Gere Roberts Pretty Woman

Why Sales Training Seldom Works

Lots of good-hearted people make a decent living by training sales people. I used to be one of them. So, it’s with a sympathetic heart that I say, “Sales training stinks.”

On the surface, it seems like an obvious treatment for revenue shortfalls, client attrition, and a lack of market penetration or saturation. But in the end, it almost never delivers the promised results.

It’s not the trainer’s fault; most sales trainers really do know how to sell. And it’s not outdated curricula; heaven knows, the fundamentals of selling haven’t changed much in decades. The culprit is a fundamental flaw in human behavior – a flaw that that filmmakers and priests and philosophers and statesmen have taught us to ignore.

The inconvenient truth about human behavior is simply this: Radical changes in individual behavior are seldom long-lived.

Think about it. Sales people emerge from seminars enlightened and revitalized, only to lose their luster within weeks of returning to the streets. They graduate from training programs with new behaviors and a heightened sensitivity of customer needs, only to return to their old habits of talking-before-listening and manipulating customers for short-term wins at the expense of meaningful relationships. Why?

Remember the romantic comedy Pretty Woman? …in which Edward Lewis (Richard Gere) rescues Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts) from a life of prostitution? …while Vivian Ward rescues Edward Lewis from a life of hurtful manipulation? The underlying premise is that people can be changed, and that change can be lasting. But as attractive as that concept might seem, it’s probably inconsistent with the actual lives of most escorts and business raiders.

And for those of us who are old enough to remember Watergate and the names Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Dean, Liddy, Magruder and Mitchel, I ask, how many of these guys have changed, fundamentally? Sure, I’ll give you Chuck Colson – but even he claims it took an intervention from God to make that change last.

I’m not a cynic. To the contrary, I’m a firm believer in Maslow and self-actualization. But I do believe the impetus for meaningful change is seldom imposed from outside – it has to be wanted. Deeply and genuinely.

Humans have tremendous power to evolve. Regardless of your beliefs on the origin of our species, our growth, throughout history, is astounding. We are driven to explore, to invent, and to learn. And we are capable, when presented with opportunity and encouragement, to change our surroundings and even ourselves. But we have to want to change, and we have to commit to paying the price, through self-examination and significant effort, to confront our own behaviors and to practice self- improvement.

So, before investing in sales training as a panacea for revenue shortfalls, I’d recommend taking a close look at your sales force, individual by individual, and asking, “Which of these folks really want to change?” Then, be prepared to invest heavily with all of the resources at your disposal.