Sales Training Is Not an Afterthought



When I started in sales, it was pretty much an accident. Over the course of a few short months, every sales manager and sales person in our remote office left. When the VP of Sales flew out, he told me to pick up a bag and start selling.

We had a number of high profile, Fortune 500 clients, so this was no easy task. They were running some fairly mission critical applications on our software, so there was both high visibility and high risk. That was the environment I was thrown into, without help or guidance. My sales training therefore involved getting beat up in front of CIO’s and VP’s of Engineering.

Since then, I have witnessed many different sales training efforts.  Some were the standard three-day product overview and others involved some modicum of actual skills training. There were the sales onboarding “bootcamps”, the obligatory annual sales conference “slamdunk” training programs, and the panicked “sales are falling, so our sales team sucks” type of firestorm sessions.

The thread that ties all of these experiences together is that sales training was an afterthought. There was nothing strategic or planned about the training. Everyone said it was important but ultimately it never felt important either for the sales leadership or for the salespeople. It was just another obligation and like so many “obligations” made on the behalf of salespeople, it got promptly ignored.

Is sales training important and can it have an actual impact? After reviewing the research, the answer is an unequivocal yes. In a survey by Aberdeen Group, companies deploying formal sales training initiatives led non-adopters on the following metrics:

  • Overall team attainment of sales quota (78% vs. 63%)
  • Customer retention (71% vs. 66%)
  • Percentage of sales reps achieving quota (64% vs. 42%)

What would a 22% jump in sales rep quota attainment mean for your organization? For most, that difference alone should convince company leadership to make the investment in training.

Despite the outsized returns on sales training however, sales leadership continues to make the same excuses. There is the belief that they only have to hire “A” players that already know how to sell or that the product just sells itself or that their sales process it pretty straightforward. Some sales organizations take a burn-and-churn approach to sales teams, essentially firing and quickly replacing reps to see who sinks or swims. Of course, the average price of replacing a rep is over $29,000 and takes seven months to locate and onboard each individual, so that becomes an expensive “strategy”.

What is the real excuse then for not prioritizing sales training? Much of it is cultural and full of biases about the value of training. Sales people complain about being taken out of the field for more “useless” training. Sales managers complain about the extra work involved and increased accountability in implementing training and coaching programs. Sales leaders are simply trying to stay employed, and that means they are laser focused on making the quarterly (or monthly) numbers.

If something is not deemed a priority, it never is a priority. That is the state of sales training today for most organizations. We are facing a massive shift in the workforce right now. It is a different era from the days when the IBM’s and GE’s of the world created world-class sales training programs. Sales is not something companies expect to train employees on anymore.  With the rise of Millennial’s in the workplace seeking to work in smaller companies, it can no longer be assumed that people walking in the door know how to or have been trained to sell.

The sink-or-swim mentality in sales is destroying the craft of sales. Perhaps this is because we do not hold sales in the same esteem as other professions such as law and medicine and engineering. In all of those professions, both individual and company provided training is mandatory. There are no credible college degree programs for sales. Make no mistake however, sales is very much a field of study that can be learned and that people can be effectively trained on. While you cannot create a passion for sales, you can certainly imbue people with the proper skills and attitude to be successful.

That is why this month’s Enterprise Sales Meetup means so much to me. We are covering the topic of “Sales Training and Coaching” tonight with some really interesting panelists to figure out what works and does not work at big companies like ADP to startups like Yotpo. If you are wondering how to setup your own sales training program or if you are a salesperson seeking resources to hone your own skills, I invite you to join us tonight at Work-Bench.

There is no substitute for quality training. The minimal upfront investment made in implementing a program can reap massive downstream returns, even for an early stage startup. If you make sales training and coaching a foundation for your sales organization, you create an unfair advantage in the marketplace with a consistently excellent sales team that wins every competitive deal.




Reprinted by permission.

Image credit: CC by International Hydropower Association

About the author: Mark Birch

Mark is an early stage technology investor and entrepreneur based in NYC. Through Birch Ventures, he works with a portfolio of early stage B2B SaaS technology startups providing both capital and guidance in the areas of marketing, sales, strategic planning and funding.

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