How To Avoid The Training Trap And Drive Results For Your Organization

The training trap is real…and ends up costing your organization a lot of time and money without ever delivering the desired results. I know this because I spent the past several months discussing this with a lot of talented executives and I have lived it throughout my career. It can also damage your credibility within your organization. In this post I’m going to talk about why training fails and what we can do to better ensure all our success.

Here’s the pattern I have observed over the past years:

A company wants to increase sales for an existing product they believe is under-performing, or they want to launch a new product they think can grab market share.

They invest in a big training and education campaign to get their salesforce up to speed on all the right talking points. They meet at an exotic location, eat well, have some fun and train. Some key people attend, and others cannot. The campaign launches and the entire sales team is fired the hell up to sell, sell, sell. High fives all around. Now, the executives go back and wait for the sales to roll in.

And, for a time, the sales do come in.

But after a few months, the numbers aren’t looking so good. Sales begin to level off. Sometimes even drifting back to where they were prior to the launch of the training program! A closer look at the data points to only a few sales people responsible for moving most of the product. We are back to our 80/20 rule with a few top performers bringing the lion’s share of sales. Emails go out, calls get made. Incentives are put in place to try and get more team members selling. But it’s not enough.

A year goes by…two years. But all the time, energy, effort, and training haven’t paid off. What went wrong?

·     The training information was solid.

·     Most of the sales force went through the program.

·     Incentives were put in place to put more cash in the sales team pockets.

And yet, the payoff wasn’t there.

Over the course of my career, I’ve seen this play out time and time again. And, unfortunately, I believe this is what is going to happen with Nissan as they attempt to push their full-size Titan pickup.

I came across this article recently and read with interest the approach to try and push this product line. According to the article, “dealers really need the instruction,” says Tim Hill, owner of Hill Nissan in Winter Haven, Florida and chairman of the Nissan National Dealer Advisory Board.

He’s right! The team selling the Titan pickups have their work cut out for them. Ford, Dodge and Chevy have a strong product and more history in the space. These other trucks come at a lower price point. So, given all of this, training is going to be critical. When a customer comes into the dealership the sales team will need to have their talking points ready to go and be able to close the deal.

They are going to know the differences between the diesel and gas engines. Long beds vs. short and all the various configurations. Including any and all new cab features. And they will need to be able to compare this to the competition to shape a compelling story and close the deal. Oh, and by the way…that’s just one product. Nissan has a full range of cars and SUVs that also require in-depth product knowledge and that also need to move off the lot. Let’s not forget all various promotions and financing.

My hypothetical company and potentially the team of Nissan dealers have gotten caught in the Training Trap. The belief that training is enough to drive sales. But in my experience – it’s not. It’s just the start.

Training without sales enablement is not enough

A training product, no matter how good the material, no matter how strong the incentives, in today’s world, won’t provide the additional support that’s needed. Today what’s required is training + sales enablement for retention and conversion, continuous education, and feedback to management.

So, what is Sales Enablement? 

Over the past few years, sales enablement is becoming a hot topic, especially in the B2B space. Moreover, there are a lot of different definitions as to what it is and what it can do for your organization. For me, sales enablement is simply:

The support for your sales force that comes in after training is over.

Training is critical but the problem many have is they are holding on to an outdated idea. They believe training is the finish line. The end of the process. They are wrong.

In today’s hyper-competitive, product saturated, information overloaded world training is not enough. It’s one element but it can’t stand alone. It needs additional support and that is where sales enablement comes into play. It provides access to critical product information, incentives, and promotions that can move a customer through the sales funnel and seal the deal.

25 plus years ago, when I first got into the sales and product development profession the world was a much different place. Back then training was enough because products didn’t change all that much from year-to-year. And there wasn’t the number of new product launches. Most were able to keep up.

Fast forward and we are all inundated with information. The average office worker receives 121 emails a day. That’s nearly 30,000 per year. And that’s the average. Add to the mix, the number of text messages, and phone calls and you can see my point. Technology has exploded making aspects of our world better, but it has come with a price. Information overload.

And the pace of change, the number of messages, the amount of information coming at us each day is going to continue to go up. Which is exactly why organizations need to change the way they are thinking about educating and keeping their sales force educated.

Unless your sales team is able to put their “new knowledge” into practice almost immediately, that knowledge will be gone. In fact, up to 75% will be forgotten or misremembered within days! See Ebbinghaus’s Forgetting Curve for more on this topic).

Let that number sink in for a minute.

75% of the training will be forgotten or misremembered within days! Still wondering why your training campaign didn’t pay off?

Here are the 4 things sales enablement can do for your organization. 

 1.    Easy access to critical selling information. Your sales force needs to quickly and efficiently be able to get at the information that can help them answer questions and/or demonstrate facts about your product. That means anytime and anywhere access to information across desktop, tablet, and smartphone. This is no longer a nice to have feature. This is a must-have in today’s world. And the sales force that has this ability is going to close more business.

2.    You’ll create a winning sales team vs. a few rock stars: In the past what I’ve observed is training campaigns have a tendency to create a few shining stars within the organization. And those shining stars, more often than not, are already the star sales people. They are the ones already at the top of the sales chart month after month and they get most of the attention and most of the additional training to help keep them there. Unfortunately, the productivity from those few standouts isn’t enough. Every team member in the boat needs to be performing in order to make a difference. Let’s go back to the Nissan dealers. My bet is after the training campaign there will be a few dealers that rocket to the top of the list. I’m also betting those are the same dealers that were there before the campaign ever launched. Sales enablement allows more access to the information required to help a prospect throughout the journey. And this will get more people selling your product.

3.    A clear picture of what materials your sales force is using. Every year marketing departments churn out millions of dollars’ worth of content. Pamphlets, flyers, brochures, you name it. But what stuff is helpful and works…and what stuff never sees the light of day? The answer: No one knows. Let’s go a step further. Research has shown that on average reps are using more than 17 pieces of content to move a customer through the selling journey. Let me now ask you a question. What type of pieces are needed to start a conversation vs. what’s needed to finalize the sale? Again, no one knows. But armed with that knowledge consider how much more effective your sales team would be and how many dollars you could save by letting go of the stuff that doesn’t help your team or your customers.

4.    Sales enablement helps to facilitate peer-to-peer training:  One of the most important ways people learn is through peer-to-peer instruction. If I’m able to match someone that is selling Titan pickups for example with someone that isn’t…I’m going to create two strong sales reps. And a good sales enablement platform allows this kind of interaction to occur and in many different forms. Video, text, and audio. Now your star players can be used to help train more reps, creating a cycle of learning that will lead to more profits.

 Sure, there’s more sales enablement can do for your business and if you are interested in discussing, please feel free to connect with me. And as for Nissan…who knows maybe I’m wrong. Maybe they have figured out how to avoid the training trap and have a sales enablement program ready to go. If there’s anyone reading this post and connected to the campaign I would love to hear how things turned out.

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