Seriously! Why has it taken so long for industrious sales leaders to finally figure this out?
I remember what it was like joining a large paper manufacturer in the mid eighties starting my career in outside sales. It all began with 3 weeks in a room with 20 other new sales recruits, covering all aspects or prospecting, selling, closing etc… then as my roles advanced in sales management following this same model putting new sales people through sales training and putting seasoned sales executive through days and weeks of offsite learning…. Only to realize time and time again what really stuck, what really resonated was what occurred in the field, during the selling process. Then along came CRM and supporting SPM tools like coaching; but still missing were the elements of sales methodology and the framework by which one sells. Training remained separate and apart from the technology and tools.
We all realize that sales training, as we know it, hasn’t really worked for quite some time. We all understand that the profession is unique in that very few sales people have degrees in professional selling, although this is changing with Universities like DePaul in Chicago who now offer a BA/BS in Sales Leadership.
So, without this degree, companies must either invest in professional development, or try to play in the “free agent” market. Each approach has its merits. Back in the days, big sales organizations like IBM, Xerox and AT&T would immerse sales people in programs like I went through, that lasted weeks and months, and kept sending them back, until they hopefully figured it out. Reality is however, they learned through practice in the field, not in the classroom. So why do we expect sales people to get significantly better at their craft by attending weeklong sessions or even two or three day sales training events, when months of training didn’t work? We all know, both from practical experience and various studies, that about 80% of what sales people learn in training is lost in the first 30 days after the event.
Old news, I get it. And apparently so do many sales training providers. Do a quick Google search on the phrase “sales training doesn’t work” and you get back more than 30,000 results, many pointing to articles authored by sales training companies! Why then do companies continue to invest billions of dollars in sales training events? It is because they don’t know what else to do.
Technology Applied to an Old Problem
While things are slowly changing there are actually a couple of companies that are making a mark by applying technology in a new and intelligent way to this old problem. What is interesting about what these companies are doing is the concept of integrating learning and coaching into the CRM solutions sales leaders have been trying desperately to get sales people to use for some time now. By using the underlying capabilities of the CRM, combined with some very cool applications for things like opportunity management, account management and sales coaching, these companies may well blow up the old business model for sales training events.
Last spring in the Gartner Cool Vendor report for 2013, TAS made the list as a training technology firm that had already begun to shift the paradigm by moving from a traditional sales training company to a technology company.
I was recently briefed by another firm looking to change how people learn and sell that has also shifted from training to integrated sales learning. AXIOM Sales Force Development appears to be on a mission to change the old sales training model. By rethinking the old paradigm for sales training and applying new processes and technology that encapsulate CRM and SPM integration, AXIOM is delivering an interesting solution that changes the way sales people engage customers and the way managers coach and lead. Built on the Force.com platform and leveraging the core functionality of Salesforce.com, they are integrating a broad online learning library with key applications for account management, opportunity management and coaching. Their integrated solution appears to bring learning to the point where sales process occurs – where sales people and sales managers work – and to integrate it into the cadence of a normal sales organization.
Companies like TAS and AXIOM have clearly taken note of the fundamental changes in selling and learning. It is getting increasingly more expensive to pull sales people out of the field for training they are going to forget in a matter of weeks. In addition, today’s sellers are less patient and more technologically advanced than ever before. These people want learning delivered using technology and they want it easily accessible when they need it most. For these sellers, the old-line reinforcement programs offered by many traditional training companies aren’t effectively leveraging technology and aren’t really moving the needle. Finally, sales managers and senior leaders need better information and better coaching tools that correlate sales performance to behavior and ultimately to learning and development.
Is this the end of “Sales Training” as we know it? Perhaps not quite yet; not at least until the word gets out that there are alternatives to the old model; better alternatives than pulling sales people out of the field and sitting in training for days on end.
The market for sales training technology is truly taking hold, and aspects of Gartner’s Nexus of Forces – the cloud, mobile and information, are enabling businesses to shift learning from the classroom – to an interactive engagement during the selling process.
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