In the New Economy, who owns sales training?
Is it training departments, whose job it is to create and deliver training? HR, which is increasingly staking a claim to talent development? Sales organizations, who are accountable for the outcomes in the form of increased revenues? Or sales managers, who after all know their salespeople best?
Or is it none of the above?
The New Economy — post-industrial, post-recession and endlessly disrupted — has profoundly and permanently shifted the relationship between employers and their employees. When organizations can’t even tell what business they’ll be in five years from now, they certainly can’t promise employees a job for life. When new technology is constantly changing everything about how we do our jobs, employees can’t map out an orderly career where they climb clearly defined rungs on the ladder of success.
Some workers blame their employers when things change. Some blame the Internet, or the economy, or politicians or whoever. But far-sighted employees will skip the blame game. They recognize that this is the world they must now navigate, and they will have to be captains of their own ship.
We’re certainly see big changes play out in sales. Consider the rise of inside sales over field sales; the profound ways in which social media have changed prospecting; the fall of giant industries and sales models that were developed and refined over many decades (think print advertising) and the rise of new industries and new sales models in their place.
In this new world of sales, who owns sales training? The salesperson.
Here’s the deal that talented salespeople should be striking with their employers: “I know you can’t guarantee me a job for life. I know that five years from now we may be selling in a completely different way. So in terms of my career with you, here’s what I want: I want you to recognize and reward talent. I want you to create opportunities for me. And I want you to make me better at what I do.”
This is the deal that young workers want, and they aren’t shy about asking for it. A friend of mine hires smart, talented people right out of college, and he says the one thing they consistently ask about is training. They don’t see training as something that must be endured; they see it as a critical employee benefit.
Here are some implications for sales trainers to consider:
Embrace sales training is a positive benefit. Use it to help and retain top talent. If you can credibly position your organization as one that turns good reps into great reps, you’ll be the employer of choice.
Design training to advance selling skills, not just product knowledge. Of course your salespeople need to know your products and services inside out. But from an employee’s perspective, product training isn’t enough. It helps them sell right now, but it doesn’t prepare them for an uncertain future.
Promote continuous learning. Back in the good old days when things stayed pretty much the same, salespeople could achieve a certain level of mastery and additional training produced diminishing returns. These days, knowledge gets stale quickly if it’s not updated.
Look at your salespeople as your first client. That doesn’t mean putting reps in charge of training, any more than undergraduates should design college courses. Sales training needs to align with the organization’s strategy and goals. But it also needs to deliver a personal win for the salespeople, or they won’t embrace it.
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