The Current State & Impact of Sales Training

September 5, 2017 John Barrows

I’ve been professionally selling for about 20 years and delivering formal sales training for approximately 8 of them.

I’ve bought and sold a lot of training over the years and have seen it have a significant impact on results and I have seen it fall completely flat.

There are a lot of factors that go into determining the right sales training for your team and rolling it out successfully.

That said, I think we’re now at a very interesting point in the evolution of sales training and the trainers who deliver it.

Old School vs. New School

old school sales training process

The Old School or Traditional Approach

There’s the traditional approach to sales training where trainers do in-person onsite training sessions and walk teams through all-encompassing sales methodologies using power point decks and role plays.

This approach helps by getting reps out of their day to day routine and forcing them to stop and think about what they’re doing and ideally collaborate with their peers.

It also tends to provide a good refresher on some of the fundamentals, introduce a few new tips, implement structure, create a common language for the team to leverage moving forward and provide some motivation if done right.

The main challenge with the onsite approach is the success of the training is highly dependent on the trainer and their ability to connect and engage with the audience.

Also, many of the traditional sales methodologies try to address every stage of the sales process when most of them have their strengths and weaknesses at the different stages.

The New School Approach

sales tech landscape 2017

The other side of what’s happening in the sales training industry revolves around the online distribution of newer school content and techniques and the so called “thought leaders” who are distributing them.

The amount and availability of content on the internet and various platforms is incredible right now. You can literally learn about anything you want just by doing a quick google search.

These online resources provide instant access to content in bite sized chunks that can be applied immediately and play into our increasing A.D.D. mindset. They also provide a platform for ongoing reinforcement, coaching, analysis and insights into what’s working.

However, there are plenty of challenges with the new school online approach. First, there’s the sheer volume of content and trying to find out which approaches and techniques are most applicable to your business is almost impossible.

Also, without direct supervision, most people who go through online content tend to go through the motions and are more concerned with completing it and getting their badge than they are with absorbing and learning it.

Finally, you have no real way of knowing the qualifications and therefore validity of a sales trainer since anyone can position themselves as a thought leader these days with enough followers and a good enough online presence.

Regardless of old school or new school training, methodologies, or techniques, a huge factor in the success of any training is the person delivering it. We’ve all heard the old saying that if you can’t do it then teach it right?


It’s waaaaay easier to tell people how to sell than it is to actually sell – @JohnMBarrows
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Some of the old school trainers haven’t actually sold anything in years, while some of the new school people sharing content have yet to sell anything at all or barely have enough experience to know whether or not what they are saying actually works.

How to Approach Sales Training

how to approach sales training

If you’re trying to figure out what training your team needs I recommend starting by breaking down your existing sales process and identifying the areas that need the most help.

The main stages of the sales process:

  • Account or Territory Planning
  • Prospecting
  • Qualification
  • Meeting Execution
  • Deal Management/Negotiations
  • Closing
  • Account Management

Again, there isn’t one training provider or methodology that is great at all these stages, which is why you shouldn’t look for one company to do all of it. Once you prioritize where you need the most help you can start searching for providers that have specific content in those areas. These can be online or onsite providers.

Onsite vs. Online

If you have the budget then a blend is always best. If you don’t have the budget, then you can spend time looking through all the online content and selecting the blogs and videos that fit the style and needs of your team.

Some online sales training programs cost money, but there are plenty of free avenues as well. For example, I charge people for my online Filling the Funnel program which is the same content I deliver onsite, but if you spent the time on my blog and resource center you could probably put together about 60-70% of it for free.

If you’re looking for onsite training, you will follow a similar initial process to identify your needs and match it up with content and a provider that meets them.

You will want to make sure you speak with the actual trainer so you can get a feel for their style. A lot of sales training companies have sales reps who sell the training and then trainers who deliver it.

I’ve heard plenty of stories about how the sales rep sold the training and then the trainer who showed up was not the right fit for their culture or team.  In my experience with onsite training, the impact is 50% based on the content and 50% based on who delivers it. You could have the best content in the world, but if you have a dud delivering it won’t resonate.

Reinforcement is the Key

key sales success

Regardless of onsite or online training, there needs to be some type of reinforcement plan in place. This can come in the form of coaching, online resources, testing, and/or re-certification.

However, in my opinion, the most important part of any reinforcement plan has to do with the front-line managers.

If the front-line managers aren’t actively engaged in the training and looking to become the experts in the content, no amount of support from the vendor will make that much of a difference.

I can always tell when my training will truly have a long-term impact based on how actively involved the front-line managers are. If they aren’t in the training or they are sitting in the back checking their e-mails then I know the impact will be limited. It’s not a trainer’s job to make sure the content sticks, it’s the manager’s. The managers should be the ones reinforcing the content on an ongoing basis then. A manager’s #1 job should be coaching and mentoring, not chasing or closing deals.

Creating an Environment of Continuous Learning

Companies need to create an environment of continuous learning regardless of what type of training they invest in. I used to pick a topic with my team each week that we were struggling with (dealing with gatekeepers, specific objections, discounting, personas, etc.) and assign it to someone to find an approach on how to deal with it. They would then go out and do simple research online to find one or two approaches to address that challenge.

We would then use those approaches as a team to address that challenge and everyone would track on a piece of paper the positive and negative responses they got using it. We would then collect all the pieces of paper at the end of the week and see what worked and what didn’t. If you take this approach, you don’t really need a vendor to come in and train you on an ongoing basis.

Training is important but don’t look at is as the solution to your sales problems, look at it as a tool in the tool box and part of a journey toward continuous improvement. Make it happen!

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