Make sales training more effective. Practical ideas for sales managers and sales trainers.
The participants readiness for sales training or has a significant impact on its effectiveness. In general, people's attitudes towards training fall into four categories. For this article I have used the labels: Recalcitrant, Ambivalent, Anticipative, and Active.
Those who think they don't need the training may be put out by being sent on a course, hence the label 'recalcitrant'. Whether they are right or wrong, feeling this way about a course closes the mind to any learning that might have been gained. Irritation at being told what to do may even cause some to be disruptive during a course. In the worst cases, people with this mindset challenge or undermine everything, just to prove themselves right about not needing to be there. Others simply don't join in, denying other delegates the benefit of their insight. Enthusiasm is infectious. So is negativity.
Many of us take an interest in the politics of government yet never write to our MP or actively support candidates. As a learning readiness attitude, 'ambivalent' describes those who are interested and aware that a course can help them do better. Those in this state are usually happy about attending a course but lack any definite purpose for it. They may find the ideas and material valuable but don't get around to doing anything about it. Training represents a potentially pleasant distraction from the daily routine. Participants who feel ambivalent about attending a course may join in and thoroughly enjoy the experience but they have no strong motivation to apply anything they learn in the workplace.
The 'anticipative' label describes those who know they have a problem to solve and are aware of possible solutions. Often they arrive at this conclusion because an event or encounter brought the need into focus. Reaching the age of forty tends to make one take diet and exercise more seriously. A meeting that went horribly wrong or a cutting question asked by one's manager brings a weakness into focus. Those in this state are poised, ready to invest in better behaviours.
The 'active' term is self-explanatory. It describes those who are in pursuit of personal change. They take advantage of varied methods. Peer discussion, reading, listening to tapes, training courses, coaching, and deliberate behavioural change strategies. This takes more effort than learning product knowledge or technical details. It involves changing how we apply what we know, to what we say and do, through reprogramming our own mind.
Sales training is commonly an event rather than a progression in learning. Compared to the discipline and duration of school and university, short courses offer little more than signposts for learning. Even when a skill's course lasts several days and includes much practice of the principles promoted, real changes are left up to the participants.
A good course is motivating and connects learning to the desired outcome. Even 'recalcitrant' participants may become converts and speak highly of their experience. Then, over a several weeks, as the momentum built by the course wanes, people slip back into their comfortable habits.
Behavioural change is uncomfortable because it is the process of becoming a slightly different person. In the future, the changed person will react differently to what happens to him or her. We should not expect such change to be achieved easily. Motivation, know-how, and support are necessary. Making intelligent use of this understanding presents an opportunity to improve training effectiveness substantially. Here are four definite steps that lead to better results.
- Create a set of definitions that describe the competencies and the underlying skills that the company's salespeople should master. See an example competency model here. People want to know where they stand and how they can improve their circumstances. Those who know exactly what is expected of them and how well they are performing against clearly defined standards are much more likely to leverage learning opportunities.
- Consult with salespeople individually to identify how well they comply with the defined competencies. Increase awareness about any shortcomings and discuss what they can do to change. Those who are meeting or exceeding targets may ignore this process. Any salesperson whose performance is below target will be motivated to demonstrate compliance with the defined competencies. A greater proportion will recognise their need to develop better skills and habits, increasing anticipative or active participation in sales training courses and learning opportunities.
- Ensure that all learning interventions are presented in an interesting and effective manner. A coach or trainer must engage learners on an emotional level by connecting material with their real world experiences. He or she must prove the value of the skills, principles, and habits being taught. In addition, participants must be given an opportunity to experiment and practice with new learning in a safe environment.
- Provide follow up support in the form of regular personal development goal setting or coaching meetings. This will help participants incorporate what they have learnt into their normal behaviour. Athletes who have a good coach develop faster and achieve more than those without. Ongoing learning support from a manager, coach, or mentor helps prevent learners from falling back into their old and comfortable ways of doing things.
Appraisal systems are designed to fulfil the function of guiding self-development but an annual review is almost useless as a learning support mechanism. Sales managers have frequent one-on-one meetings with the those in their teams but usually these meetings are focused on getting short-term results rather than on self-development support. It may be necessary to arrange coaching or mentoring support from other people, either inside or outside an organisation.
Realizing a return on a sales training investment depends treating it as a project or process rather than an event or intervention. Like all good investments, success lies in the forethought, planning, and preparation.
Article by Clive Miller
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