Getting the best from sales training

Getting the best from training is more than just making the booking and hoping for the best. 

All training has a cost attached to it. 

There’s the obvious financial one if you appoint an external training business to support you. There’s also the opportunity cost of asking your people to leave their day jobs and spend time doing something else. 

Whether you’re using the formality of approaches such as scrum retrospectives, continuous improvement, or are within a regulated sector that demands proven continuous professional development (CPD) Or whether you rely on more informal post-mortems and reflection to ensure your business grows; learning and continuous improvement is fundamental to your success. 

On some level training will always work. Even if it doesn’t go quite to plan it might well contribute to a sales team’s sense of shared purpose as they do their level best to ensure it doesn’t go on beyond the time allocated. It could be the first time you witness your entire team getting back from a break on time to avoid stretching the experience beyond their own limits!

The best training does many things all at once:

Fixes the root cause

Across 1000s of businesses training is either bought or commissioned without true consideration ever being given to the root cause of what’s being addressed.  “We need to train our outbound sales-people and reps to increase their conversion rates” might quickly result in a training course focused on closing skills or even negotiation…responding to the symptom.

But what if the root cause is a complete lack of sales call structure that confuses everyone involved and a product list that no one can navigate; ensuring no listening is ever done? 

You might have a really engaging course on sales negotiation. But it hasn’t addressed the root cause and back at your team’s desks it’ll have little impact upon their conversion rates.

Taking time (or seeking help) to investigate what’s really going on and what’s really needed in terms of learning or support can make a huge difference to the results your investment in training will make for you. 

You may even realise that it’s not training you need right now but some consulting help to address the call structure and technology to make finding products faster and more accurate.

Makes learning safe 

Training should always encourage experimentation. To do this, learners need to feel safe and free from the worry that anything they say or do will be reported back or come back to haunt them.

Plenty of teams successfully learn alongside their manager or leader. But for others this engenders silence, a deference to seniority in the room or a reluctance to participate for fear of repercussions or failure. 

If you have a culture that is unused to shared learning and openly discussing failure (or one that does but can go on to attach blame and go hunting for witches) then how you set the context for the training, and who attends will have a huge bearing on its success and payback for you. 

How you role model a willingness to learn, experiment, change and share mistakes will also be crucial to how others in your business behave too.

Focuses on outcomes 

Training course content is not the same as training outcomes or objectives. Being clear in what you want people to be able to confidently do after any learning intervention (as opposed to just what they might end up knowing) will help you choose between the plethora of training providers available. 

Having some thoughts about exactly how you’ll measure the impact will be even better.

  • Are you after an improvement in skills?
  • Do you need to develop broader or deeper knowledge?
  • Perhaps it’s improved levels of good judgement you need?
  • Or do you want to address attitude?

It’s important to know this before you begin.

Adds real value to your business

Price isn’t always an indication of the quality of delivery. ‘Reassuringly expensive’ may be applicable to well-crafted beer, but it’s not that straightforward in the world of training. 

Well-marketed, highly-branded, more costly training can be great and some often comes supported by research and market expertise, but it can also be dull, inflexible and out-moded. Though still costly.

Much of what is trained is not new; and many that present themselves as ‘new’ are often a re-skinning of an older approach or model that has been updated, refined or re-jigged to avoid a copyright infringement. 

This doesn’t and shouldn’t invalidate their value to your business, as often it’s a focus on getting the basics done really well and really consistently that can help you succeed. The important thing is knowing what exactly you are trying to address and then spending some time exploring who might be the best fit for your team and business. 

Creates new habits

Training can be declared a failure even when it’s worked.

There’s a wealth of research dating back years that demonstrates how quickly learning fades unless it’s reinforced and supported afterwards. A programme might deliver the most amazing learning that could be truly transformational for your business; but it will need you to reinforce it and keep it alive.

Coaching conversations, one-to-ones and meetings should all circle back to the learning.

If you or your managers are uncertain how to constantly reinforce, coach and embed the learning, then expect most of it to have left the building alongside Elvis in six weeks or less. And that’s a real shame.

Embeds the learning

A training provider should be passionate about helping you embed the learning they offer. 

Pre-support should help you learn how to coach and integrate the training content. Helping you ensure your team thinks about what will be expected of them after the training. 

Post-support ensuring it happens and is applied consistently. Without that you risk funding something that’s nothing more than an interesting diversion from the day job. Pizza is much cheaper! 

Reverses into your business

This is also where you might find that other ways of working within your business also need to change in order to accommodate and make the most of the learning – perhaps a flexing of process, a change of tools or revised goals are required in order to realise the potential the learning affords you.

The best learning should always send ripples of improvement out across your business, but it can be unnerving if you don’t plan for this in advance when you’re signing off the PO for the training. 

Demands focus and perseverance

When you’re searching for ideas, tools and ways of working that might give you an edge over your competition, or help you recover your equilibrium, it’s hard to resist bouncing from one shiny bottle top to another in the pursuit of the novel, the new or the most heavily lauded approach.

The only long-term effect is to add more debit entries into your bank statement and to empty your coffers faster than required. Embedding learning takes time and relentless focus, until it becomes habit.

If you go to the cost and the effort of training your people, resist the temptation to replace or enhance that new idea with another one before you’ve got the first landed properly. You’ll confuse everyone around you.

You’ll waste your time and your money. And the first approach will be judged to have failed, when in reality it was never given the chance to even develop its wings. 

Buying training is a little like adopting a caterpillar (Not something Battersea Cats & Dogs currently offer) It’s knobbly, it’s camouflaged and doesn’t give much back as a pet. It eats a lot of your time or your office plants and although it has huge potential, it’s only with effort and energy that it will metamorphose into something really beautiful that will fly. 

Too many owners give up at the caterpillar stage. A waste.

Simple ideas and learning done well, applied consistently and embedded properly are of far greater value than a new shiny half-baked one, adopted by few and ignored by the majority.

Assessing training suppliers – questions to ask yourself:

  • Am I certain that what I am asking for is exactly what I need?
  • How well can the trainer craft the learning to suit my business challenges?
  • How engaging are they and do they fit well with my culture (or offer a counter-point that will help us change)?
  • Can they tell stories that resonate with my team?
  • Can they handle and defend challenges from me or my team?
  • How credible will they be in front of everyone?
  • Is the content engaging, participative, relevant, thought-provoking and fun to learn?
  • Is the content biased towards theory or towards the practical application in my business?*
  • How easily and quickly can the learning be integrated into my business?
  • Will the training provider stick with me to ensure it works?

*Theory at the expense of real-life application is very hard to execute and embed. Application without (just enough) theory makes it more challenging to flex or adapt the learning when your business changes. You need a good balance of both.

Great training makes for great learning. And it’s worth more than a moment of your time to get right. 

Spend your money wisely and spend it only once!

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