8 Reasons Your Sales Training Didn’t Work

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Sales training is a common service used by startups as well as companies but sometimes you can't get a huge benefit out of it. Here's why.

So, you paid someone or some organization a lot of money to transform your sales force. Was it $25,000? $100,000? $500,000? And what was the year-over-year difference? Huge?

I doubt it.

I have been involved in a few sales training initiatives and have seen plenty more. While I am certain there are some that have worked and worked well, I have yet to see one that has truly had a transformational result. And I think I know why. (Before the hate email starts flooding my inbox from sales trainers and their clients, read what I said carefully. I didn’t say sales training doesn’t work. Indeed it does! But it rarely lives up to the promises at the company level. Read on.)

1. You hired the engineer who designed the plane when you should have hired the pilot.

I don’t care how many PhDs in aerophysics someone has, when I need to get from New York to L.A., I want an experienced pilot. Yet most of the sales training programs pitched to companies are designed and delivered by people that have not been superstar salespeople. Some haven’t been salespeople at all. They may be able to recite all kinds of data about decisions made by the prefrontal cortex in the buying process. But in the end, I’d much rather have someone who can make it work over someone who knows why.

2. Just because someone is a celebrity does not mean they can teach anyone to sell.

Every industry has superstar salespeople specific to that type of business. Often they come and go but they also have shown that they walk the walk and talk the talk.

On the other hand, the best known sales trainers are almost universally entertainers who have mastered the art of marketing themselves. If you are like me, you could rattle off 4 or 5 barely thinking about it. Go read the bios of some of those folks that came to mind. You are likely to find that each of them “dedicated his life to transforming others’ lives,” that he “has worked with and advised everyone from Bill Gates to Jesus himself,” and has served as the CEO of multiple companies which, by the way, are mainly the companies that he owns to market himself to you through books, websites, and seminars.

If you are looking for a way to increase the sales of the personal brand of your salesperson, there is probably something to learn from these folks. Otherwise, maybe not.

3. Sales training is inherently personal.

Should your company have a sales training program? Absolutely! One with no sales structure, no training, no accountability is doomed to failure and probably pretty quick. The best product won’t sell well in that environment.

But the mistake companies make in bringing in a sales training program is rooted in the fact that, virtually by definition, salespeople have big egos (at least the good ones) and deep down they think they can do it better. If the company wants increased sales out of them, the company needs to set competitive prices and get out the way. Whether that perspective is accurate is certainly debatable. But the fact that most of your salespeople will resent the program is not.

4. You hired someone to come to your annual kickoff meeting and do sales training.

For $5,000 plus expenses, of course, you can have a high quality, regionally-known speaker come in and entertain your salespeople for 60 or 90 minutes as part of your annual sales conference. You will likely get rave reviews from your salespeople. But you won’t get results.

You surely have heard the difference between education and training. I take it a step further in saying that there is sales education (how it works), sales training (making it work), and sales entertainment (which doesn’t do anything except make people feel good). Make sure you are getting the one you really want.

5. Sales trainers train on sales.

Sales trainers train on sales. That statement might sound ridiculous. Of course they do! But to have a transformative effect on your sales results, just training your salespeople on the best way to close is going to have little effect. Sales is a piece of a very large puzzle which incorporates everything from marketing efforts like advertising, product design and improvement, and implementing an exceptional customer experience to generate new sales and to increase additional sales to those that already purchased. On top of that, a good compensation plan must be designed that will complement those other elements.

6. Sales trainers don’t have any skin in the game.

Have you ever heard a sales training company as part of their pitch to purchase their services offer any guarantee that it will work? Of course not. And I am not sure they should or could given the numerous variables involved in sales production. But the fact remains, beyond making “predictions” that their program will increase your sales by 15%, or telling you a story or two about other clients whose sales went through the roof, when it doesn’t happen to you, there isn’t much for you to do.

I might also mention, in most cases, neither you nor they can attribute the sales increases directly and/or entirely to their training efforts. I could train people that own gas stations to sell their brand all day long but if gas prices double, so do their sales whether I was there or not!

7. A great number of sales training organizations are franchises.

There are certainly some independent sales training organizations out there. But there are many more that are national franchises that are purchased by a local person. And, typically, they will put their name on the business rather than the sales training franchisor.

Certainly franchises have advantages, although I might argue that most of them inure to the franchisee rather than the client. When you think franchises you probably think restaurants. So if you were looking for someone to teach you to become a fantastic chef would you look for the cook at McDonalds, Chili’s, or that amazing local restaurant that is at the top of the “best” lists every year? Same principle.

A couple more notes on franchises. First, the franchisees will likely have less freedom to customize for your particular business, and that includes pricing. Second, most franchises are focused on annual sales. They may be less interested in the success of your salespeople.

8. The same sales techniques don’t necessarily work universally for everyone in every industry.

Hiring a sales training company may involve their applying their system to your business and your industry. Even more, the program may have been developed by someone who is a member of a different generation, sells in a different market, or was successful 25 years ago and hasn’t adapted to new techniques.

One of the most famous and well-respected training organizations in the insurance industry is run by a couple of guys who are now in their 80s. They got in the business years ago and in ten years were among the top salespeople in the country! Impressive, to say the least. Of course, that was in the 1950s and 1960s! They still advocate a 100% scripted approach (which worked well for them) but sounds like someone in their 80s and not someone in their 30s. Still, the company I worked for decided to implement their system. At the time I was in charge of training and I dutifully taught the script to hundreds of insurance agents.

Predictably, it had no effect on sales but I can’t really blame the training company. After all, I used to say that I know the sales force so well that I can tell you exactly how many of them are using the script at any given moment. None.



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