Some years ago, a sales VP mentioned something to me about “sheep-dip training.”

I’d never heard the term before, so I asked him what he meant.

What he meant was old-style round-em-up-and-get-it-done sales training — the way sheep farmers might round up their flock once or twice a year and dunk each of them in a tub of nasty-smelling medicine. It doesn’t much matter whether any particular sheep needs the treatment or not. If you’re a sheep and it’s Tuesday, you’re gonna get dipped.

Granted, it’s an efficient system. And it might be pretty effective — for sheep. But not for salespeople. Imagine how it feels for hard-driving, battle-hardened, egotistical and competitive reps to be taken away from their livelihood to sit through a one-size-fits-all training session. They didn’t ask for it. It isn’t about them. It doesn’t address their specific challenges. No wonder they’re not buying in.

So it’s no surprise that sales forces are moving away from the sheep-dip model. A major study on the state of sales training, published last year by ASTD, found that sales reps are instead demanding “training on a need-to-know basis.” They want to take charge of their own training, dipping into topics that can help them with challenges they’re facing right now.

It’s often assumed that salespeople don’t like sales training. Not so, the ASTD study found: “Almost all respondents (94%) feel that sales training helps them do their job better.” What they don’t like is one-size-fits-all sales training that isn’t relevant to their immediate needs. They don’t want to be treated like sheep.

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