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If I Have to Sit Through One More Sales Training Class...
By Dave Stein, CEO, ES Research Group

You have the right to be educated, trained, motivated, and prepared to leave the training session with improved selling capabilities, no matter how much experience you have.

I recently spoke with a colleague who is a partner in an outsourced telesales firm.  I know him from his past life as a salesrep.  He worked for some big name technology companies and was consistently the top performer.  He is a sales heavy-hitter if there ever was one.

We were discussing sales training.  He said, "I can't tell you how many sales training programs I've sat through.  Every major vendor.  The programs were too long, didn't provide me with value, and frankly were an incredible waste of time."  Here is what got me.  "I was offended that management would think so little of me to force me to sit through that."  That was it for me.  I decided it was time to directly appeal to you, the sales professional about the abuse many of you have been taking.

You have the right to be educated, trained, motivated, and prepared to leave the training session with improved selling capabilities, no matter how much experience you have.
Does this person need training?  Sure.  He admits he does.  But the training he needs has to provide him with business value--it's got to help him do one thing--sell more.

Here are some of those abuses:

  • Being trained by someone who never sold.
  • Being trained by someone who doesn't know anything about how your buyers buy.
  • Being trained by someone who clearly doesn't understand how tough your competitors are.
  • Being trained by someone who is more focused on entertaining you than helping you get your job done, so they get good marks on the post-program evaluation.
  • Being trained by someone who tells you what to do, but not how to do it.
  • Being trained by someone who lectures every moment without the necessary balance which would include workshops, exercises, discussions, contests, debates, etc.
  • Forced to sit in a training class where 80% of what you learn is irrelevant to you, even though it may be to some of the people in the program.
  • Being trained on a skill or a process only to find out after the program that there are no tools, no support, and management doesn't know what you are talking about.
  • Being trained by a manager whom you don't respect and who doesn't have training skills.
  • Spending three days in a class where you've gotten an hour of value.
  • Coming out of a class confused about what to do next.
  • Not having any post-program support from your management or the training provider.
Why is this going on?

When abuses like this happen, there is generally plenty of blame to pass around.  But the blame rarely falls in the lap of the sales professional.  You have the right to be educated, trained, motivated, and prepared to leave the training session with improved selling capabilities, no matter how much experience you have. You have the responsibility of walking into a training program with an open mind, ready and willing to learn, share your experiences, and to do what it takes to elevate yourself and your team to the next level of sales performance.  You do not have the responsibility of having your time wasted and your experience and intelligence insulted.

Here are some possible explanations:

  • Sales management picked a sales trainer out of the hat. More accurately they chose someone they engaged with before in another job, or whose book they read (not that that is necessarily a bad thing).
  • Sales management didn't have their training requirements defined.  When there is a heterogeneous sales team, for example experienced and new reps, or reps who sell different types of products into different markets, there is a big challenge.  A big one.  If it is not managed properly, the program will be irrelevant to half the audience half the time.
  • There is no foundation methodology and related processes to be trained on, so the training has no foundation.  It's just a bunch of unrelated skills.  Some of those may help you win some business, but in the long term, they won't amount to much.  (There are some skills that are less integral to a specific selling process, like cold calling and negotiations.)
  • The sales training vendor did not provide a competent facilitator.
  • The training program content was not relevant to your job. It may have come off-the-shelf, or have been designed for customers in another industry.
  • There was inadequate or no educational design.  The content may have been relevant, but it was not delivered to you in a way that would promote learning.
  • Management felt that training was the right thing to do, but wasn't really behind it.
  • There wasn't a strategic plan to get and keep you trained. 
What should you, as a sales rep, do?

If you saw the movie Network, you'll remember the phrase, "I'm sick and tired of this and I'm not going to take it anymore."  Even I'll admit that getting your colleagues together and storming into your sales VP's office is a bit extreme.  But there are things you can do.

  • Understand that pragmatic sales processes and the training that supports their use is good for you, not bad.
  • Understand that you were hired because you had a set of skills and traits that met the requirements for the job, but that professionals (think pilots, doctors, realtors, teachers) need continuous education.  If you don't think you do, you're probably wrong.
  • Provide management with specific areas where you and your team need formal processes. For example, if you are having trouble qualifying buyers or are told to cold call but don't have a script, say so.
  • Provide management with a list of skills in which you need training.  Strongly request that management take the time and effort to find the right vendor to provide that training.  It may not be one of the well-known providers.
  • Request that a bit more work go into providing training targeted to different groups within sales.
  • Suggest that you and perhaps another rep or two be part of a steering committee to get this right, once and for all.
  • Implore management to explore a blended training approach where feasible, where alternatives to classroom training are provided.
  • Download this complimentary ESR/Insight brief and send it to your sales manager.

To the Point:

Getting sales training right is very tough.  It's not like training someone to answer a support call or balance the books.  Many companies try, but get it all wrong.  Some have it totally figured out.  Take a leadership position in your company to drive a formal, funded sales training strategy.  If done right, you'll make more money and have a company you're proud to work for.



Dave Stein, after 25 years in sales leadership positions and delivering his own sales training and consulting worldwide, founded ES Research Inc. ESR offers independent, authoritative advice on Sales Training and Consulting and the Companies that provide it through weekly briefs, in-depth reports, online seminars and advisory services. For more information go to www.ESResearch.com or call 508.313.9585

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