In our business, we are well aware of the challenge that Learning and Development professionals face when working with sales or line-of-business leaders on growth initiatives. Sales training is often outside of the typical learning professional’s comfort zone because most have never lead sales teams or carried a bag — or haven’t done so recently. While they know that they shouldn’t be “order takers,” they end up in these situations because they don’t know to push back without ending up losing credibility or putting themselves in a political quagmire.
We recently completed two studies. The first, with Trainingindustry.com, surveyed L&D leaders to better understand what they needed from sales leadership to support them better. The second, with SellingPower magazine, surveyed sales leaders to better understand how L&D could support them better. The research identified six factors to improve the outcome of sales training and transformation initiatives:
- Link training to business strategy
- Establish proper roles and responsibilities
- Clarify goals and metrics, and measure the impact
- Regular and open communication
- Customize content for maximum relevance
- Invest in reinforcement to sustain training impact
What was surprising about the research was that the findings weren’t surprising at all! These are all sound best practices that you would think organizations would follow. What was surprising was that these weren’t getting done. When we drilled deeper to understand why this was the case, we discovered that often, sale and L&D are like two ships passing in the dark. Sales leaders are not experts in training and often don’t know what to ask of their L&D counterparts, and L&D professionals are not sales experts and are often too timid to ask sales the right questions to arrive at the best possible solution.
So, what’s an L&D professional to do? For those who find themselves on the receiving end of a directive from sales leadership, we recommend they ask a few straightforward questions to open a dialogue with their sales leader. This will help the sales leader come to the realization themselves for what’s really necessary for a successful initiative.
At a minimum, the L&D professionals must get clarity on the following questions:
1) Link training to business strategy
- What in the business is driving the need?
- How do you expect the training to help meet the need?
- Is training sufficient to achieve the objective?
2) Establish proper roles and responsibilities
- Who in the business owns the initiative?
- Do they know what they need to do to lead the change effort?
- Do their managers know what they need to do to sustain the change effort?
3) Clarify goals and metrics, and measure the impact
- What leading KPIs will the training impact?
- How will we get the data to report the metrics?
4) Regular and open communication
- What time works best for a weekly status call?
5) Customize content for maximum relevance
- What is unique to our company and situation that should be reflected in the training?
6) Invest in reinforcement to sustain training impact
- Have you thought about other activities and tools to sustain the change effort?
- Have you allocated sufficient budget to fund these activities?