Dr J’s Friday Blog – Failure Signals

Dr John Heaford is SalesMethods’ Head of Methodologies and Training Services. With over 35 years in continual research, design and delivery for U.K. & global businesses, John is ideally placed to comment on the engagement and delivery of sales training & coaching programmes.

In this latest series of blogs John will focus on why, in his opinion, sales training programmes are failing to deliver on the promises made. Throughout this month he will publish a series of four Friday Blogs each aimed at prompting a debate as to how we can do better. The first of these Friday blogs looks at the warning signals of a failing programme.

Why Sales Training Programmes Fail
Friday 6th November Failure Signals
Friday 13th November Training Reinforcement: An Essential Practise
Friday 20th November Training Reinforcement: The Role of Technology
Friday 27th November Training Reinforcement: The Power of Analytics and Enablement

Friday 6th November: Failure Signals: Cause and Effect
6 Prime Signals:

  1. Inadequate planning/objective setting for training course expectations.

    This is often caused by too few pre-course sales competency assessment activities, owing to the paucity of tools/processes to determine most appropriate training curricula across the breadth of experience and capabilities of candidates. Moreover, way points along the post-course journey are rarely targeted for review in order to re-direct the learner towards the most appropriate path.

    Most training and development programmes, in the business environment, create an instant euphoria in the participants and an early enthusiasm, associated with the novelty and potential embodied in the new skills or processes. Typically, this wears off after the first few months for a number of reasons.
    Firstly, little or no auditing of the process takes place and consequently hardly any coaching of the delegates occurs. This is particularly disturbing when one considers the enormous differences in learning capability and time to mastery of new techniques, epitomised by even the smallest of groups.

    Secondly, the investment in the initial training programme is not evaluated effectively and it becomes increasingly difficult for delegates to associate their time in training with real impact in the business world. Inevitably, this makes it much harder for suppliers of training to sell further programmes into the same client and, of course, to grow a high quality reference base. Whilst this fact appears to the sole concern of the supplier, in the long run it drives training standards and consequent value to the customer down.

  2. Lack of local/internal expertise in sales training engagements.

    Poor differentiation between instruction & lecture vs workshop engagement. This approach is the most unlikely activity to aid knowledge retention and relevant application of skills in the field. Unrealistic practise inside the training programme is destined to be repeated in the real world. Moreover, whilst highly skilled and experienced sales professionals are often selected for delivery of some aspects of teaching internally, they are unlikely to have undergone any form of “train-the-trainer” experience. In many cases such professionals have forgotten what it used to be like not to know.

  3. Narrow focus on groups of attendees.

    Common absence of key enablement team – sales support, marketing, senior management… etc. This is especially signalled by fewer “role play” events involving a broad group of rolls, which appear to take too much time (say, 2 days). In the past 2 years, we have seen an unwarranted and unprecedented reduction of the (once standard) 2-day workshops in favour of one-way condensed ‘lectures’, accompanied by shortened group mini-exercises. Very little, if any, practical and relevant learning is taken into real-world sales activity and monitored by senior management, despite their personal involvement in the role play activity.

  4. Lack of standards for operating policies and procedures for all training interventions.

    The broad purpose of any training programme is to change attitudes, behaviours or skills in a way that positively impacts business results. Evaluating the effectiveness of a sales training programme in order to understand whether it meets its objectives is critical so that you can measure the programme’s contribution to the bottom line. In these days of corporate streamlining and re-engineering, training budgets are being held under intense scrutiny. By demonstrating that sales training produces positive, tangible results, you’ll be in a position not only to justify the organization’s expenditures for training but also to substantiate the programme’s value in terms of lasting process improvement.

    Management reinforcement and support of the techniques and processes delivered in the training programme are critical to not only the programme’s success, but the infusion of these techniques and processes within the sales organization. Having managers attend the sales training programme with their salespeople, reinforcing the programme during and after the event and subsequently learning about the best practices of implementation in management programmes with their peers will yield long-term results, upon which I will elucidate in forthcoming blogs in this series.

  5. Little or poor use of post-course evaluation techniques.

    Systematic evaluation of sales training programmes is also an important step in improving the overall quality of the training programme and measuring its impact on the organization. What is the appropriate level of evaluation to measure and analyse results of sales training programmes? To some degree, this is dependent on the evaluation constituency. Line managers typically have a greater interest in performance change and business results than in participant reaction and learning. On the other hand, a training organization might have a greater interest in collecting reaction and learning data to determine the components of the training programme that could be improved.

    This includes lack of engagement in monitoring effectiveness. There is little or no focus on “measuring the journey” between target-setting and, for example, quarterly results measured against initial sales targets. Signs of potential failure become evident, for example, these might include a lack of support from management or changes in the participant’s job environment such as new responsibilities or even a totally new assignment. Additionally, a lack of reinforcement of the concepts and skills taught in the training programme can have a significant impact on the participant’s ability to apply those concepts and skills in the work environment.

    The role of Analytics has yet to be introduced into sales training. Whilst, ideally, rigorous analytics could uncover enough evidence to allow for leading indicators to be induced, lack of any ROI analysis doesn’t even provide lagging indicators.

    Additionally, a lack of reinforcement of the concepts and skills taught in the training programme can have a significant impact on the participant’s ability to apply those concepts and skills in the work environment.
    (I will be further exposing this conundrum in forthcoming blogs in this series…)

  6. Poor or no differentiation between coaching vs mentoring.

    This is fast becoming a hot topic and in future blogs and white papers, I will be looking at coaching vs mentoring in much more detail. Watch this space… in my next blog “Training Reinforcement: An Essential Practise”.

John Heaford

John Heaford

John is a sales skills training consultant, company director, conference speaker and training systems designer. His ultimate goal is to build world class training support tools, for distribution over the mobile internet to hand-held personal devices, to field sales professionals and business executives. He is Head of Methodologies at SalesMethods.