding time may be difficult.
I want to focus more on solutions, how do we break this conundrum. Some thoughts:
1. Nothing will be changed until sales management recognizes the biggest leverage to improving sales effectiveness and productivity is to make the development of their people their number 1 priority.
I've written a lot about management's role in coaching and developing people. I continue to believe the highest impact management activity is actively engaging their sales people, individually and as teams, in developing their people.
Management --- sales leadership is not about administration. It is an aspect of the job, but it is a cost driver not an enhancement of the sales function. There are increasing numbers of very powerful tools that can help managers do the administration. Sales executives must focus on business process simplification to reduce the time managers have to spend on administration.
Management ---- sales leadership is not about being a Super Salesperson. Sales managers have to be strong sales people, but their job isn't to drive deals or to swoop into save the day. If they were super salespeople as individual contributors, they probably were fully consumed time-wise. Giving them broader responsibility managing more people, a larger territory, provides no leverage on their time so expecting them to do more is unrealistic.
Management --- sales leadership is about getting things done through people. Yet many managers don't know this is their job, they don't have the skills to do it, their performance is not measured on people development, and they may be afraid. Sales executives must realize their most leveraged activity is to set the a standard for people development, to hold their people accountable for it, to measure it, and to do it themselves---coaching and developing their own management team.
The bottom line here is: It's simple, there is no more important or highly leveraged activity to driving sales results and effectiveness than developing and coaching your people--managers and individual contributors -- to reach the highest levels of performance.
2. Sales training is too important to be left to the sales trainers. I'm not criticizing people in the training organization (well maybe a little), but we are asking them to step up to something that is beyond their experience base---and this is a management problem.
Years ago, when I was at IBM, high potential leaders always spent some part of their careers in training and development. Every sales training class I went to was led by someone who had been a sales person, the value of "been there, done that" is so important in driving relevance into training.
Moving high potential sales leaders into a training function also improves their ability as managers and leaders. To be effective in training, they have to learn how to be effective in coaching and development. They spend time in developing their skills on what will be the most important thing they can do in the future as managers and sales leaders.
We see many large companies doing this as part of their OJT management development and in providing relevant training to sales. Organizations that staff their sales training organizations with training professionals are disadvantaged -- and it's not the trainer's fault. I think professional trainers are very good and make great contributions, but I think the contribution is improved my mixing the training organization with high potential sales practitioners.
Small and medium companies may not have this luxury, they may not even have a training department. This mandates that sales managers and executives take an active role in developing and executing the training programs. They must set objectives, they must evaluate alternatives, and they must make sure the training is integrated into their overall business management process. The process of doing this will both improve the results of training and will help managers develop their own capabilities.
Bottom line: Sales management has to own and engage in setting the training strategy and even in training delivery. It is a fast way for them to develop their own skills.
3. Training needs to stand up to sales management. Often, I see well meaning training professionals wanting to do the right job, but not feeling empowered to do this. Recently, I was involved (unsuccessfully) with the training organization of a large company. They had an impossible task.
Sales management had mandated some innovative training programs and dumped it in the laps of the training organization. The training department had real concerns about the programs. There were some budgetary concerns, but those weren't central. The training organization had seen millions invested in training on these specific skills in the past, with no result. They were concerned about replicating the same thing. One of their tasks was to develop management coaching training. Yet, managers were not held accountable and many did not believe that coaching was part of their responsibility.
Bottom line: It takes courage, but training needs to stand up to management, forcing them to do the right thing, and to be engaged. Frankly, this is a matter of self preservation for training. If they don't this death spiral discussion will continue.
4. Be careful how you are being sold---manage your vendors. My friend Niall Devitt has been having a very active discussion about selling sales training. Go to that discussion and learn from it. There are a lot of quality suppliers of sales training, but there are even more hucksters.
If you call a vendor in and ask them for training and the price, not letting them engage you, you deserve what you get.
Be careful of people talking about the silver bullet or focusing on the 10 clever techniques of doing something. If the vendor isn't asking you a lot of questions about your markets, your sales processes, your people, the challenges, performance expectations, and so on--then they aren't concerned about making a difference, they just want to separate you from your money.
Watch how you are being sold. Many years ago, I was EVP of sales for a large organization. I went through the final interviews of sales training vendors. They were basically selling the same thing-- a process based, customer/consultative focus managing the complex sales process. At a surface level, it was hard to distinguish between vendors.
What I inspected was how they were selling me and how they had sold my people. Interestingly, of 4 major firms (big name companies) we considered, only one of the sales people was using their process in selling us. It caused me to think, "If their process wasn't good enough for them to use, then why was it good enough for me?" I chose the one vendor who was using their own process in selling us. In working with our clients, a number of people have commented on the same---we use our process in working with them, many other don't.
Bottom line: Be aware you are being sold -- and sales people are susceptible to being sold. Perhaps paraphrasing the golden rule: "They should sell unto you, as you would like to sell unto your customers." Hmmm-not sure that works, but you get it.
I'll stop here, you know I can get into long winded discussions. What suggestions would you add so that we can break this death spiral on the effectiveness of sales training?