How to Make Sales Training Stick (Part II: During Implementation)

By Dana Ray

This is part II of a two-part article about sales training. Read part I: How to Make Sales Training Stick (Part I: Before Implementation).

Many managers find that sales-training programs fail to make a lasting, visible impact on sales figures. Diane Hessan, current president and CEO of Communispace Corporation and former executive vice president of Forum Corporation, one of the country’s leading sales-training companies, offers managers 10 tips on how to enhance and reinforce learned skills before, during, and after training.

6. Train with your salespeople. Ask salespeople what the biggest obstacle is to actually using skills that they learned in training, and they’re likely to say they didn’t get enough support from their manager. Hessan points out that modeling new techniques or answering questions is difficult for managers who don’t participate in training. “I think the manager needs to go through the process,” she says. “If the training is important to salespeople, then it’s also important to that manager as the team leader.” To make sure that training lessons last, know how to model, advise, and answer questions on new methods. Only by completing the program themselves will managers be able to offer the guidance and support salespeople need to make training work.

7. Apply lessons throughout the course of the training. A program’s value lies in its user-friendliness and effectiveness on the job, so have your salespeople try out the new skills as soon as possible, while they can still ask questions and get feedback from instructors. Hessan describes a Forum training session at which salespeople were taught prospecting techniques, and then given lists of prospects and told to return to their hotel rooms to make appointments.

“After three hours, they all reassembled to talk about their prospecting experiences,” Hessan says. “The instructors didn’t say, ‘Gee, let’s practice what it would be like if you had to call that customer.’ Instead, they said, ‘OK, go get some appointments!'”

8. Be a good coach. Of the various methods managers can employ to make sales training last, Hessan believes coaching may be the most important. “Salespeople can do three days’ worth of role plays and still not master a skill or have confidence that they’re performing it correctly,” she says. “So the key is to send the salesperson back on the job with a manager who’ll coach and reinforce it. If you’re teaching someone something new, chances are that the new techniques may not work the first few times, and your salespeople may revert to old habits. The most critical role that a manager can play is to really coach, reinforce, and reward any of their salespeople’s efforts to use what they’ve learned.”

9. Model the new training techniques. Actions speak louder than words. Managers who expect their salespeople to incorporate new training into their selling efforts need to set the example. Salespeople won’t give 100 percent to make the training work if their manager shows no faith in its techniques. Hessan points out that managers who fail to model the new skills create confusion about methodology. Even worse, using techniques other than those used in training may damage your image as a leader and role model and undermine the training and its profit-generating potential. Model the new techniques yourself if you expect your salespeople to use them.

10. Reward efforts to use the new training. Hessan cautions that managers need to be selective about the behaviors they reward. “It’s irresponsible for a manager to send salespeople through training, not know what’s going on, then reward [salespeople] even when they don’t use what they’ve learned,” she says. “If a manager believes that salespeople should be more consultative with customers, then to teach them to be more consultative only to push them, despite what they’ve learned, solely to close, close, close at the end of each quarter is just another example of training gone to waste.” To encourage salespeople to use the new methods consistently, Hessan advises managers to be consistent with the behaviors they reward.

Remember that successful training goes beyond course materials and instruction. The manager plays a critical role in a program’s effect on sales. Take control of the variables that determine its impact on your salespeople and profits, and you can improve the odds of a substantial return on your training investment.