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Sales Training and the Treasure Hunt

Sales Training and the Treasure Hunt
Jeyavardhan Suram - General Manager, Corp GHR WP - TDAM -Profflearng-Sales | October 25, 2013

I was often bemused to note that sales training is considered a panacea to an organization’s ills. The moment we hear the words sales training, everybody dreams of filled coffers.

The cranky word ROI is very misleading. It is even more amusing to note that just because the letter “R”  comes first in the three letter ROI, it is perhaps every organization’s assumption that return precedes investment – a grand asymmetric assumption. It is perhaps best to delink the term ROI from sales training. It is high time to paraphrase ROI as ISR, or Investment Supersedes Return. Voltaire, a French philosopher, famously said, “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.”

This idiopathic assumption results in the procrastination of sales training as evaluating return with certainty is unknown in a world of economics. Sales training is either deployed or delayed by organizations with a poor understanding of behavioral economics. Organizations that deploy seek instant gratification, and those that delay seek shelter in undue excuses. There are some organizations that thrive on borderline thinking, and are in denial mode that sales training does not work for them simply because they have hired the best talent. If it is that simple to train today and gain tomorrow, then I wonder why every organization does not queue up to train their sales people.

Amid this fabled thinking, some organizations tend to enforce training on their sales people as they believe the enforcement mode offers on-the-spot payoffs. It is high time to trade these archaic positions with contemporary thinking, since results are more easily accomplished in an enabling environment and not an enforcing environment.

Organizations should start seeing sales training as a force multiplier, not a one-time ritual. Sales training is a journey and a process that achieves results with consistency and purpose. Organizations should be led by a belief system to invest in the professional development of their people. Unfortunately, very few organizations acknowledge sales training as an investment and not a cost.

George Akerlof famously explained behavioral economics in his Richard T. Elye lecture on procrastination and obedience. He observed that decisionmakers make seriously wrong decisions that do not occur in standard textbook economics.  He further explains that procrastination occurs when present costs are unduly salient in comparison with future costs.

Ben Gram’s value investing is a great example to follow here -- long-term investment in a portfolio that you expect to perform over time. In Ben Gram’s own words, “True investment is more a hazard to be guarded against than as a source of profit through prophecy.” Organizations should embrace this philosophy and stop betting on sales training.

There is a huge, huge difference in betting vs. long-term investing. Betting leads to woebegones while long-term investing results in successful outcomes.

In addition to the slipshod economic understanding lies a stark truth: organizations are infested with prophets of doom, and their doomsday predictions hinder improvement by hunting for poor reasons to stop sales training. These pressure groups fervently spread vague details, and the results are stand-offs/brinkmanship/extreme balderdash. It is good to stop spreading scary stories about sales training and understand that future benefits and should be directed by what is good for business.

Meaningful statistics and objective assessments should not be traded for gut instincts and personal idiosyncrasies. While a data-driven approach is nice to have, it does not always offer a realistic picture, especially in matters of long gestation where time is the key to purposeful  measurements. Measuring sales training effectiveness based on lagging indicators and coincident indicators makes for a flawed approach and measuring leading indicators alone provides for an error-free judgment.

We should first create considerable data over a couple of years of training to make an equitable measurement of the data, then look at the so-called ROI, rather than expending energy on attempting to quantify the unknown. These unknowns reveal themselves over the long haul of training and allow us to measure the results. Excoriation of past data causes analysis paralysis and adjournment of sales training programs in many organizations.

Further sales training induces a sense of belonging and improves social behavior, resulting in an overall improvement in the performance of the organization. A paucity of talent puts additional pressure on the hiring system and makes a strong business case for sales training. Investing in available talent for the foreseeable future is better than chasing a mirage – hire exceptional talent.

Finally, it’s an axiom that consistent sales training offers more than the expected Return-On-Investment. ES Research established that 3rd party sales training results in a 40-fold improvement in sales metrics, and Harvard Business Review reported that every $1 invested in sales training was worth more than $40 spent on advertising.

I wish to close this with a famous quote from Mark Hunter.  --- “Sales development is not a task, it is a lifestyle.”

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