Even with optimism and spending slightly up as we roll into 2010, I still see significant challenges with respect to bringing sales teams up to their full productivity potential.
If sales training is to have a real impact on sales performance improvement, the following 12 obstacles—as identified by my company, ES Research Group—must first be overcome.
1. Sales training that's most often reactive. In our work, we often ask VPs of sales what their sales training strategy is. The answers we get indicate many either don't understand what the word "strategy" means, or if they do, it doesn't apply to training and developing their own people.
Repeat after me: A tactical approach to sales performance improvement doesn't work.
2. Wrong people in the sales and sales management positions. This is a very, very serious problem. ESR estimates mis-hiring will continue to significantly hinder sales effectiveness in 2010. Blame that on a mere single-digit increase in the number of companies employing a formal hiring methodology for salespeople and managers.
3. Selling requirements are not really understood. When ESR assesses our client's sales effectiveness, we often uncover things they themselves don't see or understand. If a company delivers sales training without an objective and comprehensive understanding of their clients' sales-related challenges, it can't be effective.
4. No foundation methodology in place. Check out the leading industry experts' research reports. Is there any question at all a sales methodology must be the backbone of a company's sales approach?
Let me ask a simple question: If you don't train sales reps on how to effectively and efficiently use your sales process, what do you train them on?
5. Flawed training company selection. Literally every day, I speak with buyers of sales training who have, as a group, been through all the programs with all the leading trainers. Yet they're still seeking the right trainer.
When a company selects the wrong partner for their unique situation, it's like going to an ear, nose, and throat doctor when you've cracked a tooth—same general area, but oh-so-wrong.
6. No measurement. There is absolutely no reason why sales trainers and their clients can't work together to specifically measure not only the financial impact of the training and process work, but also (via use of a measurement system) whether everyone is adhering to what they learned while there is still time to impact performance.
7. Having a traditional, live, instructor-led training approach only. If you aren't leveraging technology to deliver learning, you're behind the times. If you insist your salespeople can only learn while sardine-canned into a conference room at an airport hotel, you're wrong. There are some innovative and proven blended learning solutions available today.
8. Sacrificing learning reinforcement and coaching. The importance of learning reinforcement and coaching is undisputed among researchers and impartial experts in the sales effectiveness industry. Event-based training without ongoing reinforcement is a waste of time and money.
9. Lack of investment in tools to support new selling requirements. Although there are wide variations depending on industry, salespeople need technology not only to learn more, but specifically to sell more effectively and efficiently as well.
They need tools to manage their pipelines, accounts, opportunities. They need tools for research, networking, communication, collaboration, gaining knowledge, and creating and finding leads. All of this must be integrated into a strategic approach to sales effectiveness, of which training (of course) is a critical component.
10. The disconnect between corporate learning and sales. In many larger companies there is a long-lived disconnect between the training and sales departments. There are numbers of reasons for this; a team of us working with Brian Lambert at ASTD are tackling this issue head-on in 2010. For now, so long as that disconnect exists, sales is disadvantaged.
11. The continued hope that tips, tricks, and new toys will save the day. They don't and they won't.
12. Reduced budgets for sales training. ESR estimates last year's sales training spend in the U.S. was down 40 percent! Buyers of sales training won't really ever be able to get the protected budgets they need until they track the results of training and can provide a credible, achievable ROI to executive management.
The list above is a long one, and it certainly isn't an easy one to tackle. But as Confucius said, "The best time to plant a tree was 10 years ago. The second best time is now."
Dave Stein is the author of "How Winners Sell" and CEO and founder of ES Research Group in West Tisbury, MA. In addition, he delivers keynote speeches and workshops on sales performance.