If One More Person Says Sales Training Does Not Work – I’ll Scream

This started in a LinkedIn group today, when I read a headline that screamed “Sales Training Doesn’t Work.” I responded there, but was compelled to migrate my thoughts here to share the issue more broadly. Lucky you.

It’s Shock Value (Nothing to See Here, Folks. Move Along Now.)

Of course, after a few taunting words, the author popped in a link to his own blog, in an effort to drive traffic. And yes, it was a business that sold sales consulting services (where they can help you make sales training work ;-). I understand that tactic and kind of respect it as a veiled way to drive traffic, or if one is selling services, to lead people to their website. I get it. Internet marketing.

But really? Sales training doesn’t work? Sheesh. I must admit, and you can probably tell, that I am more than a bit weary of hearing how “sales training doesn’t work.”

If You Live in a Country, Learn the Language

My response? Baloney. As one of my elementary school teachers used to say, “To be terrific, be specific.” (Thank you, Mrs. Deitz.)

Saying “sales training doesn’t work” is a great headline to get attention or often to drive blog traffic, but in reality, whether or not it “works” for you depends on what you expect it to do. Done well (I guess that’s one caveat), sales training works just fine ***for what it is intended to do.***

Look folks, as a friend of mine says, this ain’t rocket surgery. Training is simply a way to let people know what, why and how to do something (and sometimes, when and where). It’s the passage of knowledge, skills, and sometimes attitudes, from one to another. If at the end of the training, students can pass tests on what was taught and demonstrate the skills taught, the training itself has been highly successful!  (For better definitions and more background on training and instructional design, see: http://www.scribd.com/doc/46526471/Basic-Instructional-Design-Principles)

But Wait, There’s More…

BUT… Will the training change performance? Well, maybe, and maybe not. It depends on a few other factors. (And I guess this is why people say that sales training doesn’t work, even if the training did exactly what training is supposed to do.)

Perhaps the real problem is that we keep looking for sales training to be a solution to a problem it can’t solve. Simply implementing a training program, even a well-designed one, and expecting it to improve workplace performance is like cracking eggs into a cold skillet and expecting scrambled eggs to form. Or like taking Ibuprofen for high blood pressure. Good luck with either of those.

As Harold Stolovitch and Erica Keeps remind us in their books of the same titles, “Telling Ain’t Training” and “Training Ain’t Performance.” (True dat.)

So, How DO We Improve Performance?

If we expect to drive change in sales organizations, we need to develop entire learning and performance systems that ensure the right people are in place, the right things are being trained, and that management knows what is being trained so they can support, reinforce, coach and help the sales reps transfer the learning to the workplace, and then coach and manage the performers to higher levels of performance.

Where Do We Go Wrong?

So, training is just one (critical, but one) element of an overall performance system. The three most common reasons I’ve seen that that keep sales training from producing a lift in sales performance, are:

  1. It was the wrong sales training content for that company, industry, product, or culture
  2. The training was an “event” with no overall performance system and coaching to ensure transfer and performance improvement
  3. Other performance levers were so far out of alignment (things like hiring/selection, compensation, sales process, policies, performance management practices, product quality, or service delivery, to offer a few examples) that they prevented the training (or really, the reps) from having a larger impact.

Use the Right Tool for the Job

To see more about this, you can review another of my uploaded presentations on Scribd.com at http://scr.bi/PerfLevers. The presentation wasn’t designed for non-verbal delivery (and when run live, has a lot of building elements that you won’t see in these static slides), but you’ll get the picture.

Stop the Insanity

So, when you hear someone say that training doesn’t work or that sales training doesn’t produce results, question them into being specific about what they mean. And to preserve what’s left of my precious sanity, don’t let them blame training for not solving a problem that it wasn’t designed to solve.

Be safe out there.



Mike Kunkle

Contact me:

  • mike_kunkle at mindspring dot-com
  • 214.494.9950 Google Voice

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