Many companies assume that investments in training will increase sales productivity. Sales team is on the front line of revenue and profit, it seems intuitive that improving sales skills would have a direct impact on profitability. That assumption, however, has not historically served companies particularly well. Companies waste large amounts of money every year on training implementation by by not conducting thorough training evaluations.
The Inquiry for the Future of Lifelong Learning reported that company annual spend on external company training in the United Kingdom alone is around £2.95 billion per year. Within the training arena, there is a significant and potentially bewildering choice of sales training companies. It’s not difficult to feel a sense of pity for the person in charge of Implementing training.
This article outlines the major reasons why training fails once it has been implemented.
Trying to fix the wrong problem
We see organisations embark on a training initiative without a clear definition of problem they expect to solve. Training is a great tool to help improve skills, but it can’t fix organisational issues like misaligned strategies or ineffective hiring practices. Organisations need a clear definition of why training is needed and what the expected outcomes to define success are.
Learning and development teams should identify current challenges in the organisation that training can work to address, use this as a way of prioritising the training programme and work to align this with the desired outcomes.
The key to ensuring that you buy the laser beam that will solve your problems, rather than a sledgehammer, is asking the right questions before you talk to the market.
Where are your challenges? Are they early cycle in terms of building value in your customers minds? Or even earlier in finding potential customers? Do you suffer from stalled opportunities? Or do you struggle when it comes to negotiating profitable deals? Maybe your problems lie in what you do after the sale. Are you stuck in a rut of phoning customers once a quarter because the customer relationship management tool tells you to?
These are the sort of questions that any sales training provider should be asking you to make sure that you need their help and that that they can give it. If you can ask yourself these questions before you go to market you can refine your search for potential providers.
Identifying the problem and getting sponsorship from business leaders to help solve it is part of the first step but it is crucial to define the desired outcomes that are expected. How will you know if the programme has been successful? How will you measure results?
The key factors are:
Did the participants enjoy the training?
Did they understand the material?
Are they able to apply it?
Will it produce business results?
Including outcome measures in the training design and defining them before the training is underway will ensure the participants receive the most out of the sessions. Utilising surveys, coaching and bench-marking to isolate and measure the desired outcomes will prove if it has been properly implemented.
Without a real implementation method, training can be delivered in a classroom environment and then forgotten as soon as the session is over.
The Men in Black moment
There is a huge risk that, after participating in intensive company training you had significantly invested in, learners will walk out of the classroom and It’s all gone.
Reality bites in many forms. It might be the existing processes that don’t support the new methodology, or the work colleagues who haven’t been through the training and who openly question the new techniques. You might find that people try the new techniques once, full of enthusiasm, and it may shift back into comfortable patterns of behaviour.
In some cases, amnesia can occur because there isn’t sufficient post-course coaching and the management, who are perhaps relieved to have merely ticked the box labelled ‘Invest in staff’ aren’t really that interested in changing sales behaviour long-term.
Practising skills helps change behaviour but measurable post-course coaching in the right culture contributes so much toward skills reinforced and helps resist the urge to revert to the comfort zone.
How do you make sure this doesn’t happen? When you are talking to potential suppliers, ask “How are you going to help us change behaviour in the long term?”
Reasons to change
If you are investing in training on a significant scale, you want the people undertaking it to have the opportunity to both practice the techniques and understand why those new techniques are better than their current practice if you want behaviour change to truly happen
A changed attitude can lead to a behaviour change but it isn’t guaranteed.
Doing something new is often uncomfortable. It feels awkward and the temptation to revert to your comfort zone is strongest when we are first starting out. Ask anyone who has learnt to play the guitar. What drives us is a belief that it will get easier, and that we will get better. Where does that belief come from? It comes from Eric Clapton, Martin Taylor and Jimi Hendrix. In other words, evidence. So, be critical when choosing your training partner. Ask them “Where is the evidence that this training is actually going to change behaviour?”
Neglecting to reinforce the programme
One of the biggest challenges that leads to failed training outcomes is making sure there is ongoing coaching and reinforcement. It doesn’t matter about the quality. Training is more likely to fail if new skills aren’t reinforced on the job.
Training is more than organising courses and hoping something sticks. The various terms people use to describe what should happen after a trainer or training organisation has delivered an event are often treated interchangeably. Sustainability is my favourite. It describes a desirable state, but it doesn’t quite get to the heart of the requirement. What we need is more embedment.
Embedment is a perfectly legitimate term borrowing from structural engineering vocabulary to convey the permanent fixing or embedding of one substance into another, enhancing overall strength.
If the aim of any training intervention is to fix new behaviours permanently, then the process of embedding skills is exactly why business leaders invest in it.
When the time finally comes for learning and development to decide which training programme to implement, they have often lost their sense of the original goal, they get caught up in the detail of implementation planning. They now face more practical or financial concerns and the objective becomes simply to get it done, rather than to get it done well.
If the original motivation for initiating the training was to increase sales by improving observable behaviours, then the outcome must be measured in those terms. The tools used for embedment must support this.
A The most important question to ask at this stage is “What do we want the outcome of this to be, and what are all the elements we’ll need to make it work?”.
If the outcomes were defined at board level, the levers to make it happen must, to some extent, be exercised by those at board level. The key here is timing because business priorities change.
What started out in January as an urgent mandate from the top of the company to make large numbers of employees better at a certain thing has become a distant memory by July when you go back to get your plans signed off, with budget agreed and the organisational implications considered only to find that they’re all busy worrying about other issues.
The answer here is to talk the language of embedment from the day you first undertake to make the project happen, and recruit a champion from the senior leadership team who will stand up for the right of experts to measure behavioural outcomes and who interpret that information back to the other business leaders however uncomfortable the findings might be.
They must be prepared to make it consistently and repeatedly clear to everyone involved that;
That there will be people who need taking away from their day jobs to complete learning tasks before any training room events.
That budget and time will be needed to make sure the learning management system or customer relationship management software can integrate the new digital learning modules or cloud-based post-learning tool-kits.
That the last day of the last classroom training session is probably barely even the midpoint of the overall behaviour change process.
That learning successful behaviours is an endless road on which most of the travellers in the organisation probably haven’t even set out yet, if indeed all the travellers are even part of the organisation at this point.
With that pressure from both sides being applied, the people who live through the behaviour change and the organisation will experience embedment, and the initiative will begin to prove its worth. Then the other favourite and more familiar word, sustainability, becomes possible.
The training isn’t customised to the business
Another reason training programmes fail is that they take an off the shelf approach. While there are fundamental skills and approaches that work across industries, unless the programme is customised and aligned with the business, we find sales professionals resist the programme. They can feel it’s too generic or have a tough time figuring out how to apply the concepts to their specific situation.
By working with managers and their teams the organisation should identify specific exercises and role plays that can be customised for the business. The programme doesn’t need to be built from the group up, but skill application, case studies, role-plays and terminology need to resonate. Identify common challenge areas and then build in scenarios to provide for skill application with live accounts. This will help participants feel like they’re getting real work done. It also helps prepare them to apply the concepts when they get back into the field following training.