Since many training initiatives start at the beginning of each new year, I’ve compiled a list of the five most common sales training mistakes and how you can avoid them. Armed with this knowledge, you will be better prepared to create a successful and impactful sales training programme.
1. Lack of sales strategy. The lack of a clear sales strategy before embarking on sales improvement can be a recipe for disaster – this can result in training just for the sake of training. I have seen clients who don’t know what their ideal customer looks like, what problems they solve, how they stack up against their competitors, or even what markets they should be focussed on.
Strategic sales clarity accounts for 31% of the difference between high and low performing sales organizations.[i] Therefore, it is essential to spend time creating and constantly evaluating your sales strategy. Some key questions to ask are: What is the big picture and how does that fit into the organisation’s objectives? Who are our ideal clients? What is our unique value proposition? How are we positioned in the marketplace?
These are critical business and marketing discussions that should be held prior to an organisation-wide roll out of a sales initiative. Your market positioning needs to be established as a solid foundation, so that it can be clearly incorporated into your sales training roll out.
2. Lack of shared vision. Any sales initiative, whether it involves implementing a sales methodology or introducing a new process, requires a change in behaviour, process and attitude. Too often, prior to implementing this sort of change, companies fail to communicate the rationale for the programme and the resulting benefits.
Key to the success of any change initiative is a meaningful vision, and subsequently, clear, constant communication about the upcoming change. People naturally resist change, so it is important for leaders to make a believable case for why change is necessary and beneficial for the organisation and individuals within it. This should be communicated organisation-wide in many different shapes and forms such as emails, posters, discussion forums, etc. We often assume people know and understand because one communication was sent out; however, this is rarely the case.
3. Lack of stakeholder engagement. Part of the failure of clear, concise communication is that key stakeholders are “brought in” too late and do not fully buy-in to the change. This is one of the biggest hurdles we see with organisations – the challenge of getting key stakeholders on the same page.
Success begins by having Senior Leadership completely aligned. They must be able to explain the rationale and what they hope to achieve to all those involved. Once again, you cannot rely on email alone. People feel heard and will buy in when they are involved in a collaborative process. To greatly improve your chances of success, include leaders early-on, allowing forums where they can openly voice any concerns or challenges will.
4. Lack of metrics. What’s the ultimate return on training investment for a sales improvement initiative? The achievement of strategic business objectives, of course. But, if the dashboard for success is not clear, then how do you know if you have been successful? We often find that the individual responsible for tracking these measures is often undefined, and, as a result, measurement does not happen.
The best practices of ValueSelling clients around the world demonstrate the importance of metrics for both sales reps and managers, using both leading and lagging indicators that established up front. In so doing, every team member understands the most important activities and focusses on how their performance will be measured.
5. Lack of reinforcement. This is one of the biggest downfalls I see. Companies spend money on training and expect results without paying proper attention to a robust reinforcement strategy. Failure to coach after the training is a common challenge. Sales managers are so busy after the workshop, that this is often neglected, and without reinforcement, the skills training is wasted.
Change is not an event; it is a process. Ongoing reinforcement is required to see behaviour change. Sales leaders need to be taught to coach individuals around the new behaviours they have learned in order to see improved results. Gartner research shows “employees who report to managers who coach effectively are 40% more engaged and exhibit 38% more discretionary effort.”[ii]
Another key step after adopting a sales framework is to make every effort to integrate the common language into everyday life. This includes building it into your CRM, weekly/monthly sales meeting and the deal reviews. Finally, one of the best ways to encourage positive behaviour change in the sales team is to “catch people doing things right”, reward the right behaviours and then collect, document and communicate the success stories.
Changing behaviour of a sales team in a lasting and impactful way is extremely challenging, yet achievable. Take note of the small changes you can make to create a big impact and celebrate any step forward as you achieve the results you are looking for.
[i] LSA Global Insights, Organizational Alignment Research, 2017
[ii] Smarter with Gartner, Think Employees Thrive with Constant Coaching? Think Again, 2019