How to Evaluate Sales Training Programs
Along with the co-founders of our sales training company, SalesGym, I have been in the sales training and consulting business since the late 1980s. In that time, we’ve seen many books on selling and different training programs come and go. Most are offering some version of consultative selling that focuses on finding out what the decision-maker(s) and influencers need and then crafting a tailored solution to meet that need. Obviously, there is more to it than that, but that’s the one-sentence version.
Increasingly, over the last five years, we’re seeing more of the insight-led selling approach as described in “The Challenger Sale” (Dixon & Adamson, 2011). This approach brings in a more assertive selling method and is used by a surprisingly high number of top performers.
The Most Common Mistakes Salespeople Make
When selecting a sales team training program that will truly impact the performance of the salespeople you want to become top performers, but currently aren’t, it’s important to first understand the core mistakes 90 percent of them are making. These include:
- Talking too much
- Not asking and listening enough
- Not asking relevant, insightful questions that drive an effective sales conversation
- Poorly communicating competitive advantages and often sounding generic and identical to the competition
- Losing control of the conversation
- Not leading up to clear action steps at the end of the call
Communication Training Is Key
Many underperformers also aren’t being regularly challenged with coaching to break the bad habits listed above and aren’t being trained on how to practice communicating and selling the way top performers do.
What we observe is that, all too often, salespeople attend expensive sales training events led by supposed sales training experts and leave with the same bad communication habits they had when the training started. This is primarily because the bulk of sales training is overly analytic in terms of process steps, pipeline management, pre-call planning, developing a strategy, and understanding what to do, but does not develop the actual ability to do it.
Imagine if a below-average golfer signed up for lessons, but instead of going to the practice range with a qualified instructor to practice with corrective coaching, he or she went into a classroom. Then the golfer watched two hours of videos, looked through dozens of diagrams about swing dynamics and scoring strategy, and developed a game plan for his or her next round of golf. Finally, the golfer went out to the driving range without a coach and was tasked with taking all this theory and figuring out on his or her own how to apply it to hit better golf shots. The golfer never gets any practice with corrective coaching but is expected to perform better.
Unfortunately, this is how a lot of sales training works. A lot of analysis, discussion, planning, maybe a role-play or two squeezed in, and a lot of motivation to go out there and figure it out on live calls.
What We’ve Found from Testing Sales Teams
We test salespeople every week at our company for their basic skill level and ability to respond to simple questions, including:
- What makes your company and product better than your competitor?
- Describe to me what you mean by providing better service than the competition?
- Give an example of how you position and ask a few assertive, open-ended questions?
- What are your three most important competitive advantages and how would you describe them to a customer you know well?
The truth is, most of these salespeople have been through several highly regarded sales training programs in the previous two to three years. What we find is that 90 percent of the people we test are nowhere near mastery of these most basic communication skills. In our experience, most sales training programs don’t focus on correcting the mistakes salespeople make; rather, they focus on analytic elements that are great, but are more suited to salespeople who have mastered the basics.
The 5 Key Questions to Ask When Evaluating Sales Training
When evaluating sales team training, there are five key questions you should be asking. These five questions or criteria will help to determine whether or not the program will correct the mistakes and bad habits that cause average or poor performance. The key questions are:
- How much real practice is there in the program?
- Does the program deal with the most stubborn bad habits of salespeople?
- Are top performer best practices and examples part of the content?
- Is the facilitator or trainer a credible coach?
- How does the follow-up work? Is there ongoing sales management training for the sales managers?
If the answer is, “No,” to any of these 5 questions, then the program likely won’t affect the types of results you desire.
Once your team has mastered foundational selling and communication skills, can ask great questions, can respond with high-impact competitive advantages, and understands how to lead a sales call to productive action steps, then they’re ready for the more analytic element of the craft. Until then, more work on breaking bad habits and providing sales management training to the sales managers or coaches will generate better results.
Michael St Lawrence is the founder of SalesGym and president of Dycoco, LLC. He also founded OutSell Consulting in 1996. St Lawrence develops content, researches top performers, and assists on most projects that happen in the SalesGym. He wrote the 17-week L.A. Times bestseller, “If You’re Not Out Selling, You’re Being Outsold.” Connect with him on LinkedIn.