sales-training-growth-strategyIt’s estimated that $20 billion is spent on sales training annually in the US, yet 55% of sales reps don’t have effective skills to succeed.* Does this staggering low result mean sales training is a waste of money, time, and energy? No! Not when sales training is a part of your sales strategy rather than just a line item in your budget.

I’m surprised at how often sales training and ongoing, proactive investment in a company’s most important assets – their people – is one of the first items cut when sales are down, margins are squeezed, or the economy is lagging.

Effective training is key in developing and aiding your most expensive asset – your people – to reach company objectives. If they can’t sell at the top level, your company doesn’t grow. It’s really that simple.

Lack of Investing in Your Salesforce is Costly

Some companies have it all wrong. They invest heavily in product development, marketing, and recruitment, but not in their current salesforce… especially when times are tough. Yet that cost cutting hurts topline and bottom line. Harvard Business Review found that the companies who invested in their people came out 9% higher than their competitors after the most recent recession.

From personal experience, our clients who immediately cut all their training initiatives in late 2008 have fared worse than others who trimmed but didn’t cut training. Several have been acquired in the last five years and many find it a struggle to reignite a high performance culture from a team that feels taken advantage of and overworked and are ripe for the picking by their competitors.

Why Sales Training is Important to Growth Strategy

Growth. Who doesn’t have that as part of their company objectives? To achieve consistent growth and tap into the expertise, talent, and energy of your salesforce, training and development must be part of your growth strategy. There are many, many benefits of sales training and development when it’s part of an organizations strategy and incorporated into sales process, recruitment, onboarding, and retention:

  1. Increase in sales and profits. Sales training done right does increase sales in the short and long-term. HR Magazine reports that companies investing $1,500 or more per employee per year on training average 24 percent higher profit margins than companies with lower yearly training investments.
  2. Reduced onboarding ramp-up time. When the training plan includes best practices sharing and documenting resources for your sales playbook, it removes trial and error and allows new people to make sales faster.
  3. Lightened load for sales managers. Sales managers have many responsibilities and effective training plans reduce the time and energy needed to get their team productive.
  4. Kicks the competition out of the way. Sales teams who are effective and relevant in the market are able to differentiate the company and solution to prospects.
  5. Creates a culture of performance. Clear expectations and standards with measurement and transparency of results are key to a high performing sales culture. A consistent focus on development allows you to build a team of high performers.
  6. Attracts and keeps all-star salespeople. High performers want to stay on top. The right development opportunities show you are invested in their success. The 100 Best Companies to Work have employee development as a top strategic priority. The average company spends $10-15,000 hiring a sales rep; not nearly as much is spent to ensure they have the right skills and tools to succeed.

Any Training is Not Good Training

Training may not be given its place at the strategy level because so many companies get it wrong. They make big mistakes in selecting and implementing the right sales course and then blame the training.

  • Offering what they “think” is needed versus knowing what will really increase sales. It’s a huge mistake to jump into a training initiative without due diligence to know what is already working, and what, when strengthened, will increase sales. Not including an objective evaluation before starting a training initiative is like the Married at First Sight show. (the success of those couples is less than 10%.)
  • Flavor of the month. Without alignment to strategy, style, and philosophy of your company, training isn’t effective.
  • The annual dunk. It’s time for the annual sales meeting and a committee or the sales leader is scrambling 30 days before it to include “some sort of training” for their team. I get at least one call a week wondering if we can come in and wave the magic wand for 2 or 3 hours. Like that works.
  • Lack of manager involvement, follow through, and buy-in. When training is given to the team from HR or the President/Owner without the manager’s full commitment, it doesn’t work. When a leader tells me the training is for “their people” and they’ll just observe the process, I know it won’t be as effective.

The Components of Effective Sales Training

To ensure your precious dollars spent and time of your salespeople out of the field pay off, include these components in your sales training initiative:

  1. Objective evaluation of existing skills, attitudes, strategies and systems. Know what is working and what is not to prioritize efforts and budget.
  2. Manager inclusion and development. Involve the managers early and ensure there is opportunity for them to strengthen coaching, leadership, communication, and personal selling skills as well. It’s time to stop the, “My people need to be fixed, I’ll just watch” mentality toward training.
  3. Clear whys, whats, and hows incorporated throughout the training. Why should they do something different, what they should focus on matched to your sales process, and then how to do it efficiently and effectively. We find frameworks for how to accomplish specific actions are easier to adopt, and then adapt, to the sales rep’s own style, than specific word-for-word “must do’s” in each sales situation.
  4. Reinforcement of skills, behaviors, successes, and activity. Very little long-term growth comes from one-time training. The skills need to be reinforced in a myriad of ways: coaching, group feedback, observations, testing, and practice.
  5. Accountability and transparency. Clear expectations on action with the skills and tools is necessary with specific goals identified per individual provide personal accountability to use what is offered.
  6. Mixed delivery of information and reinforcement. Class time, virtual, group, individual, written, hands-on, and other modes of providing information and feedback are necessary to reach the different learning styles.
  7. Practice time. While role-plays have their place, there are many other ways to practice selling with video, phone recordings, group feedback from real calls, etc.
  8. Measurement. Start with a baseline for the basic competencies and behaviors. Then show their progress.
  9. Relevancy to your company and selling environment. The delivery of the information and activities to make it their own ensure the reps will use what you offer. Verify the philosophy and approach to selling matches how you expect the reps to sell. For example, if your approach is collaborative selling, bringing in the challenger sales methodology will be met with resistance or confusion.

If your sales team’s performance is important to meeting your company’s sales and growth objectives, ensure any sales training, development opportunities, and process are aligned with corporate strategy. The ROI will follow.

*Source ASTD and Caliper Group and Objective Management Group

If you are ready to explore whether effective sales training is a piece you are missing in your strategy for company growth, schedule a 30-minute no-obligation meeting with Nancy Bleeke

4 Success Drivers You Need to Know...and Grow


How do you strengthen this "Will" among your sales associates? How does the lack of drive impact your daily life? I discussed this and so much more on a recent virtual training event you can access below. It's valuable information for any business leader who needs to maximize performance of their people to grow their company.

Click here to access the replay.