New research suggests that training your sales team in-house isn't the best way to get lasting results -- but choosing the right outside partner can be tricky, as well.
Posted Nov 26, 2007
Sales effectiveness research and advisory firm ES Research Group (ESR) today released its 2008 Sales Training Vendor Guide. This second annual study, based on research conducted throughout 2007, reveals that companies using outside sales-training vendors tend to achieve more effectiveness in their sales organizations than those that employ only internal training.
Still, organizations pursuing sales training must be selective, according to ESR's findings. Due to what the research firm calls a beneficially fragmented sales-training industry, only those organizations that choose an appropriate vendor will show significant sustainable productivity.
ESR's 2008 guide adds four training vendors to last year's list, for a total of 19 companies. These were evaluated against a wide range of criteria, and certain commonalities developed. In general, successful sales-training companies:
These factors combine to make professional training vendors a very attractive option for sales organizations, especially where business processes and analytics are concerned. "Sales lags most other departments, if not all, in terms of implementing processes and measurement," says Dave Stein, ESR's chief executive officer. "Salespeople are ready, willing, and able to climb Mount Everest in sneakers and a T-shirt; today you must be more discerning in which opportunities you pursue and which you don't."
Relative strengths and weaknesses are also important factors in choosing a training vendor, according to ESR's findings. Some vendors are stronger with post-program reinforcement, knowing that classroom learning doesn't always stick; others bring a better technological component to the party, or have better measurement systems in place to determine which lessons work best for a given client.
- are exposed to a broad array of best practices that internal sales-training personnel may never encounter;
- can devote more resources to developing a high-quality program and recover the cost by selling it as training;
- add methodology and technology to the training package, rather than relying on quick tactical advice; and
- have much more classroom time than internal trainers do, both for actual teaching and for fine-tuning the course material.
The numerous approaches to training have thus led to fragmentation in the training market: U.S. companies spend $4 billion on sales training every year, half of which goes to third-party trainers. But less than 10 percent of the $4 billion goes to the four largest training vendors. Stein says this is a good thing. "Asking which training company is best is like asking which is the best automobile," he says. "You've got to understand what's important to your industry, your company, your team, and your customers before anybody can give [you] useful advice."
Objective self-assessment is critical. ESR's research states that, within a 90-to-120-day period, 90 percent of all sales-training programs produce increases in sales productivity. But those gains can be fleeting: Less than 20 percent of companies show sustainable productivity gains that last at least a year. That's a lot of money to spend on a temporary sales effectiveness increase. "Not too many trainers will turn away business," Stein says. "It's incumbent upon the buyer to understand what they need to get out of a training program and match that with the capabilities of the training company."
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