Over the past several months, I’ve had conversations with a lot of technology vendors about "overcoming sales training challenges." While all of the people I talked to fall into the Sales Enablement function, (meaning they come from product groups, marketing groups, and sales groups and are working to support the conversations that salespeople have) only 2 of those people were actually from within the sales training function at their company. In other words, there seems to be a lot of concern about sales training and a lot of work going on in the name of sales training but the discussion is happening outside the sales training group!
This finding led me to ask, "Is sales training strategic or tactical?" over on LinkedIn [check out some of the answers]. Taking a step back and looking through those answers in light of the conversations I've been having, I found an interesting pattern emerging.
Most of the people involved in sales training initiatives have a specific view on the role, scope, and value of sales training. This view biases the ways these people approach solving these sales training challenges or leverage training for solving the sales challenges their organizations face. At a macro level, these differing views, or paradigms, can be broken down into two camps which are often in direct conflict with one another. These competing mindsets can end up pulling in opposite directions, creating a sales training stalemate with noting really being solved and lots of money being wasted.
Here are a few examples of these different, often competing views:
1. Regarding the Scope of Sales Training
- View 1: Sales training's role is to focus on improving the skills of the sales force.
- View 2: Sales training's role is to scale the right behaviors, processes, content, and tools across the sales force.
2. Regarding Sales Training Design and Delivery
- View 1: Sales training decisions are about "how" sales training is designed and "what" approach to take to deliver that training.
- View 2: Sales training decisions are about "why" sales training needs to happen, and "who" sales training really benefits.
3. Regarding the Role of Sales Training
- View 1: Sales training leaders and their teams are a distribution function for marketing messages, product materials, and enablement actions.
- View 2: Sales training leaders and their teams decide what to distribute to others, how to enable the sales team, and what marketing materials are worthy of reaching the sales team.
4. Regarding the Value of Sales Training
- View 1: Sales managers and leaders decide what needs to be trained and the sales training team executes it.
- View 2: Sales training leaders craft a sales training plan or strategy, make a recommendation to sales leaders, and gain buy-in for the plan.
5. Regarding the Design Point of Sales Training
- View 1: Sales training initiatives must meet the needs of the sales force.
- View 2: Sales training initiatives must drive measurable business impact through more valuable sales conversations.
6. Regarding Sales Training Strategy
- View 1: The "sales training strategy" is documented in the annual operating plan containing all the "things we do."
- View 2: The "sales training strategy" is documented in the sales training plan and contains "what we must do" to close measurable gaps in sales team performance.
7. Regarding the Need for Sales Training Strategy
- View 1: We must keep up the momentum because we can't afford not to.
- View 2: We must stay responsive to what customers tell us they need and the problems they want us to solve.
Take A Step Back: What's Your View?
Now, grab a pen and paper and think of the sales training function in your organization. Review the 7 competing viewpoints above and select one or the other viewpoint for each (you must select "View 1" or "View 2" for each of the seven statements above). Count up the number of "View 1" selections you made, then count up the number of "View 2" selections you made. Now think about which of these product marketing, sales operations, or your sales leadership would select. Do you think they would all be in alignment?
Based on my research, the answer is unequivocally no.
With these competing viewpoints across the industry and within your own organization, it's no wonder that many reps don't find value in sales training and many sales leaders are left wondering what value they’re getting from their sales training investment.
So that begs the question: what can a conscientious sales enablement professional do?
To that I can only say…stay tuned.