Let me show you how to do it…badly
  • sales
  • Blog post

Let me show you how to do it…badly

We all the know the power of a good example. But what about a bad example?

Sales trainers tend to split on this question. Some believe that bad examples show reps what to avoid. Others think that there are countless ways to screw up in sales, and offering examples of what not to do only adds to the confusion.

So which camp is right?

Both. Sort of.

Wrong examples are an important learning tool. But, according to research conducted as part of a doctoral dissertation at Vanderbilt University, they’re only useful if learners already understand the right way. If learners are still struggling to grasp the concept you’re trying to teach, a bad example is a bad idea. It will only confuse learners more.

Confused yourself? Let me give you a couple of examples:

A good use of a bad example: You’re training reps on pipeline management. You’ve helped them understand how poorly qualified prospects can clog up their pipeline, suck time away from pursing high-potential opportunities, and result in a lot of activity but not much revenue. They get it. But old habits die hard. So you offer an example: “Your old customer has moved to a new start-up company and wants to do business with you. It seems like an easy win, so you set up a meeting for the following week. Why is that a bad idea?” For reps who “get” the idea of pipeline management, this example can stimulate their thinking and sharpen their instincts. They’ll be able to tell you why this strategy is wrong and what they should have done instead — all of which will serve them well later on, when they’re qualifying actual opportunities.

A bad use of a bad example: You’re training reps on pipeline management. But they still haven’t accepted the idea that they can make more money by saying no to certain kinds of customers. When you present the same scenario, many of their responses will be off base. Instead of focusing on whether the customer is qualified, one rep might suggest that the problem was waiting until next week to schedule the meeting. Another thinks it’s working with friends, or not asking for the order, or any one of countless other wrong ideas. Now you’ve got a whole bunch of bad concepts crowding out the principle you’re trying to teach. Instead of advancing their learning, you’ve made things worse.

Source: Durkin, K., (2012). The Effectiveness of Incorrect Examples and Comparison When Learning About Decimal Magnitude. Dissertation submitted to Vanderbilt University graduate school.

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