• June 1, 2016
  • By Jim Dickie, research fellow, Sales Mastery

Two Methods for Sales Training Reinforcement We’re Not Using

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The renowned statesman John Foster Dulles once observed, “The real measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to solve, but whether it is the same problem you had last year.” Those words reverberated in my head as I recently sat down to create a list of sales enablement challenges that show up in CSO Insights sales performance research year after year after year—and never really get resolved.

Prominent among them is the issue of sales training reinforcement. With the first sales training I received—more than 30 years ago, when I joined IBM—the mantra that was drilled into us upon completing our four-week program was Use it or lose it. Unless the concepts we’d learned became part of our daily sales workflow, we would forget them, and the whole value of training would be lost.

Fast forward to today: 96 percent of the sales organizations taking part in our 2016 Sales Performance Optimization (SPO) study told us they had a sales training program. Apply that figure across all sales organizations and you are looking at annual spending in the billions of dollars. And guess what, we keep hearing the same horror stories: 50 percent, 60 percent, 70 percent, even 80 percent of what salespeople are taught is being lost within 30 days. John Foster Dulles must be rolling over in his grave right now. This is not a problem we had a year ago; this is a problem we had decades ago!

So why does this problem still exist? As part of the 2016 SPO study, we asked the participants to share with us the methods they used for training reinforcement. The chart below summarizes their input:

The data reveals why this sales effectiveness challenge is so persistent. If we looked at metrics from 30 years ago, I would be shocked if items one and two were not topping that list. Here is the issue: Managers do not have the time (or often the training) to be the primary source of sales training reinforcement, and reference materials are rarely “referenced” after a sales training course.

Now scan down to the bottom of the list. What are two things the majority of salespeople use every day? Their CRM system and their mobile devices (smartphones, tablets, etc.)—which also happen to be the absolute least-used resources for help with reinforcing sales training.

Having seen numerous demos from sales training companies on the investments they’ve made in the past several years to support the ability to provide training reinforcement via CRM and mobile devices, I know firsthand that the capabilities exist. Utilizing interactive video, scenario-based exercises, gamification, etc., many of these solutions are extremely impressive examples of how technology can support, if not take over, the task of ensuring that sales professionals apply newly learned skills to optimize how they sell.

So why is adoption so low? Organizations blame a lack of time, budget, and knowledge that these capabilities exist. My response: That is garbage. Sales organizations are already investing billions of dollars in training that most companies would concede yields suboptimal results, yet they can’t find a little more time or money to spend fixing the problem? They would rather live with poor sales results caused by low sales-process adoption?

Before you make that choice, investigate how technology can serve as a 24/7 resource to sales professionals, coaching them on how to leverage the right skills, at the right time, with the right clients. If you do not, you might find that a year from now, the problem of sales training reinforcement will still be on your list of challenges—when it no longer has to be.

Jim Dickie, a Research Fellow of CSO Insights, a Division of MHI Global, specializes in benchmarking CRM and sales transformation initiatives. He can be reached at jimdickie@icloud.com.

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