Author: Rachel Massey, Director of Marketing, Huthwaite International
11 Dec 2018
Many SMEs assume investing in sales training will automatically increase sales productivity. In fact, as the sales team is on the frontline when it comes to revenue and profit, many executives believe improving sales skills will have a positive, immediate and direct impact on the company’s bottom line.
Such an assumption, however, has not served companies particularly well: in reality, firms waste huge sums of money on ineffective sales training. This is clearly an issue, not least because there is often pressure on SMEs to provide training in order to retain talent, as it is seen as an essential benefit that many larger competitors offer. Similarly, with smaller learning and development budgets than larger corporations, SMEs have to demonstrate real value from any investment in this area.
Here, we list five of the biggest mistakes that cause SMEs to waste their training budgets, and explore the simple processes that can help you get the most out of your sales training programme.
Trying to fix the wrong problem
Organisations frequently embark on sales training initiatives without a clear definition of the problems they are trying to solve. While sales training is a great tool for improving selling skills, it can’t fix organisational issues, misaligned compensation strategies or ineffective hiring practices. As such, training should only be undertaken if there is a clear definition of why it is needed and what the expected outcomes are.
Training should only be undertaken if there is a clear definition of why it is needed
The training team – whether internal or external – should work with key stakeholders to identify current gaps and challenges in the organisation that training can work to address. This must then be used as a blueprint for prioritising the training programme.
Looking six to 12 months ahead, the team should work with stakeholders to define what they expect to be different after the training has finished and how they will measure success moving forward.
A lack of communication
Training programmes are often initiated because someone has identified a surplus in the budget and feels it is a positive thing to spend the money on. Unfortunately, as a result of this, there is regularly a lack of clear sponsorship or connection to key stakeholders once the programme is initiated.
For training to be successful, stakeholders need to be a part of the conversation before, during and after the fact, so they can communicate enthusiasm and expectations throughout the process. In a number of cases, we’ve seen training programmes become an end in themselves, rather than being used as a means to solve the key problems stakeholders identified.
Ensuring sales leadership is involved in sponsoring the programme – and is visible throughout – will result in a sales team that is invested in the training from the get go.
Failing to define desired outcomes
Identifying a problem is the first step, but it is also crucial to define the desired outcomes that are expected as a result of the training. How will the sponsors know if the programme has been successful? How will they measure results?
By defining your desired outcomes before the training is underway, you can ensure participants receive the most out of each session
The key factors to look out for are: whether participants enjoy the training; whether they understand the material being discussed; whether they are able to apply it and create that crucial behaviour change; whether they receive post-training support to ensure the new method is implemented; and whether the training produces business results.
By including outcome measures in the programme charter and defining them before the training is underway, you can ensure participants receive the most out of each session. Making use of surveys, coaching and benchmarking to measure the desired outcomes after the training will help to discern whether it has been properly implemented or not.
Without a real implementation method, training can be delivered in a classroom environment and then forgotten as soon as the session is over.
The training isn’t tailored to SMEs
While some companies will benefit from an off-the-shelf delivery package – there are fundamental selling skills and approaches that work across industries and company sizes – a more flexible and customisable approach can maximise the return on investment of a programme for many SMEs. What’s more, we have found that sales professionals can resist a programme if they feel it’s too generic or have difficulty figuring out how to apply the concepts to their personal situation.
As an SME, the needs of your training will differ from those of a renowned global company or a start-up, so ensuring a programme is right for your business in its current state will help to make training as productive as possible.
It’s true that methodologies and techniques remain consistent, but the means by which they are deployed are designed to be malleable to the specific needs of each client. For smaller organisations that want to develop their sales and negotiation skills, but find it hard to commit the resources needed, flexible delivery is invaluable. It enables them to develop world-class skills on a timescale – and through channels – that is appropriate for them.
Identifying common challenge areas and then building in scenarios that provide for skill application helps participants feel like they’re getting real work done
Working with key stakeholders and a representative sample of the participants (managers and sales professionals), the organisation should identify specific exercises and role plays that can be customised for the business. The programme doesn’t need to be built from the ground up, but skill application, case studies, role plays and the terminology used needs to resonate with the group.
Identifying common challenge areas and then building in scenarios that provide for skill application with live accounts helps participants feel like they’re getting real work done. It also helps prepare them to apply the concepts when they get back into the field following training.
Neglecting to reinforce the programme
Finally, one of the greatest challenges is ensuring sales managers provide ongoing coaching. No matter how good a training programme is, it won’t be as effective if managers don’t reinforce the skills in the field or don’t know how to make the trainees confident enough to use them.
The key to positively affecting your organisation’s revenue, profit, margin, attitude and culture is to change the behaviour of your people for the better. In smaller companies, training tends to be informal and there often isn’t a follow-up process to ensure the training is being used. What’s more, trainees may not be asked for feedback on the productivity of the session, the effectiveness of what they have learnt and their confidence in their ability to use it.
As such, you must ensure that a comprehensive reinforcement plan is part of any sales training programme, and that managers have the skills and tools to support their teams. Hold recurring reinforcement sessions that focus on skill application to maintain the skills learnt and keep them at the forefront of your team’s minds. Feedback sessions and surveys are a great way of finding out what worked, what didn’t and what staff would like to cover in the next session.
It can be handy to do this immediately after the training, when the session is clear in employees’ minds, but it’s also important to revisit it six weeks down the line, so they can feedback appropriately on how they’ve been using the skills they’ve learnt. This should be an additional aspect of measuring success and will help to tailor the programme to each individual for the best results.