I recently read an article that caught my eye. This particular commentator cited a survey that claimed that most CEOs believed that sales training was a waste of time and money. That set me to thinking about the expectations CEOs must have for sales training that aren’t being matched by subsequent improvements in sales results.

My experience is that most managers invest in sales training without giving the appropriate consideration to the audience and the types of sales training that will yield the best return on investment. Here are a few hard truths for executives and managers to consider before making a decision to invest in expensive sales training:

1. Sales training can’t fix a bad salesperson. Not that long ago I came across a blog that contained a quote about sales training attributed to the late, great management expert, Peter Drucker. I can’t vouch for certain that Drucker actually said this but the quote is: “Most sales training is a complete waste of time and money because, at times, the best you can hope for is to turn a moron into an idiot.”

While Drucker’s general assessment of salespeople may be a little harsh, the fact is that most people in the world do not have the motivation or aptitude to succeed at sales. My experience is that the universe of actual and potential salespeople comprises 4 quadrants:

I have never had success at turning a person in Quadrant 4 (low motivation, low potential) into a productive salesperson. I have had success in coaching and mentoring motivated individuals in Quadrant 2 (hi motivation, low potential) to become consistently productive salespeople. It is even possible to motivate and mold someone from Quadrant 3 (low motivation, hi potential) into a productive salesperson though it is usually not worth the investment of time given the low probability of a positive outcome.

What is the distribution of your sales team across the quadrants? Are you trying to train motivated people with the right aptitude? Or are too many people on your sales team denizens of Quadrant 4 (as so pithily described by Drucker)?

2. CEOs and Sales Managers find it easier to invest in sales training than to invest in hiring the right salespeople. I have written extensively about the mistakes that managers keep repeating in their sales hiring practices. Hiring the right sales people is hard. It takes a consistent process that is applied in a disciplined manner to avoid the shortcuts and missteps that lead to expensive hiring mistakes.

Unfortunately, many executives believe that engaging a sales trainer in the vain hope that they can paper over the obvious cracks and flaws in your sales team is much easier. Write a check and you can shift some of the responsibility for poor productivity onto someone else’s shoulders.

3. CEOs and Sales Managers under-invest in the training that will have the biggest sales benefits. The hallmark of good salespeople is that they are always on the lookout for new information, adopting new techniques and new tools for the changing buying environment that will help them become even more effective in their jobs. Unfortunately too many companies purchase training that is aimed at the lowest common denominator within their sales team and it is too focused on the basics: how to cold call, how to prospect, how to leave an effective voice mail, how to write a great subject line in an email, how to get past the gatekeepers and so on. This can be good education for entry-level salespeople but what training is being provided for the most experienced, and most productive, members of your sales team? This is where you can earn the biggest return on training:

* Product and Industry training: Salespeople can never possess too much product and industry information. Customers in today’s fast-paced competitive markets reward sellers that have the experience and knowledge to help them define their requirements, as well as those that can be more immediately responsive to their questions and requirements for information.

* Mission training: Technology is continually reshaping the process of how customers buy products and services which necessarily changes how salespeople must sell. Teaching salespeople the processes they must adopt in their selling methods to align with the rapidly evolving buying methods of their customers is essential.

* Business training: Customers are looking to salespeople to be trusted advisors; to help them make a better business decision. Salespeople need to develop broader business acumen to fill this role. As a result they need more training in business basics: how to read and analyze financial statements; financial accounting; calculating rates of return, etc.

* Presentation training: No matter what their level of proficiency is every salesperson needs training to improve their presentation skills.

* Tools training: There are an increasing number of sales enablement tools available that can help drive improved sales productivity (in addition to the CRM system.) Salespeople need to be trained on a) what tools are available that could improve their sales productivity; and, b) how to put those specific tools to most productive use in their selling.


Andy Paul is author of the award-winning book, Zero-Time Selling: 10 Essential Steps to Accelerate Every Company’s Sales. A frequent speaker, Andy conducts workshops and consults with B2B sales teams of all sizes and shapes to teach them how to sell more by selling faster. Sign up for our monthly newsletter, “The Speed of Selling.” Enjoy what you just read? Subscribe to our blog!

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