No time for sales training?
  • sales
  • Blog post

No time for sales training?

We’ve just conducted a survey about sales training, and it points to a troubling gap between what sale managers think they should be doing and what they’re actually doing.

An overwhelming majority (93%) of sales managers said that training has a positive impact on sales. But only 36% said they devote enough time and attention to training their people.

In other words, sales managers — whose #1 goal is to drive more sales — have a tool at their fingertips to help them meet that goal. But they’re too busy to use it.

I’m reminded of the lumberjack parable from Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. The lumberjack got off to a great start. On his first day, he cut down lots of trees. But within a few days, his productivity had fallen. So he worked even harder. His productivity fell again. The more he tried, the worse he did.

The reason? His saw was getting dull. But he didn’t have time to sharpen it — he was too busy cutting down trees.

Training is a classic example of saw sharpening. You don’t see the results right away. In the short run it can reduce productivity. And in the end, you may not be able to draw a direct line between training and results.

So it’s easy to see how a sales manager, facing ever-increasing pressure to make the numbers, can let training go by the wayside. There’s that big deal that needs to be closed. Plus a couple of reps just quit, and the sales manager is trying to cover their territory until they can be replaced. And the quarterly projections are due, but they take forever because the reps’ forecasts are suspect.

Training could help solve these problems, of course. If reps had better closing skills, the sales manager wouldn’t have to step in as often. Training could also have an impact on retention and recruitment. And perhaps result in more reliable forecasts.

But that’s all down the road, and the sales manager is still mired in the here-and-now. So when exactly is training going to happen?

Spend less time on training
What’s the solution? If sales managers want to devote more time to training, maybe they need to start by devoting less time.

We all know that feeling of facing a project that seems so big and overwhelming we never get started on it at all. Let’s say you’re thinking about remodeling your kitchen. It needs to be done — the paint on the walls is peeling, the cabinets are beat, the appliances are on their last legs. It makes you crazy every time you walk in. But the project seems overwhelming. It will cost a fortune and take forever. Meanwhile, you’ll be eating takeout and making coffee on a hot plate for who knows how long. So you just continue to live with the kitchen you hate.

Now let’s say you tell yourself, “I’m not going to remodel the kitchen. I’m just going to paint the walls.” Well, that’s not so bad, is it? You could do it in a weekend.

And once you get the walls painted, you might start thinking, “You know, it wouldn’t take me that long to replace the cabinets.” Before you know it, you’ve made a huge dent in what seemed like an impossible project.

Sales managers can take the same approach to training. They don’t have to do it all; they just have to do one thing. They might spend 30 minutes with the team this week, working on just one skill. Next week, they can tackle something else. With each success, momentum builds. Eventually, training stops being a huge, daunting task and becomes no big deal — just one more thing the sales manager does as part of the job. At that point, something really big has happened: they’ve created a training and talent-development culture.

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