What’s Wrong With Sales Training Today    

What’s Wrong With Sales Training Today
By Steve W. Martin

“Most sales training is death by PowerPoint, where the trainer tries to impose their philosophy on the salespeople. This was totally different. It was engaging and completely interactive. Steve pulled out “our” experiences with examples, audience demonstrations, and the “Tales from the field” interview session.

The feedback from the entire team was overwhelmingly positive.”
Marie Cabrera, Enterprise Sales Manager, IBM

All sales training programs today share the same fundamental flaw. None explain what is truly at the heart of all sales: how to build relationships between people, how salespeople incorporate the elements of human behavior into their strategy, and how to say the “right” words at the “right” time to persuade customers to buy. They don’t offer help where help is needed most--how to deal with the humanness of your customers, your manager, and yourself.

The existing training methodologies do not explain or fully take into account the human characteristics of the people who actually make the purchase decision. They concentrate on the logical and procedural aspects of the sales cycle. In short, they offer frameworks that are limited to the “tangible” processes of the sales cycle. These may include the basic questions a salesperson commits to memory, such as, “What is your budget?” and “What is your time frame?” Other programs emphasize the business benefits and financial justification of the salesperson’s solution. They explain how to create a return-on-investment (ROI) model in order to show customers how much money they will save by selecting their product. However, every company supplies their own ROI and extols their unique benefits. Therefore, how do you stand out from the pack?

Worse yet, almost all of the training sessions I have ever attended were conducted by “talking-heads” who had been off the front line of sales for many years. These experts pretended to be perfectionists who never lost a deal nor ever experienced the disappointment of customer betrayal. How could they relate to the quick transitions from laughter to tears that is a normal part of sales? As a result, they lecture solely about the sales process. In fact, as a sales rep I was almost kicked out of one class after commenting to the trainer, “Those who can, do and those who can’t, teach” (Well, all the other students had a good laugh anyway).

The façade these master practitioners put on is equally absurd. They perpetuate the myth that ideal salespeople are compulsive “go-getters” driven to win at any cost, when in reality, they are normal people like you and me. They espouse a “winners never quit” supermoralism. When a well-known sales coach lectured, “There is no such thing as failure, only feedback,” I had to laugh to myself. I could imagine a junior sales rep telling his manager, “We didn’t lose the deal, we just got some ‘they’re not buying’ feedback.” "All of these experiences left me with the impression that they didn’t even enjoy being around salespeople.”

Many large companies create a separate department to train the sales force to sell. Usually, it is part of the department called “sales operations.” Over the years, I have had my share of interactions with these groups of people. Oddly enough, you will rarely find anyone within this department who has actually sold anything. Since they don’t have any actual experience and it’s far easier to talk about the process of selling than the people involved, the department’s mantra is, “Sales is a process.” As a result, salespeople must fill out more forms, reports, and documents on a weekly basis than Bill Gates does when he files his income tax.

Somehow, “successful” sales training has become associated with a thick binder of material the salesperson lugs home from the class (never to open again). The classroom experience is based upon wrote memorization of facts. There is very little interaction, exercises, or meaningful conversation about the difficult “real-world” obstacles that need to be overcome. The training classes are pre-packaged sessions that are taught the same way over and over again regardless of the audience’s unique situation. The goal is get through the material, not to learn how and where to win (and the skills needed to do it). In essence, every training experience should be a one of kind unique experience because every company occupies a different position in the competitive landscape.

Perhaps most importantly, today’s customers are smarter and technology has become a way of life. Eighty percent of all homes in the United States have personal computers. Via the Internet, customers can research products, prices, and opinions. Conversely, our cars, appliances, and toys have become computerized tools. Collectively, this has raised the level of sophistication (and skepticism) of the customers we must converse with and sell to. However, the training programs available today assume customers are exactly the same as they were ten or twenty years ago. In reality, the balance of power is definitely in the hands of today’s buyer and the situation will only continue to get worse. For example, while I had to know how to change a spark plug, my children will never have to know what a spark plug is. Meanwhile, they are already experts on how to use cell phones, DVD recorders, and computers. Successful sales training understands and acknowledges the new generation of smart buyers.

The orientation of customers has also changed. They’re more self-accomplished and self-reliant. Not so long ago, the gas station attendant would pump your gas, the bank teller would handle your deposit, and you knew the owner of the corner bakery. Today, you pay by credit card at the pump and fill the tank yourself, bank online, and shop at gigantic warehouse superstores. Just a few years ago, you would have visited several computer stores to find the right personal computer. Now we can configure new computers online and have them shipped right to our front door. Times have changed and this generation of buyers is more sophisticated than the last rendering the traditional sales training programs obsolete.

Your competitors have not sat idly by either. They’ve educated themselves about your products and sales tactics, and they’re more focused on defeating you than ever. Fortunately, they usually believe in the use of brute force and think the best way to defeat the enemy is by frontal attack, when in reality, winning over the hearts and minds of customers carries the day. Finally, a new generation of sales training is needed to defeat your two biggest competitors; no decision and the relentless march of time.

Where can you go to receive the training you need to level the playing field again?

Read About Heavy Hitter Sales Training – The Next Generation of Sales Training