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B2B Sales

‘Sales Training’ is a waste of time and money (Part 1)

When you teach sales people how to ‘push’ buyers through a sales playbook you are teaching them how to destroy your business reputation.

This controversial headline may seem counter-intuitive (possibly blasphemous) especially coming from the Founder of company called SalesTribe, and I know that this article is going to spark heated outrage from the worlds self-proclaimed sales trainers, many of whom are actually just corporate drop-outs trying to milk it for a few more years before they retire.

Having spent almost 3 decades sitting through practically every version of ‘sales training’ that was ever created, it's obvious that traditional sales training is now completely out of step with the new customer-led world that we now operate in. In fact, I’ll go one step further and say that traditional ‘sales training’ has never been successful, but before you shoot the messenger, let me explain:

The game has changed:

Information parity means that almost every buyer, in every industry is now educated, empowered able to make data-driven buying decisions without having to rely on a vendor sales person to educate them. These educated buyers certainly do NOT want a ‘quota crusher’ who reeks of ‘commission breath’ manipulating them with Jedi mind tricks and interruptive push-selling techniques. Seriously, who wants their objections ‘handled’ or to have some snake oil ‘closing technique’ imposed upon them during the buying journey? No-one – not now, not ever.

Vendors previously got away with this self-serving rubbish because the power imbalance in the buyer-seller dynamic was in the vendors favour, but the pendulum has now swung and it’s never coming back.

The objective of sales training:

Training sales people has always been done with one singular purpose in mind – to teach sales people how to be more effective at ‘closing’ more sales, more often. The sales function has always been about empowering vendors and has exclusively focused on revenue maximisation, usually at the expense of the customer experience (CX). This old approach to sales training also created ‘post purchase dissonance’…..that sinking feeling of buyer regret when some slick sales person has “talked you into a product” that you now wish you hadn’t purchased.

Traditional sales training teaches sales people about push-selling and how to behave like ‘hunters, lone-wolfs, sharks and quota crushers’….to sell ice to the Eskimo’s, to land the big fish, and to eat what they kill…..all the while treating the buyer as their hapless prey. Well, guess what? The prey has now become the predator in the customer-pull era, and they are armed to the teeth with knowledge and alternatives, meaning that sales training must change to focus on teaching sales people how to give this newly educated and demanding buyer exactly what they want.

Lets be clear, today's buyers now expect sales people to:

  1. truly know the
  2. personalise every engagement
  3. teach them
  4. anticipate their needs

Traditional sales training completely ignores these modern buyers expectations thus, when you teach sales people how to ‘push’ buyers through a sales playbook you are teaching them how to destroy your business reputation.

Take for example the good old “Barrier selling” – which involved asking customers leading questions to which the customer could only answer ‘yes’ (a technique with which many of us are familiar today). By asking several ‘yes’ questions, sales people would lower a customer’s barriers so that when they asked the closing question, the customer would automatically say ‘yes’. Sales people also knew to use this method when a spouse or child was present, which would increase the likelihood of a customer feeling like they must say ‘yes’…..and yes, I was actually taught this crap back in the day.

“When you SELL your break rapport, but when you TEACH you build rapport”

Like it or not, the world has now shifted from vendor-push to customer-pull business models, meaning that all businesses leaders must now begin training their sales people on the ‘customer-pull’ philosophy of ATTRACTING buyers, (rather than CHASING and closing buyers). This shift represents a massive change in the way that we must now train our sales folks. More on that in Part 2 of this article.

Has event-based training ever worked?

Sales training has never worked (in my experience) because we all know that event-based training (or cramming) is ineffective due to the fact that we humans learn in increments by doing. Strangely, we have known this since the 1880’s when Hermann Ebbinghaus was the first to study ‘forgetting’ behaviour in an experimental, scientific way. We only retain around 10% of information after 31 days (according to Aberdeen Group).

Added to the ‘forgetting curve’ it has always fascinated me that we sales people we rarely ever practice. Every athlete on the planet knows that they must spend most of their time training ahead of the performance/game/event. Not sales people – we do the obligatory 2 days offsite each year (retaining a mere 10% of what was taught if you're lucky) with some so-called sales guru preaching the latest iteration of solutionstrategicSPIN, value-based, or challenger selling and then following the 2 day rah-rah session we head straight out into combat. Dumb.

Unsurprisingly, these poorly equipped, poorly trained and poorly coached sales folks are like lambs to the slaughter….under prepared and ineffective right from outset. The new techniques (and ramped up motivation levels) were always short lived because sales management then reverted straight back to the old habits and KPI's.

Looking back on my career it’s now obvious that far too much of the sales role has been about treating buyers as an adversary that must be conquered and surprise surprise….buyers will NOT tolerate it any more.

So, stop wasting money and time on sales training because that outdated rubbish only creates misalignment with the modern buyer. Training sales people to overcome objectionsand close the buyer is what creates a win-lose, and business should ALWAYS be a game of win-win. Sales people require on-going coaching in order to give the buyer the CX that they want, so reallocate some of your training budget into sales enablement platforms like Incenteev which has been specifically designed to facilitate on-going sales coaching that actually drives sustainable behavioural change.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article – where I will outline what is now needed in place of “sales training”.

By Graham Hawkins