Tactics vs. Strategy: The Distinction Makes a Difference

Dave Stein

I spend a lot of time doing post-mortems on failed sales training initiatives. On one hand, it’s always upsetting to see a company waste its time and money. On the other, companies that experience failure are looking for answers, and that’s a positive thing. Here are some predominant reasons why sales training fails. And yes, it’s a long list.

•  Little or no definition of requirements

•  Inadequate funding

•  Lackluster or no executive buy-in

•  Engaging with the wrong training provider for any reason

•  Engaging with the right training provider for the wrong reasons

•  Having no sales methodology in place before the training

•  Irrelevant training content (e.g., examples are not based on real customer experiences)

•  Training delivery methods and content are not designed for effective adult learning

•  No post-program reinforcement

•  Other departments are excluded when they shouldn’t be

•  First-line sales managers aren’t provided with training or a formal process for coaching the reps

•  The appropriate technology support for learning and sales enablement is not in place

•  The wrong people are employed in selling and managing positions

•  There’s no process in place for analyzing, measuring, or getting feedback on what’s working and what isn’t

•  No specific learning objectives have been defined

•  Management is not required to participate in the training

•  Tools (such as cold-calling scripts and ROI models) are not available for immediate use

•  No consideration has been given to the behavioral changes required for sales performance improvement

Common Threads

What do they all have in common? Each is a symptom of taking a tactical approach to sales performance improvement.

Put simply: Sales training that is managed tactically isn’t going to work. That’s nothing new.

Before you undertake any sales training initiative, it’s important to understand your current perspective. Do you look at sales training tactically or strategically? Answer “true” or “false” for each of the following statements:

•  I can state most of the learning objectives of my company’s next three training sessions because the specifics have already been determined.

•  We track leading performance indicators to give us an early warning about discrepancies between what individual salespeople should be doing and what they are actually doing.

•  My company has in place an institutionalized, ongoing coaching program for sales reps and their managers to assure compliance with appropriate behaviors and actions.

•  Our CEO sees ongoing sales effectiveness as critical for achieving corporate goals and objectives, and funding reflects that.

•  We make an ongoing investment in relevant learning and sales enablement technology to support effective learning and selling.

•  Flexibility, ability to learn and coach-ability are three among many capabilities we test for as part of our hiring methodology.

•  We employ a carefully balanced blended learning approach for our salespeople that includes pre-testing, live sessions, virtual training and appropriate reinforcement.

•  Because we understand that behavioral change can be difficult, we have the right plans and resources to assure success.

•  My company has a clear understanding of what sales training content should be in-sourced and what should be outsourced.

•  We reassess customer and market buying characteristics regularly to assist us in determining our training requirements.

If you answered “true” to all of these items, your company has the strategy in place to execute a sales training program that achieves its goals. If you answered “false” to more than three, you’ve got some serious work to do.

Dave Stein is founder and CEO of ES Research Group, which is committed to developing relevant, reliable intelligence on sales training approaches, programs, and providers.