Death by Training

When sales reps leave engaging training sessions, they tend to be energized and enthusiastic. Likely as not, when you check back 6 months or even 6 weeks later, the training has died a premature death. In fact many reps have not even attempted to implement the learnings at all. And those who may have started typically wind up reverting back to doing things (selling) the way they always did. It’s as if the sales training never happened—that’s where death by training comes into play. There’s a big disconnect between when the training was delivered and what happens afterward.

One of the experts in this field, Dr. Robert O. Brinkerhoff, estimates that the percentage of learners who apply the training after an event and get some positive results may be as low as 20%. If this is true, and I have no reason to doubt this, that means that as much of 80% of the reps who attended the training received virtually little or no benefit.

In my mind, there’s a big difference between providing the training at an event and delivering training as a process. After all, we human beings share natural characteristics in terms of how we learn. Out of sight and out of mind seems to be our mantra. To keep the learning alive, you need to view the training as a long term initiative. In fact, you need a strategic plan not only on how and what to train but how to keep those learnings alive—or else you may as well not bother to conduct the training at all.

I’d like to emphasize that long term approach. If you want your sales force to be more effective in selling and expose them to training, the ground work needs to be laid before they even leave for the training event. From adult learning principles we know that adults cannot learn something new and then apply those concepts at the same time. That is why pre-work is so important.  Sales reps need to be exposed to the concepts so that they can apply these foundational ideas during the training session. It is in applying the learnings that they come alive.

As humans, we need continuous exposure and constant reinforcement of the learnings to make them stick. This requires a multi-prong strategy. To begin with, you need to identify and then develop a cadre of experts who can provide that essential internal expertise. You cannot rely on an external training company alone. These internal change agents can help ensure these concepts and their proper application become an internal capability over time. This group needs its own training track and also requires access to subject matter experts on a routine basis to develop their mastery.

In addition to these internal subject matter experts, you need to develop your first line managers. Keeping the sales managers ahead of the capability curve is crucial. This means consistent, routine and persistent exposure to subject matter experts who will plan and schedule their learning. It means that these first line managers will be available to help their reps as needed to learn the nuances of the new skills. This exposure will enable sales managers to get actionable ideas about how to teach these concepts to experienced sales professionals. Making certain that those precious coaching and teaching moments that happen in the field around this initiative are optimized is the single most important activity that will guarantee success or portend failure.

Exposure to the key concepts from the initial training needs to be planned, for at least 12 months after the initial training session. This continuous exposure is best done once a month and is designed to keep the concepts and the conversation alive. This drives home the reality that the training is not the flavor of the month. For the immediate 6 months post training this reinforcement and continual exposure to the learnings is best facilitated by people with true mastery of the material who can make the concepts come alive with real examples. In a perfect world the sales manager gets the additional exposure first each month…to understand and internalize what it means and how to present it. Only then can the learnings be shared with their sales representatives following a structured lesson.

All of these factors are crucial to ensuring that the investment in training is not lost. But there are other elements that are equally as critical to the successful implementation of training—and I’ll address these in next week’s blog.

If you are interested in learning more, click here to access my white paper: The 7 Critical Elements of a Follow-Through Plan: Leading to Skill Acquisition and Instinctive Sales Behavior.

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