August 20th, 2012

Aligning Sales Training with Sales Strategy

Sales Training

I recently read two alarming statistics that should be a wake-up call for sales leaders — and for the Learning and Development professionals they rely on to keep their sales teams well tuned and well trained.

The first comes from a McKinsey Quarterly article titled “Getting More from Your Training Programs”:

  • Just 25% of survey respondents said that their training programs measurably improved business performance.

Twenty-five percent? That means that 75% of the senior managers McKinsey surveyed believe that their training programs fail to contribute to the success of the business. That’s an unacceptable ROI by any measure, especially considering the money spent, time away from the job, and missed opportunities.

The second statistic comes from a study by the Executive Board’s Corporate Leadership Council:

  • More than half of line managers believe that shutting down the L&D function would have no impact on employee performance.

More than 50% see no value at all in L&D? This is serious and damning news, and not only for those in L&D whose budgets and jobs are at stake. It’s a big problem for sales leaders who are looking for ways to improve the performance of their sales teams … to increase sales effectiveness … and to drive business results.

What’s up with that?

Most L&D departments have never worked harder or had more learning tools and technologies available. So, where is the disconnect between capability and impact? I see two root causes.

1)     Poor alignment to the sales strategy

For too long, far too many training departments have become mere order takers, being reactive to requests for training from sales leaders because … well, isn’t some sort of training part of the job? How often do you, as a sales leader, sit down with your L&D colleagues to discuss your strategy, your goals, the metrics you want to measure?

For too long, sales leaders have thought of training as the solution to every kind of performance problem. Sometimes it is, but not always. If there’s a lack of knowledge or new skills to be acquired, training can certainly do the trick. But training can be pointless if the underlying issue is unclear expectations, inadequate feedback, poor motivation, or any of the host of other problems that training won’t fix.

Even when training is appropriate, if there isn’t a clear understanding of the real business needs — if there’s no alignment with sales strategy — then don’t be disappointed when you don’t get the results you want. Your L&D colleagues may be experts in Industrial and Organizational Psychology, they may design the most elegant training programs, but if you don’t collaborate with them and share your vision and strategy, they can only guess as to the business outcomes you need to achieve.

2)     Adopting a “training as an event” mentality

An event mentality for training is once-and-done thinking. “My Eastern region sales guy is weak on closing, so I’ll send him for training and he’ll come back cured.” Good luck with that.

And what about the Eastern region sales guy? He gets a certificate of completion at the close of his latest training class. “Done!,” he thinks, that box is checked. But those certificates can have a negative effect, reinforcing the paradigm that once someone finishes class — once the event is over — they have fulfilled their responsibilities.

The truth is that the real work begins when the class ends. And a big part of learning sustainment involves the sales leader. Sustainment can’t be an afterthought; it has to be designed into the training. And all interactions between sales leaders and their teams should reflect the language, the processes, and the metrics from the training. These elements need to be embedded in the day-to-day workflow and in performance assessments.

What’s a sales leader to do?

Aligning sales training with sales strategy, and getting an optimum return on your investment in people, can be as simple as following these few steps:

  • Share your business needs, strategy, and goals with your L&D colleagues.
  • Make sure your L&D colleagues understand the linkage between the training activity and the strategic initiative it supports.
  • Make sure that training is the appropriate solution to the problem.
  • Manage learning as a change process — one that starts before and extends long after the training itself.
  • Recognize that your L&D colleagues have special expertise that can be a valuable resource to help you achieve your objectives.

Like the sales process itself, alignment in training requires sales leaders to plan for and positively influence the change they want to see in their teams. Either they are part of the solution or they are part of the problem.

New Sales Training Support Tool

Richardson: Sales Training and Sales Strategy Execution – helping leaders prepare their organization to execute sales strategies and achieve business objectives.

About The Author: Dario Priolo

As Chief Strategy Officer, Dario Priolo is responsible for driving Richardson’s market, product, and corporate strategy and planning — sharing critical insights with clients to help them win in today’s changing market place. Dario gathers intelligence and market and customer knowledge to: drive Richardson’s innovation; ensure that Richardson offers the best and most relevant solutions for clients that exceed client satisfaction; and raise awareness of Richardson’s extensive capabilities with sales and business leaders.

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3 Responses to “Aligning Sales Training with Sales Strategy”

  1. August 20, 2012 at 11:07 am, Dan Heckman said:

    Dario, I spent a couple of years developing and deploying the Richardson solutions at Juniper Networks to only have new execs come in and stop the programs. Do you have examples of ANY companies who have stayed with the strategy described above with specific results? Meaning a company who has COMPLETELY adopted something and stayed with it over the long haul, modified as the market required and demonstrated growth and results that was predictable?


  2. Dario Priolo

    August 21, 2012 at 7:56 pm, Dario Priolo said:

    Hi Dan, great to hear from you. Churn at the top definitely creates challenges. We see this more often than we’d like, and we feel your pain. However, we do have many long standing clients that we believe do things right. We would be pleased to share some specific examples with you.


  3. August 29, 2012 at 8:10 am, Henrik said:

    I agree on all accounts on what you’ve written here! This is similar to what the Kirkpatricks say in their modern version of the 4 levels of measuring. Connect with the strategy and sought results first before you develop any training. The training development is actually quite simple when you know what results, drivers, behaviors are needed…


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