why sales training fails

10 Reasons Why Sales Training Fails – & how you can fix it

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Why Sales Training Fails – Top question from Google

Why Sales Training Fails – the short answer

Sales Training fails in most cases because companies fail to put enough preparation into both the training itself and the post training support. It’s impossible to learn everything in sales in one or two sessions and training should be spread out over longer periods with ongoing support.

Why Sales Training Fails – here’s a more detailed look at the causes and how to fix them.

1. The wrong people are in the room

The Problem

Every organisation, sales leaders and business owner can tell you a story about how they had hired what they thought was going to be the best sales person ever and months later that “star” had turned into a dud. Those same sales leaders will also tell you that no sales training in the world could have helped them. Everyone is familiar with the phrase “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink”. Studies show that between Sales Management and HR 77% of sales hires are simply the wrong people.

You cannot help anyone who doesn’t want to be helped

The Solution

Separate your Salespeople into A, B and C groups. A players are those that nearly always hit their sales targets and in most cases they will want training because they want to be the best. The B group will intermittently hit their sales targets and are motivated to do so but need help via training and coaching. C players never hit their sales targets, yet despite this, they do not want any form of training. Yes – it’s bizarre, those that need the training the most, do not want it. Investing in training for these people is simply not worth it because they will never implement anything that they learn.


2. Sales Training needs Strong Sales Management

The Problem

Sales Managers in many cases have never had any formal sales training or management training themselves, and are typically following a management system that they either inherited, or was set up by people with no experience or background in sales. Sales Managers are normally great people but they have so much in their To Do list that they struggle to find the time to do the most important thing – support their salespeople.

The Solution

Every Sales Manager should have a Sales Improvement plan that they are working to. Start with the end in mind and write down what you would like your sales function to look like in 3 years. Then work back from that and document the milestones that you will need to reach throughout that three year period in order to reach your goal. One of those milestones will inevitably include improving the teams skills and productivity which is where the sales training comes in.


3. Sales Training will Fail without Coaching

The Problem

Sales Training fails because it is typically treated as an “event” based activity, lasting 1 – 2 days, or if you are lucky a week.  Accountants, Lawyers, Engineers, Architects, Technicians and Developers to name but a few, cannot be trained in weeks, so it’s unreasonable to expect a “1 Day Sales Masterclass” to teach sales people everything they need to know? Training is only the start of the journey. Coaching and work based learning are where the growth really takes off.

The Solution

Sales training needs to be reinforced after the event with coaching from the sales leaders and managers. The Sales Managers need to be trained not only in the skill they are coaching but in the art of coaching itself. The coaching should be part of an ongoing development programme and structured not simply on an ad-hoc basis.

Sales Battlecard Coaching
Why Sales Training Fails

4. Sales Training Fails when it’s all Theory

The Problem

Sales Training fails because it is predominantly theory based, and learning studies show people forget up to 89% of what they have been taught within one month. This means from a 2 day sales training course, less than two hours of learning is still retained after one month.  Studies such as the Ebbinghaus Curve prove this, however, we can all think of a great course that we have but then struggled to remember let alone implement any of the content.

The Solution

Seventy percent of learning is by doing. Quite simply, nothing builds muscle memory in the same way as doing the actual task does. Alternately, Work Based Learning programs provide almost the opposite in terms of retention with people retaining up to 98% of knowledge learned over a 6 month period.

Why sales training fails - Work Based Learning
Why Sales Training Fails

5. Sales Roleplay

The Problem

Companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars every year in marketing in order to get their sales reps in front of prospects but salespeople won’t do roleplay to prepare for those meetings. Without roleplay you are much less likely to be effective, and much more likely to lose control of the sales conversation and ergo, the sales process.

The Solution

Sales Managers should host regular roleplay sessions to reinforce the new sales techniques and strategies that are taught in the sales training. The role plays should be fun, supportive, non threatening and the Sales Manager should be trained in how to host these sessions.


Why Sales Training Fails

6. Prioritising the Right Sales Activities

The Problem

Sales Training will fail when people simply return to doing the exact same sales behaviours that created the sales results that demonstrated the original need for training. Yes, “If you always do what you’ve always done you will always get what you’ve always gotten”. Despite how obvious this is it’s amazing how many people get caught in this trap of repeating the same sales behaviours that never worked for them before.

The Solution

Before any sales training takes place you must as a team commit to change. Without that commitment you are in effect stuck. The best way to implement the change is to schedule the new activities into everyone’s diaries, use scorecards to track and measure performance and hold people accountable to the new sales activities that are agreed in the sales training.


7. Sales Training Needs Analysis

The Problem

Sales Training can fail when the training has little or no correlation to the needs of the sales reps or the business. As an example many sales reps will ask for training on presentation skills when they really need training in prospecting. The Presentation Skills training ticks the box that says they have undergone some form of personal development, but their sales results will remain the same.

The Solution

Sales Training will fail if it is not 100% aligned with the goals of the business and the attendees. The best way to do this is via Work Based Learning and integrating live sales campaigns into their everyday work activities. That way the sales team can practice and learn while on the job.

Why sales training fails Sales Training Need analysis
Why Sales Training Fails

8. Sales Accountability

The Problem

In sales like no other part of business it is really easy as a Sales Rep to keep yourself busy. However, being busy is not the same as being effective and we tend to stay busy on things we like doing rather than the things that may be somewhat uncomfortable for us.

The Solution

Use Sales Scorecards to help Sales Reps hold themselves accountable to the core sales activities that drive sales. The Scorecards must be fair, objective and be focussed on the relevant sales activities for each rep. Where ever possible get the reps involved in creating the scorecards. By getting them involved they are much more likely to take ownership of them and drive them through.


9. Grease your Sales Wheel

The Problem

In many cases there Sales Reps will highlight genuine problems within the companies sales process. Some of these are definitely real and there will always be the odd red herring to distract you. Some common problems Reps talk to us about are marketing, lead generation, CRM and sales management.

The Solution

Take onboard what the reps are saying and do everything you can to make selling easier for your team. Removal of even obstacles that are perceived by sales management as “excuses” are vital as this only serves to shine the light on the root causes of any problem.


10. Resilience in Sales Management

The Problem

Sales training fails because Business Owners and VP’s of Sales are resilient and their ability to cope with under-performance stops them taking further action.  For some Sales Managers it is easier to keep a sales person who is under-performing, than go through the pain letting them go and then trying to find a new sales person who can actually do the job.

The Solution

It’s never a pleasant job to let an employee go, however, if you as a Sales Manager have done everything that you can to support the individual and they have not responded then you have a duty to the rest of the team and the business to help them find a position better suited to them.


Why Invest in Sales Training

Training your sales force is simply not an option if you want to consistently beat your sales goals and develop a high performing team.

The best salespeople are like athletes and they want to train to stay sharp and sales fit. They are the best because they are happy to push themselves.

Why sales training fails
Why Sales Training Fails

Training the Sales Force

Sales Training is only one of a number of different Sales Improvement tools and selecting the correct tools for each situation is the key to success.  Other Sales Tools you may consider are:

Sales Consulting, for example, to review the overall Sales Strategy, Technology Stack, Value Proposition or Sales Collateral.  Sales Training will have a limited impact if either the strategy, value proposition are off mark.

Documenting Best Sales Practice and creating a sales library that helps with knowledge transfer to both existing work colleagues and new starts is essential.  Sales Training does not capture all the good things that may already be in place.

Sales Coaching is another option to help with the reinforcement and accountability of new sales behaviours.  Coaching sales people on specific areas such as their Sales Pipeline produces tangible results with a demonstrable ROI.

We would love to talk to you and make sure that your sales training is successful and productive – even if you don’t use us. Yes, we would rather set you and your business on the right path even if you don’t use us.


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Iain Swanston Klozers

Author Bio

Iain Swanston has spent over 30 years in B2B sales selling, training and leading teams both domestically and internationally.  In addition he serves as an Associate at Strathclyde University Business School where he has delivered the sales content for the Masters in Entrepreneurship since 2015.

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