How to Make Sales Training Stick Long Term

By Heather Baldwin

Does this sound familiar? Your reps have been having some problems with cold calling so you bring in a trainer to boost their skills in this area. The trainer is great, his ideas are exciting and everyone hits the phones for the next few months with renewed energy. But then the sizzle fizzles. Reps slide back into old habits and the training eventually becomes just another dusty binder in a pile. What happened?

In short, the sales leaders approached the training with a tactical mindset rather than a long-term, strategic vision. “It’s a Band-Aid approach – there’s a problem, so let’s fix it,” explains Dave Stein, CEO of Effective Solutions Research Corp. (ESR), a company that helps clients optimize the impact of sales training and their deployment of sales methodologies, processes and tools (www.esresearchcorp.com). “Sales leaders use the same trainer they’ve used for 20 years, find new trainers on the Internet, or read a hot new book with a new spin and want to get the author. They aren’t looking at sales training as an ongoing strategic program that supports the use of a methodology.”

If they were, says Stein, the training would stick. The problem, though, is that sales managers typically don’t have the time to do the kind of detailed analysis needed to come up with a strategic training plan. Taking a few months to analyze how customers are buying, how their client industries are evolving, where the gaps are in their missed forecasts and so on is simply out of the question for busy sales leaders, says Stein. Yet this is the type of analysis that must be done to conduct training that is effective long term with sustained, measurable results.

A growing number of companies are figuring this out. Steve Andersen, president of Atlanta-based Performance Methods, Inc. (PMI) (www.performancemethods.com), is working with leading companies in the pharmaceutical, IT, telecommunications, consumer products and finance industries – all of which have bought into this long-term, strategic approach to training. “We have clients we’ve been working with for three years, five years, seven years and they all say the same thing,” says Andersen. “Our training has traction because it fits their business. It fits their growth and go-to-market strategies, and their managers were part of the process.”

How do they do it? Every PMI engagement begins with 60 to 90 days spent assessing the client, compiling findings, creating materials and getting client management approval of the planned training. PMI then conducts a special coaching session for first- and second-line sales managers to equip them with 10 specific coaching skills and, most importantly, how to apply those 10 skills to the process. These managers, says Andersen, are the glue that maintains the stickiness of the training long after the training session is finished. Finally, a day or two after managers are trained, PMI conducts the training for the sales reps.

Sound like a lot of time and work? Sure, but if you want sales training to be a long-term fit that gets results, this is the kind of approach you need to take. “Sales training and sales methodology are a process, not an event,” concludes ESR’s Stein. Until companies come to this understanding they’ll continue to be disappointed with their training results in the long run.