Subscribe to industry newsletters

Search jobs

Sales training that works

The 2003 research by CSO Insight spanned 2 000 sales forces across Europe and North America and revealed the disturbing fact that 55% of salespeople fail to hit their quotas. Given the fact that 45% of the business training spend in the USA is directed at sales training, this raises serious question about whether sales training efforts are delivering any significant return on this investment.

There are well researched explanations about why this situation occurs, and the most important are outlined here:

Sales talent can be sharpened but not created. The key is distinguishing between "talent-based" roles and those that can be learned. Examples of talent based jobs or professions include sports, military leadership, art, graphic design, entrepreneurship, computer programming, and most sales roles.

After 30 years of research and assessing hundreds of thousands of sales people we know that sales is a talent based profession and that sales talent can't be improved by more than 20% by training.

Consequently a sales person who 5% effective can only become 6% effective - not a great training investment. However an 80% can become a 96% - a far more attractive proposition.

Teaching sales people the "right" things is critical and most sales training fails dismally in this regard, because it is focuses primarily on the needs of the seller and not the needs of the customer.

Certain basic skills such as time and territory management are necessary, but they have virtually zero impact on the customer's decision to buy.

Only three sales skills really made a difference - Competence at "personally" managing the customer relationship, developing a deep understanding of the customers business and acting as a customer advocate to correct any and all problems

The most effective training focuses on learning the customer's business and being able to manipulate your own company's systems efficiently to serve the customer's business priorities.

The very best sales training is largely based on realistic simulations that mimic the situations and environment that salespeople encounter on a daily basis.

Research suggests that salespeople share a particular set of attributes:
Urgency: Salespeople love fast-paced action. They want results, and they want them quickly.

Risk-taking: Salespeople take risks. They know there are no certainties in selling. They have the talent to step out of their comfort zones, experiment, and learn quickly from their mistakes.

Competition: Anyone who has spent time with salespeople knows how competitive they are. They need to win.

Empathy: Salespeople often have an uncanny ability to sense the reactions of others. They relate well to a wide variety of people and thrive on face-to-face interaction.

Persuasion: Salespeople derive enormous satisfaction from persuading others, including their managers, coaches and, of course, customers.

Resilience: Because salespeople frequently face rejection, they must be able to bounce back quickly.

These attributes reflect a particular type of learner who responds to a specific kind of learning:

Fast-paced: The learning programs should mimic the dynamic pace of the real-world selling environment.

Feedback-rich: The programs should give salespeople the opportunity to make mistakes and get quick feedback.

Challenging and competitive: Learning activities must leverage the types of experiences that get salespeople interested and engaged. They present challenging, competitive situations that dare the salespeople to fight for a win.

Face-to-face and team-based: The programs must respond to salespeople's needs for face-to-face interaction.

Relevant: Learning activities reproduce real-world situations in which salespeople must repeatedly persuade customers as they move through their multi-stage, multi-party decision-making process.

Fun: The learning event should be entertaining, enjoyable, and amusing.

Salespeople learn best from fast-paced, customised simulations. Simulations are representations of real-life situations. Simulations permit people to confront the same sorts of challenges and opportunities as in real life, yet in a safe environment where they can experiment and learn.

Team discussions and full group debriefs allow participants to absorb, contextualise, and expand their knowledge and skills, making them their own. Most importantly, simulations that are fun engage people, and engaged people learn faster.

About Peter Gilbert

Peter Gilbert is Managing Director of HR Chally, world leaders of actuarially based predictive assessment & selection methodologies for hiring sales and management talent with up to +90% accuracy.

Let's do Biz