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The Way I See It… The Training Imperative for Sales


Gary Perkins director of CRM reseller, marketing answers and solutions explains how an effective training programme can dictate the success or failure of a sales team.

It’s not that sales directors are unaware of the importance of training according to the 2004 SCL sales director survey, 75% say that if they don’t invest in staff training, they’ll lose market share so why is it that 65% of them allocate less than six days a year to training?

It seems senior managers have failed to recognise how the technology they have already invested in can be used to further the skills of their staff. Having spent almost ten years involved in selling and implementing various mid-market customer relationship management (CRM) systems for over 400 companies of all sizes, I find it amazing that it is still relatively uncommon for sales directors to look at how they might exploit their own CRM systems to improve their teams’ selling skills.

Usually, when CRM systems are installed, what training there is goes little beyond ‘how to use the system’. But in fact readily available e-learning technology can extensively develop team skills for a fraction of the investment involved in implementing these systems.

There seems to be a resistance within the sales world to the adoption of e-learning, even when such technology is widespread in other departments. While in my numerous conversations with sales training companies over the years, many have expressed a desire to add an e-learning element to their portfolio of courses, their clients seem more reluctant to embrace this new technology.

This is all the more surprising considering what blended learning can offer. With e-learning technology, each delegate can be tracked, measured and benchmarked over a period of time, to an extent that is impossible to obtain with traditional methods.

This means no more hiding at the back of the class! It also means that training can be focused and tailored to the individual, that changes in skills and behaviour can be followed over time, and, crucially, that sales directors can closely monitor their teams’ developing performance.

These measurement possibilities were demonstrated on a recent blended e-learning course by Alan Newbury, a sales trainer for Accelerated Personal Performance. After analysing the performance of sales individuals, Alan found that there was a clear need to build up a better focus on the customers requirements early in the sales process. He also identified other key areas notably the need for additional negotiating training for certain delegates that needed significant attention.

This example supports the argument that training has a positive impact on company performance an argument backed up by the SCL survey, which showed that sales directors considered training as key to maintaining a competitive advantage.

Sales companies are operating in increasingly competitive markets where the difference between products, services and companies is getting smaller and smaller, and strengths and unique selling points are being marginalised.

The arguments for ensuring that your own sales team is better trained and prepared than the next would appear to be self evident. In the real world, in front of a customer (especially in the world of IT sales) it is often the salespersons own rapport and selling skills that can convince the client that your solutions best fits their needs. This relationship building is critical in ensuring long term business success.

Yet, while sales directors recognise the potential positive impact training can have on company performance, few actually regularly make the investment. What is preventing them?

One obstacle to overcome is sales peoples’ notorious reluctance to undertake long term training, preferring a ‘quick fix’ approach. With training sessions often restricted to one or two day courses, it is almost impossible to affect real behavioural changes.

A further challenge is the perceived cost of e-learning. This is a perception which, in my experience, is unfounded. E-learning costs can be reasonably fixed, and for off the shelf ‘blended learning’ courses of around 15-20 hours of course and off-line time, the cost can work out at less than £1,000 per delegate.

Perhaps the real reason that many sales directors are not investing in sales training software to help them improve sales skills is down to a simple lack of awareness of the actual products that are available? Recalling the famous sales cartoon with the Medieval Knight and the Machine Gun sales man, if you are not aware of this new technology, then you won’t be able to take advantage of it his case, it was too late!

Key points:

• 75% of sales directors say that if they don’t invest in staff training, they’ll lose market share, and yet only 35% of allocate more than six days a year to training
• E-learning courses can be tailored to the individual, and provide unprecedented opportunities for measuring and tracking progress
• The cost of off the shelf ‘blended learning’ courses can work out at less than £1,000 per delegate
• In the ‘real world’ of sales, it is the sales person’s individual rapport and selling skills that leads to business success


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