4 Reasons Why Training Sales People is Less Effective than Managing Them Well

(This article was previously published on Technorati.com.)

Countless books have been written, extolling the virtues of sales training. All of them miss the point. Companies’ sales efforts fail, not so much because their sales people don’t know how to sell, but because they’re not being well managed.

Call sheets, sales meetings, personal success plans? None of these are designed to benefit the sales force. They’re designed to give senior management the illusion that the sales force is being managed. Effective sales management is simpler than all of that.

So, what’s the alternative? The alternative is to focus on behaviors that make naturally motivated people more productive. Here are four reasons why training sales reps is ineffective (and four things you should focus on, instead):

  1. People can’t be motivated to be motivated. Some people are naturally amped. Others couldn’t get amped if you put forty-million volts through them. Many sales managers can’t tell the difference. So they hire people who are technically proficient, and spend countless hours and tens of thousands of dollars trying to motivate them to be good sales people. Great sales reps aren’t great because they’re experts in metallurgy, or brilliant systems analysts, or noteworthy academicians; they’re great because they are so energized that other people follow them. So tell your sales managers and your recruiters to stop looking for reps with industry knowledge and start hiring zealots.
  1. Sales folk are more likely to be motivated by money than by vision. Highly successful entrepreneurs are driven by vision; sales reps not so much. That’s why we have commission plans. Sales training asks sales reps to change behaviors that they’ve come to believe, right or wrong, make them money. These programs try to sell the sales reps a vision of success that’s built on unfamiliar practices. The company’s CEO usually sees the connection, but the frontline sales reps don’t. To them, any unfamiliar paradigm is counterintuitive. So, instead of trying to change the way your sales reps choose behaviors, take a closer look at your commission plan, and consider retooling it to reward different behaviors.
  1. Nobody likes to be micromanaged. Sales training refocuses sales reps on metrics, personal or organizational, that are assumed to drive revenue. And, indeed, they may. But in the implementation phase, this new focus translates quickly into paperwork: call sheets, account strategies, etc. And paperwork is drudgery. So try managing only a few behaviors, instead of many. Michael Bosworth has a brilliant suggestion in his book Solution Selling. Ask sales reps to copy you on their follow-up letters to productive new business calls, specifically identifying the pain point their new prospect shared. Then send an email to the customers yourself (as CEO or sales manager), to let them know that you’re excited to learn your sales rep will be addressing this issue. Make yourself available, personally, for follow-up. You’ll not only encourage reps to make new business calls, you’ll eliminate all the fiction writing that passes as call reports.
  1. Inspiration is more powerful than motivation. Forget the schmaltzy motivational posters. People just don’t respond positively to them. And in the long run, the same can be said for sales trainers. Sure, it’s fun to get pumped up at an event, but long-term inspiration comes from within. So instead of investing in seminars and workshops, let your sales force see your vision for the organization. Share your deep personal commitment to the company’s success and make note of those who respond viscerally. Talk with these self-appointed ambassadors about how they can lead their peers by example. And publicly praise brand-positive behaviors when they occur organically in the organization. Everyone wants to be praised. Eventually, they’ll figure it out.