Do NOT bother with sales skills training
Do NOT waste your time and money hiring a top notch sales trainer.
Do NOT invest a single dime in your sales reps.
Do not bother with any of these activities unless you plan to actively coach your sales reps on an ongoing and continuous basis after the training. Training gets your reps started down the road to sales success but it is coaching that keeps them on the straight and narrow. Don't kid yourself: coaching is the key to achieving and exceeding your sales objectives.
This article will examine at why sales training, as means of changing sales behavior, does not work and what you can do about it. It will reveal specific strategies, skills and techniques that will help modify the sales behavior of your sales team and help them meet and exceed your sales goals.
Why Sales Training Does Not Work- The Sales Thermostat
In order to understand why sales reps do not effectively implement training techniques think of a thermostat in your home. A thermostat is a device which automatically responds to temperature changes and activates a switch that controls equipment such as a furnace and an air conditioner.
By way of analogy, all sales reps come equipped with their own internal "sales thermostat" which automatically controls their sales behavior. And like the thermostat set at your home, sales reps have their comfort zones when it comes to selling. The comfort zone may be set high for some and low for others. The trick to getting better sales results is to reset the thermostat. In effect, create a new comfort zone.
Therein lays the challenge.
Sales training attempts to set a new sales 'temperature' by introducing new ideas, tips, strategies and tactics. Sales training means sales reps have to change certain aspects of their selling behavior and by their very natures they resist change. Change is equivalent to an increase in temperature and the more the change the warmer it gets for the rep. As new skills are attempted the heat level continues to rise and the rep become more and more uncomfortable. When the new techniques do not work immediately, the reps become frustrated and discouraged. Often they experience rejection from the client as they try something new and different and the resistance to the new skill set grows even stronger.
With in days, if not hours, the sales thermostat automatically kicks in. It responds to the new changes and activates a 'switch' inside the rep that tells the rep to go back to their old, comfortable techniques. Even if those techniques are ineffective, at least they are familiar. It's not unlike the 'devil you know versus the one you don't.'
The sales thermostat is powerful. It is silent and for the most part, a subconscious phenomenon. You will discover that sales reps will absolutely convince themselves that their current method of selling is much better even if their results suggest otherwise. They will list a mountain of reasons why the new skills could not possibly work and thereby further justify their return to their old behaviors. In some cases, sales reps actually think they are implementing the new techniques not even realizing they have gone back to their old ways.
Sales thermostats are hard to combat and this explains why training can be a waste of time and effort. The initial glee and enthusiasm of a new skill is eventually worn away by the irresistible tendency of reps to return to the comfort zone. Left unattended, your training dollars will be lost in a matter of days.
The Solution - Coaching
So, what must a sales manager do in order to re-set the thermostat and create a new comfort zone? What must a sales manager do to get a return on the sales training investment?
You need to coach your sales reps. It's as simple or perhaps as complex, as that.
After the training, you need to assist the sales rep in implementing the new techniques. You need to help them modify their behavior and get them to try the new skills. You need to act as a cheerleader and conscience. And you need to do this continuously for a period of approximately three to four weeks. After that time, the new behavior typically becomes a habit; the new comfort zone established; the thermostat reset. (And even then, the siren call to revert back to old behavior still lingers and haunts the rep from time to time).
The Coaching Dilemma
Defined coaching means the process used to recognize above and below stand performance and the steps taken to encourage, modify and improve behavior.
Gee, it sure seems simple, doesn't it? The problem with coaching however is twofold.
Problem #1: First, most sales managers don't coach, they manage. They manage numbers, they manage meetings, they manage their boss, they manage objectives, they manage projects... but they don't typically coach. Or if they do, it is haphazard in nature.
The real issue here is that coaching is not typically part of the management process. In effect, it means that managers must leave their comfort zone and reset their own 'management thermostat.' This means that coaching is a challenge to implement. It means change for the managers too. To be candid, coaching isn't necessarily fun. Coaching can be time consuming and it can be frustrating so it is very easy to revert to the safe and comfortable practice of managing 'tasks' and not people.
Problem #2. To put it bluntly, most sales managers do not know how to coach effectively. This is understandable. For the most part, no one has taught them to be a good coach which may explain why they tend to avoid it.
If they do coach they do so on an ad hoc basis and typically it is anecdotal in nature ("Well, in my day, the way I handled that objection was..."). But as defined above, coaching is a process and not a simple pat on the back or a word or two of feedback every couple of weeks or once a quarter at review session. Nor is coaching criticism which is often the way it is presented so sales reps tend to see it as a negative event. In that scenario, no likes it so everyone avoids it.
Here's the issue in a nutshell: many sales managers lack a process or an approach on how to coach effectively and change behavior. Because they do not know how to coach, they either avoid it or they provide coaching inconsistently and/or ineffectively.
Because coaching is a repeatable process, we can define its parts; break it down into components. By understanding its parts, coaching can be mastered one step at a time. Once you have a coaching system in place, your sales training investment will yield high returns. Implemented consistently, coaching will not only help you exceed your sales objectives, it will help lower your costs by reducing burnout and turnover of sales reps. You will spend less time and money recruiting, selecting and training new reps. In short, your job as a sales manager or director or executive will become that much easier.
Jim Domanski is president of Teleconcepts Consulting and works with companies and individuals who struggle to use the telephone more effectively. Author of four highly regarded books on tele-selling, Jim has provided training and consulting to audiences, universities, and clients through the US, Canada and Europe.