The Great Training Robbery


By petergilbert, 24 June, 2012

The Great Training Robbery




Peter Gilbert CEO HR Chally SA


 Dave Stein, CEO of ES Research, reports that in the USA the annual spend on sales training is around $7 billion. This figure is likely to increase, and the University Sales Education Foundation reports that over 50% of all university students currently go directly into sales after graduation. Sadly, the majority of them fail miserably. This phenomenon is also glaringly apparent in many sales forces. A high profile South African Real Estate company has thousands of agents, and they have all been trained. Amazingly, 15% of their agents deliver 79% of their revenues. Similarly, a multi-national software company reports that approximately 20% of their sales force  deliver 80% of their new business. These salespeople have been trained, retrained, and trained again, but still the problem persists. There is clearly something amiss and, if anyone bothered to calculate the return on this huge training investment, it would be pitiful.


This situation is depressingly common, and many people aren’t willing to stand up and announce that the emperor is naked – especially where it comes to sales training.  At most companies, virtually everyone who receives sales training that is intended to transform the salesforce is either unaware of the training’s lack of impact or is in denial about it.


Why Traditional Sales Training Does Not Work


  1. The Basic Sales Model is Obsolete

 Prominent sales authority and author, Neil Rackham states:

 “Irresistible new forces are reshaping the world of selling. Sales functions everywhere are in the early stages of radical and profound changes comparable to those that began in manufacturing 20 years ago. But one change outweighs all the others. The meaning of selling itself is shifting. The very purpose of sales is being rapidly redefined.” Consequently sales organisations face a huge challenge because there is no longer any sustainable competitive advantage through product superiority.

Author Jerry Stapleton points out:

 “That the second problem is that the sales rep’s customers just do not need him any longer. At least not the way they used to. Traditionally salespeople brought value to their customers by facilitating transactions and communicating information about their products and services. Almost overnight these two core functions of the salespeople have lost their value. These functions, the lifeblood of the selling profession, are diminishing in value as a new era of selling is replacing the old. Customers will not pay for them and soon will not even tolerate them. They are making that known to their suppliers.”


Traditional sales training, which focuses almost exclusively on the needs of the seller, fails spectacularly to address the needs of the buyer. Customers do not care about your CRM system, your time and territory management, your prospecting, your qualifying, your closing skills, or how motivated you are. They could not care less. What they do care about is how well the salesperson understands their business, and how much better off they will be if they do business with him. What they care about is value. Rands and cents value.  About net profit. We are spending a fortune training salespeople on things that are becoming increasingly

2.October 2006


  1. The Traditional Training Model Is Flawed

Traditional sales training does not require sales representatives to actually change.  The truth is that around 90% of learning (flawed though it may be) is lost within one month, according to most studies. Selling still uses training approaches that were developed in the 1950’s and 60’s and the same old seminar format is still used today.  “Classroom learning doesn’t work” says Rick Justice, Senior Vice President, worldwide field operations for Cisco Systems.


The very best sales training is largely based on realistic simulations that mimic the situations and environment that salespeople encounter on a daily basis. Using the “right” training approach is the second key. Salespeople are a special breed. They possess unique talents and values that allow them to succeed in a challenging and highly competitive business environment. Those unique talents and values also make them unique learners. Selling is, after all, a contact sport and typical classroom training is not hugely effective for selling skills training, as opposed to process training.


The very best sales training is largely based on realistic simulations that mimic the situations and environment that salespeople encounter on a daily basis. Salespeople learn best from fast-paced, customised simulations. What is a simulation? Simulations are representations of real-life situations. Simulations permit people to confront the same sorts of challenges and opportunities as in real life, yet in a safe environment where they can experiment and learn. They process information, set priorities, make decisions, take action, and learn from their successes and mistakes. The best simulations utilise professional actors and trainers and becomes a model reality that provides a safe environment for experimentation and learning. Simulations allow professionals to learn and embrace a model for the sales process. Well  crafted and executed simulations are totally different to the tired old role plays that have bored generations of salespeople witless. During the learning process, salespeople externalise assumptions, get feedback, and actually practice the use of sales strategies and skills. Team discussions and full group debriefs allow participants to absorb, contextualise, and expand their knowledge and skills, making them their own. Most importantly, simulations that are fun engage people, and engaged people learn faster.






  1. Many Salespeople Are Not Trainable


For years the myth has been perpetuated that you can teach anybody to sell. Well, at one level perhaps you can. Just as you can teach  any individual to play golf, you certainly cannot train the average hacker to become the next Tiger Woods. If sales training could really do what it claims, the millions of rand spent on sales training every year, would yield a bountiful crop of talented salespeople. However this is simply not happening and many companies, are desperately seeking the “rainmakers” who can close the multi-million rand deals. Top-notch salespeople are in desperately short supply.


The truth is that roles such as an entrepreneur, graphic designer, military leader, software developer, athlete, artist, and salesperson are mainly based on innate talents, not training or education. Great salespeople’s success is based on talent, learned skills and application. This probably explains why so many organisations have dysfunctional sales teams, because they select salespeople for their academic or technical knowledge and not for their ability to sell.  Today, they need both.


The truth is that it is much easier to teach a talented salesperson the technical skills he or she needs, than it is to teach a technical person to sell.  At best, sales training will improve an individual’s performance by 20%. If he is 20% competent to start with, you will get to 24%!  A gifted salesperson will start at 80% and a 20% improvement will take him to 96% - a far better proposition. No wonder so much sales training fails to produce any discernible results


  1. A New Paradigm For Selling Needs A New Paradigm For Sales Training


Most business processes have been minutely studied and radically changed.  In fact there has been a revolution in how work is carried out.  This has not been the case in selling.  The sales process should be a practical and actionable element of a company’s Go-To-Market sales strategy.  It should provide end-to-end guidance on how all the players in the growth engine engage with the customer and each other.  The basic purpose of a sales process is to deliver a branded customer experience, including the delivery of products and services.  It is a set of discrete, progressive phases that describe how and what you do with a customer from first contact to first sale, and on through successive stages of resale and cross-sale.  This entire customer experience should differentiate your organisation from the competition, be relevant and appropriate to the customer, and be respected, even admired, by the customer.  Little wonder that traditional sales training fails to deliver.


  1. 5.    There Are Many Different Sales Roles

It is doubtful whether the “Universal Salesperson” ever existed, and in the current era, sales is becoming increasingly specialised. In medicine, you would not expect a radiologist to do brain surgery, and in engineering you would not expect an electrical engineer to build a bridge. Similarly in sales, the Account Manager role is very different to that of the New Business Develop salesperson, or “Rainmaker”. Some people can succeed in one of these roles, some can do both, and some can do neither. The trick is to know which!



As a profession, the sales training industry needs to front up and get it’s act together.