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Slippery slope of sales

Categories: Marketing
Slippery slope of sales

A huge amount of money is wasted each year on failed sales-training initiatives. Dave Stein explains some of the reasons and offers some suggestions for improving the situation

It’s not terribly surprising, given the general characteristics of both parties in the equation, that so much sales training results in little success. On the provision side, there is a complete lack of regulation: unlike practically every other profession in the world, there is no certification or accreditation and no minimum requirements for professional development in the sales area.

There are no Government bodies overseeing either the sales profession or the people providing it with training. As a result, the barrier to entry for sales trainers is minimal. Essentially, someone who has never sold anything can spend up to €150 on a website, maybe spend a bit more on Google ads, and lo and behold they’re in the sales training business.

Then you have often undisciplined sales leaders who tend to make decisions by gut instinct rather than through an orderly process. Plus, they don’t really have a lot of time to focus on evaluation and analysis. The problems arise when they know they need sales training or feel obliged to get it for their people and they lock into providers who have minimal, if any, qualifications or experience, or who just aren’t suitable for their own specific requirements.

In many cases, they end up in situations where money’s being wasted, opportunities are being squandered and no forward progress is being made.

I saw this in my own years as a sales trainer, where people picked me to train their staff without having any logical reason to do so: they may have read my book and liked it; in some cases they heard my name from someone else; or I may have worked with them and they liked me and we had a relationship. As a seller, it’s pretty cool not to have to work very hard or be held to any rigour when being hired. From the client’s point of view, however, it’s easy to see why so many companies go through sales trainer after sales trainer, year after year, wasting money.

Where sales leaders go wrong

There are many reasons why sales leaders make wrong decisions when selecting sales trainers and the following are the six most common:

1. They hire a sales-training company based on a brand name. There are certain brands that come to mind when choosing a sales trainer. I’m not evaluating, judging or putting any rating on these but a couple of the very common names in Ireland are Sandler and Miller Heiman. The big brands have all have done a terrific job with many clients but every company has horror stories as well. Just selecting a company based upon their brand recognition is like trying to decide on a particular car based on its brand name and not on whether it gets the job done and suits the driver’s individual situation.

2. They engage with a sales trainer based upon who they may have worked with in the past. I may have been impressed by a trainer who came in when I was working at IBM or Dell 10 years ago. But the same trainer may not be appropriate now that I’m working in a small drinks company. It’s hard to believe how many sales leaders will hire a sales trainer based upon who they may they have used in an earlier job. That’s another recipe for potential disaster.

3. They hire somebody solely based on a recommendation from a colleague or a friend. Their friend may be operating in a different industry, selling different products to different customers, but they hire the trainer anyway. It’s a tight community – a lot of the sales leaders know each other and a recommendation from one to the other is often golden and will forestall a logical evaluation and selection process.

4. They’re swayed by the buzz factor. Lots of books are published every year on the greatest new trend in selling, or the greatest new approach. These books are everywhere in the stores and on Amazon and many of them have value. In some cases, however, it could be quite ill-advised for most readers to adopt and use whatever’s being recommended in the book. The author may have personal experience in a particular environment that has no applicability to other industries or companies. It could just be wrong information. But it has the hype and CEOs or sales leaders may end up deciding to hire the person to come in and do the sales training. It’s another opportunity for disaster.

5. They’re inspired by a speaker at an event. There’s no shortage of webinars and seminars and promotional events that we can attend if we have plenty of time on our hands. Many of those selling sales training are very charismatic, very clever and are able to deliver a message very effectively, and it doesn’t take much for a sales leader who’s looking for training for their people to listen to one of these, get all excited, call up the trainer and wind up hiring them with little additional work being done.

6. They limit their research to Google Search. The internet has been a blessing for many of us for research but it can also lead people down the wrong path. If you type ‘sales training’, for example, into Google, the results won’t necessarily show the companies that are on top of their game in terms of delivering value to their customers. Certainly, what will not come up is a targeted series of hits based upon the person keying in the query for their specific targets and needs. To type in sales training and pick a company based on that is probably the wrong thing to do.

In general, if an engineer is looking for a training company to come into their firm to train the rest of the engineers on a strategy or on skills, they may not have this problem because they’ll likely approach the challenge of evaluating and selecting a training company in a much more disciplined, formal and logical way.

When it comes to sales, the challenge is that we’re taking a group that is – in general – by-the-seat-of-their-pants managers and leaders and allowing them to go out and make selections from an unregulated group of vendors. Therefore, we wind up with the situation whereby somewhere between 85pc and 95pc (ESR estimate) of sales training results in no long-term impact in performance longer than 90 to 120 days, depending on the company and the industry.

Evaluation-selection process

The process required to make better, more informed choices is relatively straightforward, but it’s not an easy thing to do. It involves using a standardised, generic evaluation-selection process for picking a sales training company that any other department within a corporation would use to select a vendor, a consultancy or a trainer. For many companies, the challenge is to get sales leaders who rarely look at anything in such a formal way, to accept that some work has to be done and that time needs to be invested and they have to get out of their comfort zone, doing things in a rational way that they would normally approach quite by gut feel and instinct.

Dave Stein is founder and CEO of ES Research.

Categories: Marketing

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