3 Dumb Sales Training Moves Even Smart CSOs Make

Brian Williams, PhD

We’ve talked with many sales leaders over the last few weeks about sales training. Pressure to hit the 2018 number, competitive headwinds, and more demanding buyers are common themes. More than ever, CSOs have carte blanche to give their teams the skills and resources to win.

Don’t get us wrong, we love helping companies improve their sales performance. And sales training can be a powerful weapon in any CSO’s arsenal. But we’re increasingly frustrated by the abundance of bad decision-making when it comes to sales training. CSOs under pressure are especially vulnerable.

Helping companies avoid sales training missteps is our mission. But being a zealot around this cause can have consequences. Since the start of 2018, we’ve walked away from a few major projects because of misalignment. We couldn’t in good conscience be a part of programs that would fail to deliver desired results. The sales performance battlefield is riddled with too much collateral damage. 

Reflecting on these discussions, we find three common sales training mistakes made by many CSOs. Unfortunately, even the best and brightest sales leaders can fall victim.

1. Focusing on one way to sell vs. training a situational capability. It’s tempting to believe that one selling approach is best. Just look at the exploding interest in Challenger training. We’ve collected data from over 7,000 deals and our database grows every week. We continue to find Challenger to be just ONE of many potentially effective sales plays. The success of Challenger selling actions is situational. Through our analysis, we’ve identified eight different types of selling motions that reps might use. Within these eight categories, there are many different plays. The right play, but in the wrong situation can be a disaster.

The best reps adapt their selling actions to fit specific points in the buyer’s journey and the level of customer consensus. Instead of training a single sales approach, effective training does two things. First, it trains reps on the most critical situational factors for their deals. And second, it helps reps match the right sales play with the right situation. This is much more than skill training. This is about equipping reps with a new capability in situational awareness and adaptability. 

2. Failing to incorporate ‘live-fire’ practice. Executing a sales play involves  both ‘what to do’ and ‘what to say’. Today’s buyers are distracted, but effective messaging can break through the noise. Good sales training requires practicing with real-world tools and messages. Your systems, data, reports, and messages must be part of overall program design. A video practice platform like PointForward can make situational practice easy.

The live-fire model gets reps to practice messages in the context of common situations. With this approach, reps practice identifying and delivering different messages in different selling scenarios. It’s a great way to help them understand that one-size messages don’t fit all situations. This model also lets marketing see the collateral and tools that work best in particular situations.

3. Lack of Engagement by Managers. Managers are the lynchpin to converting training concepts to real behavior change. They are key from a coaching perspective, but also in gaining sales team buy-in. Launching a new selling model requires a reboot of the operating system. For a program to be successful, managers must be included in the design process. Managers need to understand the rationale and the implications to their role. Also, don’t forget to involve managers in the actual training delivery. Their presence, color commentary, and personal insight build credibility.

From a coaching perspective, managers should shift to contextual coaching vs. generic skills coaching. Coaching reps with specific actions for specific situations is much more powerful than generic skills feedback. This is great news for our time-constrained managers. Deal coaching becomes laser-focused on validating factors, situations and the next play to move opportunities forward.

Life was a lot easier when any off-the-shelf training program would work. (But the truth is, such programs never really worked.) The CSO mindset must evolve from ‘training’ to continuous performance improvement. A situational model of improvement takes time and requires aligning multiple resources in your organization. But this approach to training is the only way to create lasting results.

Let us show you how to take the first steps toward more effective sales training. Contact us to benchmark your training programs against world-class sales teams.

Brian Williams, PhD

Brian Williams, PhD

Researcher, consultant, and sales leader, Brian uses a data-driven approach to drive sales effectiveness. His clients include leading sales organizations in financial services, technology, healthcare, and professional services. Using insight from academics and change management, Brian helps senior leaders and sales enablement teams understand and succeed in today’s more demanding market. His research has been published in Harvard Business Review and other outlets.