The Great Sales and Training Divide

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<p><strong>Sterling, Va. &mdash; May 2&nbsp;</strong><br />Inherent to the DNA of most companies is a fundamental disconnect between sales and training.&nbsp; </p><p>On a primitive level, this disconnect stems largely from differing areas of focus, unaligned goals and &mdash; perhaps most importantly &mdash; inconsistent metrics to drive and measure results.<br /><br />In the mind of the sales manager, training equates to time out of the field, and time away from the customer &mdash; for whatever reason &mdash; never can be a good thing.&nbsp; </p><p>Training from their perspective (and experience) is a waste of time with little long-term benefit or &ldquo;muscle memory&rdquo; of learned skills.&nbsp; </p><p>As such, sales managers perceive diminutive value in the training function. &nbsp;<br /><br />Interestingly, they&rsquo;re basically right. Huthwaite&rsquo;s research demonstrates that sellers suffer an 87 percent loss of skill on average within one month of training unless there is immediate and ongoing coaching &mdash; and most reinforcement (if it exists to begin with ) generally loses momentum over time as &ldquo;process&rdquo; falls victim to the &ldquo;pressures&rdquo; to deliver. <br /><br />Professionals responsible for learning and development&nbsp; (L&amp;D) consider training an unmitigated good in and of itself and think great organizations are ones that invest in their people.&nbsp; </p><p>The employees &mdash; and their development &mdash; come first.&nbsp; From their perspective, hostility from the sales department is misdirected &mdash; as the services provided are genuinely valuable to the sales function.&nbsp; </p><p>Why then do most sales managers fail to recognize the value training delivers? &nbsp;<br /><br />Could a more accurate question be, if as L&amp;D professionals you do not know how to create value for your customers, how can you help your customers create value? <br /><br />In theory, L&amp;D professionals should be &mdash; by nature &mdash; proficient salespeople. Everything they do should create innate value for their customers: the sales organization.&nbsp; </p><p>But all too often, training professionals are seen not as strategic partners but as the &ldquo;ball and chain&rdquo; whose existence, a necessary evil, is merely tolerated.<br /><br />So, there is a &ldquo;cold war&rdquo; standoff, which slowly escalates with occasional moments of open hostility.&nbsp; But such battles are usually brief, as it isn&rsquo;t a fight between equals &mdash; it&rsquo;s a fight between David and Goliath.&nbsp; </p><p>Sales generates the revenue, L&amp;D, which is a cost center, depends on the success of sales.&nbsp; </p><p>So, the sales side of the house generally sets the course, while L&amp;D is struggling to justify its budget and rationale for sellers&rsquo; time out of the field.<br /><br />So, what is to be done?&nbsp; How can you decode &ldquo;the disconnect,&quot; build cooperation, respect and mutual support between the two sides of the house?&nbsp; </p><p>The answer, while simple, is not easy. It lies in the alignment of L&amp;D&rsquo;s definition of success with that of the sales function. <br /><br />It is in the best interest of the training side of the house to make the first move.&nbsp; Sales is entrenched.&nbsp; L&amp;D needs to be assertive, proactive and courageous to open the dialogue about definitions of success.&nbsp; </p><p>The purpose is to develop a line of sight between the objectives of sales and the objectives of the training department.&nbsp; </p><p>What do sales leaders need from their sales force? What kind of success is desirable but not inevitable? How can L&amp;D&rsquo;s desire to train people, align with &ldquo;the wants&rdquo; of sales leadership?<br /><br />Line of sight is in the best interest of all concerned. If L&amp;D can facilitate the alignment of vision, either with outside assistance or internally, everyone wins.&nbsp; </p><p>L&amp;D needs to demonstrate how x number of training hours leads to y behavior change and quantify this behavior change in terms of the outcomes sales is seeking. <br /><br />L&amp;D needs to recognize and communicate that performance improvement extends beyond classroom training.&nbsp; What occurs before and after is as important as the training itself.&nbsp; </p><p>Success, as defined by sales, requires upfront agreement on goals, expectations, metrics and, most importantly, a plan for post-training coaching &mdash; the process of expecting and empowering salespeople to revisit, practice and master the skills introduced in training. <br /><br />Second, the entire initiative has to be driven with metrics (i.e., objective, empirical and quantified measures) &mdash; essentially, putting hard measures to the &ldquo;soft&rdquo; skills of selling. </p><p>In practical terms, L&amp;D needs to understand and communicate the behaviors that result in sales excellence &mdash; the skills that separate average from superior sellers. </p><p>L&amp;D needs to provide sales leaders with leading indicators to assess their people in a timely manner, beginning right after training.&nbsp; </p><p>To drive outcomes, sales and L&amp;D need to be able to assess the skills of the salespeople post-training against the skills empirically associated with world-class sales performance.&nbsp; </p><p>By recognizing and reinforcing effective behaviors and addressing remaining skill gaps, sales leaders can be assured of achieving their desired outcomes.<br /><br />The line of sight between the objectives of sales and the objectives of L&amp;D is an imperative. There is no shortcut.</p>

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