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Whats Your Sales Training Goal - Exposure or Behavioral Change?

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When your company invests in sales training, what is the expected outcome? Is it a change in how your salespeople perform their daily activities - in other words, a change in behavior?

Unfortunately, most companies drastically underestimate the amount of time and effort that must be invested to accomplish behavioral change. Sitting in a class for a couple of hours or days is a good way to expose salespeople to new skills and techniques. However, new skills and techniques often feel strange and uncomfortable. Many salespeople worry that attempting to use the new skills and techniques with real, live prospects or customers will cost them sales and hard-won credibility. So, they abandon the new skills and techniques and continue to rely on "old" behaviors that are comfortable for them.

Here is a real-life example of a sales training program failure:

Executive management at a company I worked for invested more than $600,000 to teach the entire sales team (100+ salespeople) a new sales approach. However, at every turn they looked for ways to reduce training costs and time out of the field. As a result, the sales manager training session was cut from a full day to half a day, and the sales team training was cut from three days to a day and a half. Plus, post-training conference calls (intended to reinforce key concepts) were rescheduled multiple times and eventually cancelled.

What was the return on the company's $600,000 investment? Only 10% to 20% of the salespeople ever applied the new sales approach in the field. The training project was considered a failure.

If you want your sales training investments to produce changes in your salespeople's behavior, your company's entire management team, from top executives to individual sales managers, needs to make a different level of commitment to sales training. The skills and techniques that are taught during training sessions must be repeated and reinforced on a regular and consistent basis. Plus, you should provide your salespeople with a non-threatening environment where they can practice new skills and techniques until they become second nature.

To further demonstrate the level of management commitment that is required to accomplish behavioral change, consider the following two scenarios.

Scenario #1

A top executive mentions the importance of a new sales approach in a company meeting or conference call. They mention it again occasionally (once a month or once a quarter). The sales manager also mentions the new approach in a few sales meetings before or after the training session(s). However, the focus soon returns to "business as usual".

Scenario #2

A top executive explains the importance of a new sales approach in a company meeting or conference call. From that point on, they repeat the message in any conversation they have with any member of the sales or sales management team. The new sales approach becomes part of the executive's daily dialogue, and they mention it multiple times a day.

Sales managers invest the time required to become proficient in using the new sales approach. They also explain to their salespeople that each salesperson will be held accountable for using the new approach effectively in the field. They help their salespeople become comfortable using the new approach by conducting repeated role plays in individual and group meetings. They also inspect for use of the new approach in a consistent and predictable fashion.

This level of management commitment causes the salespeople to recognize that the new approach is not "the flavor of the month", and it will NOT go away if they ignore it. As a result, the new approach eventually becomes part of the company's sales culture.

Do you see the difference in the level of commitment described by the two scenarios? Do you see why the second scenario is much more likely to produce lasting behavioral change?

In summary, if you want to change your salespeople's behavior, your company's entire management team needs to demonstrate a different level of commitment to sales training. Here are the recommended steps for this process:

  • Any significant new sales approach becomes part of top executives' daily dialogue.
  • Sales managers learn how to execute the new approach.
  • Salespeople are trained in the new approach.
  • Sales managers hold salespeople accountable for using the new approach.
  • Sales managers increase their salespeople's comfort with the new approach by conducting repeated role plays in a non-threatening environment.
  • Sales managers consistently and repeatedly inspect salesperson activity to confirm they are using the new approach.
  • When new skills and techniques become second nature to your salespeople, they are more likely to apply them effectively in the field. Designing training curriculums to produce behavioral change is the best way to ensure that your company receives its desired return on sales training investments!

    Copyright 2005 -- Alan Rigg

    Sales performance expert Alan Rigg is the author of How to Beat the 80/20 Rule in Selling: Why Most Salespeople Don't Perform and What to Do About It. To learn more about his book and sign up for more FREE sales and sales management tips, visit

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