Dr J’s Friday Blog – Training Reinforcement: An Essential Practise

In this, the second of Dr John Heaford’s Four Friday Blogs, particular attention is paid to the processes that exist around training events. As is thematic with this series of articles, our Head of Sales Methodologies will discuss the issue in relation to a growing concern: Why are sales training programmes failing to deliver on their promises?

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 13th November: Training Reinforcement: An Essential Practise

Three essential steps must be taken when reinforcing the impact of your training programmes. Failure to deliver on any of them will significantly reduce the likelihood of successful delivery, implementation, and uptake of your training methodologies:

  1. Conduct a Sales Competency Assessment and tailor the training to the needs of the individual

    As opposed to putting your sales team through the same generic training process, you should offer them a prospectus of courses that formulate the ‘training experience’. In addition, you should also consider conducting a compulsory competency assessment: This will guarantee that the most appropriate learning elements are directed towards the most relevant audience. Put simply, by being rigorous when determining the method of instruction, content, and pace of audience engagement, you can lessen any lack of understanding, uptake, or implementation. This will result in a more beneficial experience for all involved parties.

    The most effective of such assessments have proven to be those which ask the sales professional to self-assess, whilst their manager/leader conducts the same exercise in judging the relevant and broad capabilities of their sales team. Here are some examples of questions used in this type of approach:

    The sales person rates themselves in 1 of 4 levels of competence…

    1. Performs effectively & consistently
    2. Can perform effectively but not consistently
    3. Cannot perform without prompting, assistance or supervision
    4. Does not perform

    … in each of the following activities:

    • Fundamentals Behaviour (Interpersonal skills, establishing sales calls, articulation skill)
    • Relating with Customers (Business acumen, customer focus, executive credibility)
    • Competitive Strategy (Strategic thinking, competitive awareness, gaining political advantage)
    • Relating with Team Members (Open communication and rapport, managing people, self-management)

    Our experience over the past 10 years is that this form of rigour has produced better trained sales professionals and sales managers who are capable of effectively pinpointing the most relevant aspects of training required, whilst simultaneously saving time that would otherwise have been spent on unnecessary aspects of the curriculum.

  2. Broaden the audience with, for example, inclusive immediate (post-course) individual review sessions and realistic formal group roll-play sessions.

    To illustrate the impact and value of post-training reinforcement, The Aberdeen Group’s most recent report (May 2015) shows that companies who drive post-training reinforcement have first-year sales people who are 34% more likely to achieve quota. What’s more, “best-in-class” sales leaders are 15% more likely than “under-performers” to support post-training sales education.

    Poor differentiation and application between instruction, workshop coaching, and mentoring, will hinder knowledge retention and relevant application of skills in the field. Ergo, unrealistic practise inside the training programme is destined to be repeated in the real world. In a recent series of sales training exercises with a large global organisation, conducted over a one-year period, we asked each individual delegate (sales people and their respective managers after attending a one-day workshop) to engage in a private tutor-led, 40 minute, individual review. Far from being a precis of the previous day’s workshop, it was an opportunity to review just how much of the previous day’s training was relevant and which aspects they planned to review and apply in the next month. The results we alarmingly informative: They immediately exposed which aspects of the course were going to be usefully deployed in a real-world environment, and which were ‘nice to have’ pieces of information that were inapplicable to the individual sales person, but were potentially useful to others in the profession.

  3. Learn to Coach and Mentor – and understand the difference between them.

    Coaching by observing, listening, and giving feedback, is a powerful way of changing behaviour and guiding people to improve their performance. The giving of feedback can, however, have damaging negative effects – often to the surprise of the coach. Each individual brings to the situation his own self-esteem, self-judgement, prejudices, and feelings. A good coach needs to be aware of this, and should modify the nature and strength of feedback in order to enhance the learning process, rather than damaging it. Coaching successfully is a skill. It is far more than simply watching a role play or piece of performance and making judgements without thought or consideration of how those feedback statements will be perceived. What the coach meant to say is far less significant than what the trainee understood the coach to say. In addition to assisting learning, it can have profound effects on motivation, self-concept, and self-confidence. Coaching should provide guidance to allow trainees to solve their own problems: An effective coach does not just tell how things should be done.

    It may be unreasonable, then, to assume that all sales managers are naturally good coaches. Coaching is quite simply helping people to help themselves. It takes the form of guidance, feedback, and mentoring, to help people learn through experience and self-discovery.

    Due to the fact that coaching is trainee-centred, it is more effective when carried out on-the-job, by managers, in everyday situations. The role of the coach is to pass on knowledge, share personal experience, and promote self-discovery by encouraging others to think through problems and suggest their own solutions. Through praise, and frank feedback, the self-esteem of others will be raised. There is a real case for all business organisations to develop the coaching skills of their sales managers as rigorously as they develop their raw sales management capabilities.

    In contrast, mentoring can have a distinctly deeper significance than coaching and could be the key to continuity of high performance in sales. Research into successful mentoring programmes indicates that they are normally relatively formal in overall organisation, but with a great deal of flexibility and informality in the relationship between mentor and mentee. The best, most sustainable results for sales professionals, are dependent on several key ingredients; focused on clear learning objectives; supported by initial training of mentor and mentee; seen to benefit the mentee, the mentor and the organisation; and introduced in a structured, planned manner.

    Whilst coaching is primarily about performance and the development of specific skills, mentoring is much more broadly based and intuitive, focusing on developing capability and often includes longer term help in career self-management.

    The payoff from a mentoring programme in an organisation’s sales business will normally be a mixture of:

    • Easier recruitment of the best talent
    • more rapid induction of the new recruits
    • improved staff retention; improved human resource performance and diversity management
    • increased effectiveness of formal training; reinforcement of cultural change; improving
    • networking and communication
    • reinforcement of other learning initiatives, business process requirements and schedules.

    In conclusion, a mentoring programme requires an investment of resources for it to become a natural part of ‘the way we do things’. It is therefore always worth reminding yourself that, in the long term, it is most definitely worth the effort. Sessions usually last between one and two hours, with a typical frequency of once a quarter, with telephone or e-mail contact in between. If meetings are very frequent, the mentor is likely to become too hands on, and will make the mentee feel imposed upon. From the very start, it makes sense to agree on a balance that suits both parties, and each must be prepared to review that agreement if there is a radical change of circumstances.

    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.