There’s an unhealthy meme in the sales training industry right now. It says that sales training doesn’t work.
In many cases this may be true – that it doesn’t drive behaviour change or lead to immediate increased sales results.
That’s because much of the sales training available is dull, out of date, and is a rehash of other courses. It isn’t relatable and is fundamentally flawed in design – approaching the buying process from the seller’s perspective (as a sales process or cycle) which is ineffective for creating value with today’s informed buyers and leads to dysfunctional, even adversarial buyer/seller behaviors.
Can you blame sales people for rolling their eyes at the thought of sitting through yet another sales training course that they instinctively know won’t help them, or their customers?
Ironically, this meme is perpetuated by sales training companies themselves. Perhaps it’s what their customers demand. Perhaps it’s an attempt to up-sell additional, profitable services like coaching, technology, gamification and online offerings?
Post training reinforcement and sustainment is the new game in town baby!
Many sales leaders and sales enablement folks I’ve spoken with in the last few years are fixated with post training process, roadmaps, programs and tools. They’ve bought into the idea that classroom training events don’t generate immediate and longer term results unless they’re coupled with onerous and complex post training solutions.
I was recently invited to a four day sales summit to observe the launch of some new industry initiatives and solutions at a leading global technology company. This company’s executive team is committed to transforming the culture of their sales force from a product orientation to higher level problem solving. Their focus is generating positive business outcomes for their customers.
And they have a journey ahead of them.
Here’s what I saw.
Over four days, lots of internally focused product/solution presentations following the traditional FAB (features, advantages, benefit) format with lots of data. Also lots of “why we’re better than the competition.”
Don’t get me wrong, product/solution training is important, as is knowing your competition. And when your audience falls asleep (I counted 3 asleep on day one alone), somethings wrong!
There has got to be a better way.
Luckily there were two internal presentations that were really good that got the audience’s attention. They even woke up!
The difference? They were focused on the “outcomes” that the solutions delivered for customers.
It’s this kind of insight that sellers can share with customers to build trust and credibility. It helps them move beyond the ‘product’ conversations that today’s informed buyers don’t find valuable. And, even though these presentations were good, they got even better…
Over the course of the summit, an external sales trainer conducted one 3 hour session of “Selling to Executives” and three 1 hour continuation sessions. 6 hours in total.
This guy was good! One participant reported that this trainer could make training on “expense reports” fun and engaging. I agree.
This is how this trainer made a difference in such little time.
- He was maniacally focused on viewing the selling/buying conversation through the lens of what was (and could be) important and valuable to the customer/buyer.
He continually showed the participants through live role play how they AND their buyers slipped into low value dialogue about the product vs the outcomes and results that the client wanted to achieve (or could achieve). The participants loved this as it helped them escape the ‘conversation trap’ of “what have you got for me,” or “so tell me how you’re different to competitor X.”
Did I mention he made the sessions fun and engaging?
More importantly he made them memorable! This chap used highly visual metaphors and stories that every participant could relate to, regardless of age or tenure. Characters from popular kids and contemporary films made appearances and he linked them back to the dysfunctional selling and buying behaviors most sales people and buyers aren’t even aware of. By using memorable characters, he gave them new choices and ways to handle even the trickiest of customer conversations.
I think a lot of sales training doesn’t work because it’s not memorable and relatable. His use of metaphors and stories was so much more powerful than a trainer sounding professorial and talking about “the law of requisite variety.” How many of us would remember that?!
Over the course of the session, I repeatedly heard participants use these characters from popular culture to describe their situation in current opportunities and how they were going to approach conversations differently going forward. I even heard two participants role playing in the hotel bar afterwards! That’s a first!
1.Did you realise that most sales training still only focuses on two primary buying motives of pain and gain? This chap showed us an additional six lines of customer motive, some of which were even more compelling than ‘finding the pain.”
Using these additional motives, participants were able to come up with new discovery questions and insights that helped to spark new conversations from potential and existing customers. There were several reported examples during the four days of execs who had previously shown no interest in meeting these sellers, returning emails/vmails and new conversations started.
Even a lost deal was revived, because of tapping into these additional and often unknown motives.
- This trainer also showed and used a model of the customer’s decision cycle that I hadn’t seen before. It made a lot of sense. Participants quickly reported how this model helped them see that they were jumping to solution too quickly and how they were always trying to talk product – when it would have been more effective to understand more about the customer’s business environment and the opportunity to create customer value.
That’s how participants found it valuable. How about those internal presenters?
The internal presenters (from product and solution marketing) started referencing and sharing how they’d changed the focus and language of their presentations after each session that this trainer did. There was less focus on “what our product is” to “what it does” for the customer. Less focus on “why us vs competition” to “why change” and “why now.” Much more compelling and customer orientated.
Product development, marketing and sales aligning before my eyes…around the customer.
Here’s my point. I think sales training can and DOES work, with immediate results, both externally with customers and internally. When it is viewed through the customer’s lens. When it’s memorable. If it’s memorable, it gets used. If it works, it get used again. And again.
Sales behavior changed, in minutes and hours. Not weeks and months. Sales training does work.