I once spoke at a company’s sales kickoff meeting three years in a row. Each year was a “transformation,” and each year, the sales force was informed that it was required to change. The theme changed each year, and those “changes” were in no way connected so that one might discern a planned improvement in the competencies or growth of the sales force. Each year, when the sales training started, the executive leadership team would leave the room, as would the sales managers. The training, as you might imagine, did not stick.
The necessary first ingredient for training to stick is a commitment to change.
This commitment doesn’t start with the sales force or the people being trained. It starts with executive leadership, and not just the chief sales officer or the vice president of sales. The change you are trying to enable in the sales force (and training is really about changing mind sets, skill sets and tool kits) needs to start with the CEO. Sales is the business’ customer acquisition strategy; what could be more important to growth? The commitment also needs to include the leaders of marketing, who can adjust messaging and tools to support new behaviors. Without the commitment of leadership, there can be no real commitment to change.
The second thing necessary for sales training to stick is the commitment to execute.
Like the commitment to change, this commitment doesn’t start with the sales force. This commitment starts with sales management. Sales management is a leadership role, and without a sales manager providing additional training, development and coaching, the sales force will slip back into old behaviors immediately. In addition to coaching, sales managers must insist that the behaviors acquired in sales training take root. This execution takes time, energy and an insistence that the sales force shed old beliefs and behaviors and begin adopting new ones.
“What about the sales force?” you may ask. “What commitments do they need to make?” The most important commitment the sales force must make is the commitment of time.
New beliefs, behaviors, skills and competencies take time to develop – more time than most people believe is necessary. No matter how good the training is, the actual acquisition of competencies is not gained in a single training. Those competencies are gained in the field, over time. When what the salespeople were taught doesn’t feel right, or when they struggle to gain the results they need in the field, they quickly retreat to old behaviors. The sales force needs to commit to giving the competencies time to develop. No one is expected to gain mastery of something new in a few days or weeks.
Sales training sticks when executive leadership commits to change and provides visible proof of their engagement and commitment. It sticks when the sales management team commits to executing – spending time with their salespeople; coaching them; and always leaning back on the new beliefs, behaviors, and skills they expect their sales force to adopt. Finally, no training works without the people being trained working on their acquisition of the competencies over time. To do so, they need support.
If your organization makes these commitments, you can make your sales training stick.