Strategic Sales Training

By Lain Chroust Ehmann

When designing training courses for their teams, many managers start with the question, “What do my salespeople need to learn?” But focusing on specific skills is putting the cart before the horse, says Ron D’Andrea, executive vice president of Bay Group International. “Training in and of itself is not the goal,” he says. “The goal really is the successful implementation of go-to-market strategies.”

D’Andrea suggests that before creating or choosing a training program, executives should ask themselves, “What are we trying to accomplish, and how are we going to measure it?” The overall perspective must be broader than just training – the simple presentation of skills. It needs to include what salespeople will actually need to do differently on the job in order to move the company closer to its strategic goals. “Ask, ‘What’s going to make the difference and make them successful in implementing this new initiative?'” says D’Andrea. “Be very clear on what you’re trying to accomplish, and be very clear on how you’re going to measure it.”

For instance, if the company’s strategic goal is to introduce a new product line without cannibalizing the old one, then specific, measurable goals need to be set to know if success has been reached. Then determine what exactly salespeople will need to do differently on the job to ensure that the desired result is achieved. Only then can the company successfully design a training initiative that will show the sales force the end goal, and introduce the appropriate skills or behaviors as well as the steps they need to take to implement the new behaviors, and the positive results of doing so. “With the most successful initiatives, the focus is very clear in terms of the behaviors that need to change and why they need to change,” he explains.

“The biggest mistake people make is saying, ‘This is what we want you to do. Now go out and do it,'” he continues. When training is so narrowly focused, people naturally resort to old behaviors because they’re comfortable and because they’ve worked before. Training must provide many opportunities to develop the “muscle memory” to overcome habits, as well as to show salespeople the rewards of implementing a new behavior. Cognitive training isn’t enough, which is why popular three-day training sessions often fail; participants aren’t able to develop the gut-level knowledge and comfort level needed to instinctually implement new behaviors, D’Andrea says.

Because sales managers must provide continuous reinforcement, you also need to become fluent in the new behaviors, says D’Andrea. No matter how competent you already believe yourself to be, “If it’s a good initiative, you will be able to get something out of it yourself,” he says.

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