Sales Management: Professional Development

Edition: March 2012 - Vol 20 Number 03
Article#: 3933
Author: Anita Sirianni

Your staff is underperforming, but you can’t figure out why. You’re fairly certain that you’ve hired the best available talent, but at the looks of recent sales reports you are wondering – where did you go wrong?

Inconsistency and poor sales performance can be the result of a number of factors:

  • Lack of necessary skills or knowledge

  • Inefficient prospecting or lead cultivation methods

  • Poor use of sales tools or technology

  • Inadequate compensation and incentives

The success of any sales organization is incumbent on those driving results and the individuals who manage them. Without the support, direction and guidance, achieving any company goals will be difficult at best, regardless of the talent level of your salespeople. The fastest most direct path to right siding sales results or any other performance improvement can be best addressed with training.

Consider several of the reasons managers tend to push professional development to the bottom of a long list of priorities:

Training is too expensive. We frequently hear that training is too expensive. The real question is this: What is the real cost of not training your employees? Objectives get pushed back, causing costly delays in every department.

Too many companies view training as an expense rather than as an investment. Regardless of the size or type of an industry or business, training can have a measurable impact on performance and the bottom line.

Research shows that productivity increases while training takes place. Employees who receive formal training can be 230 percent more productive than untrained personnel who are working in the same role.1

Improved productivity increases business output and can open a greater share of the market or expand it by improving products, services or reputation. Successful training supports your business objectives for immediate and long-term gains.

High turnover. Managers are often concerned that if they train their employees, they will leave the company. This is simply not true. Training increases staff retention, which is a significant cost saving, as the loss of one competent person can be the equivalent of one year’s pay and benefits. In some companies, training programs have reduced staff turnover by 70 percent and led to a return on investment of 7,000 percent.

Perhaps the best way to think about training is like proper dental hygiene, you only have to take care of those teeth you want to keep! The trade-off of failing to train your staff will manifest itself in productivity losses, employee turnover and employee morale. While investment in your staff is always a challenge, if you have a technology-based business, training is essential to the health of the organization because of the rate of change.

Training takes too much time. The cost of training can be divided into direct and indirect, including the time it takes for people to be away from their jobs or selling efforts. The beauty of customized training is that it can be modified to accommodate your scheduling needs and productivity objectives. Ultimately, training designed and delivered to meet specific objectives will deliver a greater return on the investment for both short and long term payoff.

Fails to change behavior or results. Managers talk about how some training programs are unpopular, ill-received, or ineffective. At many companies, training programs just don’t work. And it’s difficult to justify the expense of training if there aren’t short- and long-term results. For many organizations, one of the reasons is that training takes place in a vacuum. It’s a one-time event (a seminar, workshop, or ropes weekend) that exists out of context from the rest of work life. In order to be successful, all development programs, including training, must be integrated with initiatives tied into the organization’s business needs and goals. The more closely related training is to work responsibilities the better. Otherwise the experience is seen as irrelevant and a waste of time.

Successful training factors

There are factors to ensure training will return a high return on your investment.

Assess talent to clarify the target. To identify true training needs, consider using skills assessments. These tools have come a long way since the personality tests of years ago. Today, resources are available to help you inexpensively measure the talents of your team in a variety of ways. For example, there are tools that measure sales competency, motivation, temperament and interpersonal skills that are often a key predictor of performance and potential. Measuring these talents before training will help you focus your training efforts in the areas your team needs most.

Customized content to maximize performance. Sales reps are much more likely to use information and ideas when they are relevant and practical. Generic training programs built on academic or theoretical models are being rapidly replaced by customized programs around the unique needs of the organization. For example, we solicit the feedback of our clients’ customers to further customize training. Custom training content delivers much more usable information that you can quickly implement.

Reinforce learning. “What gets reinforced …. gets repeated.” Research shows that 87 percent of what is learned in sales training is forgotten within three months – unless reinforced outside of the classroom. Apparently, this has more to do with a company’s culture than a salesperson’s aptitude. Even great training will produce disappointing results unless managers and executives provide reinforcement after the training program is over.

Sales training doesn’t stick because steps are not taken to practice and reinforce the key ideas presented. How many times have you attended training and the role play or practice sessions were rushed or eliminated in order for attendees to make their flights or too tired to even try?

Seasoned sales reps learn best with frequent participation in ‘real world’ scenarios. Any meeting is difficult for salespeople where they are forced to just sit and listen. Salespeople learn best when they are engaged, involved and have frequent opportunities to share their knowledge and experience. It’s critical to find creative, fun ways to reinforce learning during each training program, to boost retention for better performance long after the training ends.

Evaluate results. Sales training may not appear to deliver on expectations when results are not evaluated. Evaluating training effectiveness can be perceived as a very complex process – if you want it to be. On the other hand, as author Steven Covey offers, if you, “Begin with the end in mind,” evaluating training becomes more streamlined and focused on the things that matter to you and your reps.

As you launch any training initiative, consider the results that matter most. Figure out your current reporting and data access capabilities to help create metrics that your systems can measure. In addition, consider expanding your definition of sales training success by polling customers, prospects and end users. So often, sales managers build training around metrics that are too myopic. How might our customers define sales success? What attributes might they require in our sales team that will ultimately drive the results we look for?

Incorporating these strategies into your training program will ensure your training pays off today and tomorrow for significant returns to your top line, bottom line.

Author Anita Sirianni is president of ANSIR International, a company committed to coaching medical sales teams to excel. Anita works with medical and dental manufacturers and distributors to assist them in achieving peak performance and their potential. For more information, visit

1 Source: Smith A., 2001, Return on Investment in Training: Research Readings NCVER (PDF, 359kb)