July 15th, 2013

Sales Training Programs: Putting the A back in KSA

Sales Training Programs

Sales Training Programs: Putting the A back in KSA

“Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.” 
~ Lou Holtz

Pressure Creates Diamonds

Corporate Learning and Development (L&D) departments are under pressure to produce results. This is especially true with sales training programs. Training budgets are often one of the first to get cut when times are tough and budgets are scrutinized.  While the number of L&D departments that have fully made the transition from training to a performance focus is still less than might be expected, there is certainly a welcome and growing focus on delivering Return on Expectation or ROI, changing behaviors, tying training to business objectives, and positively impacting top-and bottom-line business results.

You won’t ever hear me complain about a focus on skills and behaviors, especially in classroom training for sales training programs.  In fact, I may actually clap or cheer whenever I hear that training is part of a larger change effort, with full-fledged learning systems and transfer plans, and especially change leadership and change management efforts. I encourage prework for knowledge transfer, using e-learning and other asynchronous methods as well as synchronous virtual instructor-led-training (vILT), prior to classroom training. This just makes sense as part of an overall learning system (making learning a process, not an event).

And Diamonds are Multi-faceted

Given all this, I understand the prioritization and focus on skills and behaviors in a classroom setting. I support it, applaud it, and would like to see more of it in our sales training programs. I want to encourage you not to forget an important element of learning that I see many of us shying away from today. Yes, I’m talking about the A in KSA… which to me, still means “knowledge, skills and attitude.”

Note: To be clear, KSA was originally “knowledge, skills, and attitude” and to some, now refers to “knowledge, skills, and abilities.” For a brief but interesting treatise on KSA in learning literature, visit Don Clark’s site at http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/hrd/history/KSA.html.

Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.

~ Zig Ziglar

I’m sticking with attitude. Even ibstpi® defines a competency as “an integrated set of skills, knowledge, and attitudes that enables one to effectively perform the activities of a given occupation or function to the standards expected in employment.”

Without writing an academic dissertation or debating the nuances of various schools of thought, it’s also generally accepted that one’s beliefs and values lead to the formation of attitudes, which generate emotions (the affective domain), which often determine actions and behaviors (or at least what we decide to act on). As I’ve often joked, we do our best to hire someone for their knowledge and skills, but the whole person shows up at work. To a large degree, attitude and motivation determine our choices, course of action, and success.

If that is the case, even in our skills- and behavior-focused training efforts, we should continue to attempt to positively influence attitude, shouldn’t we? I still believe the answer is “yes.”

How you think when you lose determines how long it will be until you win.

~ Gilbert K. Chesterton

In the Beginning…

In the sales training profession, there’s an intriguing division of what some consider “old school” and “new school.” (These are not my terms, nor is “old school” necessarily meant derisively in this post.) The old-school approach often targeted individual reps that sought to improve their success. Very often, the primary focus in these sales training programs was on sales techniques. But what the trainers and advocates also did, usually quite well, was share the mindset of top performers and how to emulate them. Much of that content was about influencing attitude and creating motivation.

I have no desire to return to the days when we thought “Always Be Closing” was good advice and approached sales as an art, rather than a science and a business discipline. But when people are involved, and you want them engaged, you still want their “hearts and minds” to follow you. To get them to learn and adopt new behaviors or earn their discretionary effort, you need to have their full buy-in.

Funny, but when you think about it that way, persuasion and influence seem required for both selling and training, don’t they?

So, how do we do this?

Keep the Baby; Toss the Bathwater

Aristotle had it right with Ethos, Logos and Pathos, and this early group of sales trainers and motivators certainly “got it” as well, using the same methods. (I’ll write more on Aristotle’s rhetoric in a future post on influence.)

Many of your best instructors probably do this naturally, too, but here’s some advice from the Department of Educational Psychology and Instructional Technology, University of Georgia:

“The trick with designing the ideal persuasive message is that it has to be of such quality that the recipients’ own cognitive responses to it are numerous as well as favorable” (Zimbardo & Leippe, 1991, p. 182). For example, studies (e.g., Allison, 1966; Wade and Pool, 1983; Bage, 1997) have found that persuasive videos were more likely to produce attitude change when post-viewing discussions were held. If the instructional unit begins with an emphasis on cognitive outcomes, continues with the persuasive media message, and concludes with a discussion session, then students will be challenged with several opportunities to develop and express their own cognitive responses to the information presented. Each phase of the instruction should present “plausible, important messages with new information [in order to] provoke more cognitions and hence increase attitude change” (Zimbardo & Leippe, 1991, p. 150). Thus, the persuasive component should not merely restate the information provided earlier, but should elaborate and expand upon it.

This is a common design technique for general learning, but did you realize you could also use it to purposefully help shape attitude about what’s being learned?

Put the A in KSA for Your Sales Training Programs

Here are some other ideas that might help:

  • In addition to teaching “what to do” and “how to” do a task, ensure participants understand the “why” behind it
  • Share relevant studies or supporting research when possible
  • Provide demonstrations, of course, but also have examples of real-world results Use testimonials or support from respected peers, top producers and authority figures
  • Avoid defensive reactions if participants express skepticism
  • Appeal to a larger purpose
  • During all of the above, involve your learners in the discussion, encourage engagement, sharing, and story-telling – bring in their experience and perspectives
  • Ensure frontline managers buy-in and support the ideas/training, so that they can continue the attitude and behavior shaping after the training

These suggestions are proven, but human behavior is complex. You can help participants open their minds and change attitudes during training. I’ve seen it. At the same time, it’s also known that emotion follows action, so don’t give up on the participants you may not be able to reach or influence during training. Occasionally, people begin to feel differently about something after they try it or start doing it. This is another reason why the post-training support and coaching from managers is so important.

Hopefully, this post reminded you of the importance of shaping and influencing attitudes during your sales training programs, as well as teaching skills and behaviors. Perhaps it sparked some thoughts about how you might do that. Or, perhaps you feel differently. In either case, I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts in the comments. Just be sure to have a good attitude. 😉

Life’s battles don’t always go to the strongest or fastest; sooner or later those who win are those who think they can.

~ Vince Lombardi

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About The Author: Mike Kunkle

Mike Kunkle is Richardson's Director of Product Development. Bringing over 25 years of experience in the sales profession, Mr. Kunkle is a training and organizational effectiveness leader with special expertise in sales force transformation. After his initial years on the front line in sales and sales management, he has spent the past 16 years as a corporate director or consultant, leading departments and projects with one purpose — to improve sales results. He led major sales optimization efforts in both B2B and B2C environments, producing significant results for both employers and clients.

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7 Responses to “Sales Training Programs: Putting the A back in KSA”

  1. July 15, 2013 at 10:26 am, Leanne Hoagland-Smith said:

    One of my coaches, David Herdlinger took KSA to the next level with the KASH Box. For without consistent habit which are in essence attitudes of behaviors, even the best attitudes will fail. Within my practice I actually start with the beliefs which may have one or more attitudes embedded within them. Those beliefs drive the actions (behaviors) that generate the results.

    Back in the late 1970’s Linda Martin (founder of Resource Associates Corporation) established a development and learning firm with an entire process around Attitudes, Skills Knowledge coupled with written goals giving positive behavior changes leading to improved results.

    I could not agree with you more Mike about how critical attitudes are. What I share with my clients is the question to be answered “Is not do they know it, but do they want to do it?” Great post, thanks


    • Mike Kunkle

      July 15, 2013 at 10:50 am, Mike Kunkle said:

      Thanks for weighing in, Leanne. Great perspective, as always. I’m glad you added the KASH Box, especially, but appreciate the reminder about RAC, too.

      For our readers, KASH = Knowledge, Attitudes, Skills and Habits. Herdlinger’s premise was that organizations pour money into the KS boxes, but ignore the AH boxes, which are required for real change to occur.


  2. July 15, 2013 at 12:25 pm, Brian MacIver said:

    “When viewing the “A” from the performance side of training, then perhaps “abilities” makes more sense. However, when viewing the “A” from the strategy side, then perhaps “attitude” works better.”

    Simplify it by using A for “Activity”.
    Ability is K+S, but they still don’t do it!
    K= knows how to do it
    S=is able to do it
    A=does do it

    “Activity” measure how often they do it!


    • Mike Kunkle

      July 15, 2013 at 12:46 pm, Mike Kunkle said:

      Hey Brian, good to hear from you! Interesting differentiation (performance side, strategy side). I couldn’t agree more with the “knows how, is able, and does do it.” These certainly are the building blocks of judging and predicting performance. And I’m a big fan of measuring the activity that you know (evidence-based, right?) produces results. Harking back to Leanne’s comment, Activity fuels Habit, as well. I’m still a fan of Attitude (and tapping into belief systems), when trying to get someone to adopt a new behavior, but I like your thought process and appreciate you adding to the discussion.


  3. July 16, 2013 at 9:52 am, Michael Harris said:

    I think attitude scares business people. In a world in constant change- things are either growing or dying- people crave certainty. Chaos scares people, so when they see a new pattern, they tell themselves a cause and effect story. They do this so that they feel they can then predict it; otherwise, it could whack them when they least expect it. So because business swims in a sea of uncertainty, businesspeople crave certainty, and that’s why I believe that sales training has gone down the scientific road. And yet after 30-years of scientific sales training, and all of the sales methodologies, we’re still fighting the 80/20 rule where 80% of the business is done by 20% of the salespeople. And despite this failure, we still want to believe that sales can be boiled down to a process that can be controlled. Attitude, however, is one of those patterns that scares people, because it’s emotional and that’s something that we don’t feel that we can control. It’s considered one of those flakey skills. But sooner or later, we’ll have to accept that people are not computers, and that we can’t just appeal to the rider of the elephant (rational mind), but that we also have to persuade the elephant (emotional subconscious mind). The rider is in control as long as the elephant doesn’t care where it’s going, but the rider can’t will the elephant to go where it doesn’t want to go. That’s where I think attitude comes in.


    • Mike Kunkle

      July 16, 2013 at 6:16 pm, Mike Kunkle said:

      Thanks for the great comment, Michael! I think you’re exactly right about attitude scaring business people. Some of it is partly justified. Saying someone has a “bad attitude” is a cop-out and pretty poor feedback, and for years, HR leaders have been trying to get front-line managers to give better behavioral feedback: “When you sigh audibly and roll your eyes like that, I feel like you’re dismissing my point of view, and others have shared this with me as well.” So, I do get the hesitancy to bring up the “A-word.” Even done well, it’s certainly a messier and less objective conversation than, “You missed your numbers again this month.” (I once worked in an organization where, when I was hired, that was actually considered coaching: “You missed your numbers this month. If you don’t hit X next month, you’ll be written up.”) What’s odder to me is that many coaches spend their time working more with their weakest performers, where they could have an impact in some cases, but don’t, because they don’t address the whole person by counseling mindset, as well. Ethos, Pathos, Logos, right? (Not suggesting that we hang all day with our weakest performers… just that the time we spend there trying to turn-around those who can be saved, could be better spent.)

      I’m a fan of all that scientific and process stuff. We need to do that stuff organizationally, because great process helps make average and good performers better. I’ve seen the results firsthand, where we bent the 80/20 rule (bent it, not broke it). But you can’t ignore the whole person and expect to influence anyone, or foster change. Otherwise, we can only ride the elephants who want to go. Keeping to the metaphor, I’d rather win-over the largest number of undecided elephants that I can, and leave a smaller number behind. Not much different than your business, right? Great storytelling can make a phenomenal difference.


      • September 03, 2013 at 1:33 pm, Michael Harris said:

        Yes until we can approach the A-word, we can work on the other stuff and make a difference, just not as big as we’d like. I guess we coach the weak performers because management feels they are the easiest to coach, but maybe not the most productive. And yest storytelling can help, but it’s just one of many skills.


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