After the right candidates are selected in the hiring process, regardless of the skills that they walk in the door with, new employees should be trained. Then, Training should be continued throughout their career as customers, products, technologies, and sales processes change. Many times this training itself is thought of as waste. Companies try to minimize it. If a sales rep is in training, not in the field, they are not making money. However, most organizations realize an average ROI for the typical training program being within six months. The real waste is not doing any sort of training at all, not doing enough training, or utilizing unqualified trainers.
Should You Hire a Sales Trainer?
In fact, research shows that within 60 days of a typical training event, 87% of the skills gained have been lost by the sales force. Even more concerning than the ‘stickiness’ of sales training is the question of how applicable it is to the needs of a particular sales force. A fundamental reason why sales training increasingly fails to deliver its expected results is that it was simply the wrong training from the start. Frankly, sales training programs are often viewed as generic one-size-fits all cures to every selling malady. Not enough consideration is usually given to the specific business needs of the sales force and their specific selling challenges.
Although this is not happening in most generic training programs, given the changes in the sales environment, sales people should be more focused on the roles of the market analyst and planner, selling team coordinator, customer service provider, information gatherer, sales forecaster, and market cost analyzer. Furthermore, the single biggest difference between top performers and poor performers is listening skills. 80% of the selling process should be devoted to understanding customer needs and studies show an average 50% error rate in terms of sales people understanding their customer’s expected performance levels. In fact, 47% of salespeople admit to having no clue about their customer’s biggest concerns. In order to completely understand customer needs, sales people must have high levels of analytical skills to understand productivity goals.
However, only an average of 10% of training is devoted to questioning and listening skills. 40% of sales training is designed to increase product knowledge. 81.5% of firms provide product knowledge, but only 51.5% provide communication skills training. Salespeople are also not currently being trained on how to listen to the needs of today’s very diverse buyers, such as, production engineers, quality assurance personnel, design engineers, and other technical staff which may make up the buying center. Thus, any sales training program must involve very high amount of time devoted towards analytical skills.
Note Training should focus on analytical skills aimed at researching and understanding the customer. This does not happen with most canned sales training programs.
Any good sales training program is going to cost a lot of money, and is likely thought of as waste to the managers. But, continually developing and updating the skills of the sales force is one of the most critically important elements of the future revenue of a company. Even though it sounds like sales training itself can be a complete waste, and many times is, not performing the training is a much larger source of waste. Having sales reps in the field who are unqualified wastes the company's money in terms of sales expenses and labor, and wastes tons of future money in lost revenue. The sales rep is the front line/face of the company. Above all others, those who interact with the customer must be thoroughly knowledgeable.
Any good training program first begins with a needs and gap analysis. Then, the training should be built on those gaps. Many times, sales managers will say, “sales are down, I must need training.” Then they will call a sales trainer and set up a program. This skips the critical step of finding out what is truly going on. Data must be gathered and analyzed. Why are they down? What is really going on? Is it a volume issue, pricing issue, or a customer satisfaction issue? Are sales people making too many phone calls and not spending enough time researching? None of these questions can be answered without data. This data is necessary to find out what the training should cover, who should be included in the training, and how the training should be conducted.
Training is an inherently perishable good. As soon as salespeople leave training sessions, their new knowledge and skills begin to deteriorate. The only defense against the rapid and constant evaporation of the training investment is to further invest in reinforcing the skills. Whether the training be supplemented with follow-up sessions or reinforced through management coaching, most people need repeated exposure to new information in order to retain it.
The more content that is packed into a training session, the more reinforcement is subsequently required. To address this fact, organizations should move away from large training sessions (like annual sales meetings or new hire orientations) where a year’s worth of knowledge is dumped onto salespeople. Instead, just-in-time training should be implemented whereby very specific skills are taught only as they are needed by the sales force. A sales manager can only know when this information is needed if they are continually gathering data on their sales force. By providing the training in close proximity to the time the salespeople will actually need the skills, these organizations are improving the likelihood that the learning will stick. Additionally, they are providing training in smaller, more digestible chunks, so the salespeople can concentrate on mastering one or two skills before moving on to others. Ideally, companies should train in two-day sessions every quarter. By providing timely and more focused training, based on actual, hard data, top sales forces and are achieving better training outcomes and dramatically increasing their salespeople’s capabilities.
Finally, to ensure that sales training is not wasteful, you should measure the sale force on many dimensions before the training, immediately after the training, and 6 and 12 months post training. In sales, at a minimum, we would suggest knowing the following for every sales rep at each of these time intervals:
1. Total sales volume by unit
2. Total sales volume by dollars
3. Percentage of market potential
4. Sales expenses/costs
5. Number of orders
6. Average size ($) of order
7. Batting average (orders / calls)
8. Number of canceled orders
9. Number of new accounts
10. Customer conversion from lead to first time buyer.
11. Customer conversion from first time buyer to repeat buyer.
12. Number of lost accounts
13. Percentage of time meeting quota
14. Customer satisfaction
While it is impossible to calculate the waste from not training, using these data points, you can calculate ROI for sales training and ensure that it is not wasteful.
 The HR Chally Group. (2007). The Route to the Summit. The Chally World
Class Sales Excellence Research Report.