Sales training can be a big investment so best you know where they're fooling themselves (and you).
Sales training is a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States alone and is probably the most common type of employee training that most companies provide.
For the past ten years, I've interviewed well over 100 sales trainers, from firms big and small. Most of them are wonderful, upbeat, positive folk, but...some have a tendency to tell whoppers when they talk about the services they provide.
To be clear, I don't think that the sales trainers themselves realize that they're telling lies. They're communicating ideas and concepts that they truly believe but which, in my view, don't correspond to reality.
Here are the six most common lies:
1. We did real scientific research.
Many sales gurus claim to base their techniques on exhaustive research. In most cases, the "research" consists of anecdotes resulting from previous sales training engagements. Usually, when there is some kind survey involved, the sampling is usually too small to be of any scientific validity.
2. We can create sales stars.
Many sales gurus claim that their techniques and tools will allow average-performing salespeople to sell as much as top-performing salespeople. In fact, sales training usually provides incremental improvement, turning average salespeople into above-average, no higher.
3. We studied best practices.
The lie here isn't that they haven't studied successful organizations in successful companies, but that the "best practices" that work well inside one firm will automatically work as well in another. In fact, most sales environments tend to be idiosyncratic, because every firm must address its customer's needs uniquely.
4. We teach the latest techniques.
Give me a break. While there are a few exceptions, almost every sales training program in the world is some variation of the 1970s concept of "solution selling." The training firm may trick the concept out with some fancy new terminology (e.g. "The Challenger Sale"), but most of the time it's the same-old, same-old.
5. We can motivate your troops.
The truth is that nobody can motivate anybody else because motivation comes from inside. It is possible to set the conditions so that it's easier for people to motivate themselves, and you can suggest ways for people to get themselves more motivated, but a rah-rah keynote is of value only as entertainment.
6. We customize to match your needs.
Every sales training firm provides some level of customization. However, most sales training firms specialize in a particular aspect of selling and thus tend to build programs that address that aspect. Remember: to a guy with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.
This is not to say that sales training doesn't have value. Quite the contrary, I've observed that sales training often has a faster ROI than investment in new technology. I recently discussed some of these issues (and how to avoid getting taken in) during a webinar hosted by AchieveGlobal. You can find a recording of the webinar HERE.
In a future post, I'll explain how to choose a sales training firm that will have the most positive impact on revenue and profit, so stay tuned.
GEOFFREY JAMES writes "Sales Source on Inc.com," the world's most-read sales-oriented blog. His new book, Business Without the Bullsh*t, will be published in early 2014. To get weekly blog updates, sign up for his free "Insider" newsletter. @Sales_Source