Companies spend billions of dollars every year on sales training-and, frankly, a lot of that money is wasted.  I was recently interviewed by (Part 1 and Part 2) on the matter, but I thought it might be useful to encapsulate my remarks here.

Entrepreneurs often wrongly assume that they can increase sales by getting the assistance of a top training firm. However, every training firm has its own strengths and weaknesses, and their area of expertise may not match what's needed.

Another common error: confusing sales training with motivational speaking.  There's nothing wrong with getting people pumped up and motivated, but a speech (no matter how inspirational) can't fix problems like an inability to close, or weak presentation skills.

With that in mind, here some suggestions for making sales training more effective:

  • Focus sales training on fundamental skills. Most sales failures take place because of a lack of ability or practice in very fundamental skills-questioning, presenting and closing.
  • Include skills training in every sales team meeting. Set a goal to spend at least one-third of every team meeting on sales training. You'll increase everyone's numbers more by improving skills than with product training alone.
  • Tie the fundamentals to your sales process. If you understand how those skills help move an opportunity through the sales cycle, you can identify exactly where additional training is needed-either on a group or on an individual level.
  • Include role-playing in every training session. While it's fun to bat around sales theory, it's only useful if tied to actual behavior. That means practicing, in a controlled way, so that the skills are really learned.
  • Check for retention of what was taught before. Sometimes sales training involves eliminating bad habits and integrating new ones. That means you need to make sure that the training sticks and continues to be used.
  • Make it fun. Sales training should ideally involve a contest, a competition, and/or prizes. People who sell pros are naturally motivated to win-so turning sales training into an opportunity to win guarantees participation.

This article is based upon conversations with two of my favorite people: Dave Stein, CEO of the ES Research Group (which studies the sales training market) and Duane Sparks, CEO of The Sales Board, a top sales training firm.