Co-authored by:

Dr. Gunter Wessels, Founder & Practice General Manager;
Mr. Charlie Johnson, Leadership & Management Practice Manager

Many corporate managers make judgments of salespeople and their skills every day. From hiring to training, coaching and development, many sales managers efficiently use their experience and intuition to guide their teams to succeed.  

However, the time sales managers allocate to training and development for their sales teams is small. Even those who want to coach and train more can’t because senior management adds responsibilities to first-level sales managers every week. Skills training seems to be less critical than driving immediate revenue, at all costs.

When it comes to practical sales training for the whole team, things become more confusing. In every group, there is a bell-curve of performance and skill. The 80/20 rule is very much alive and used by many companies whose sales managers support the top 20% but ignore, rather than develop, the other 80%.

There is also a behavior curve; the frequency and consistency of best-practice behavior application in developing salespeople is lacking. Regardless of the reason, each team member receives an accidentally different development pathway. Unless baseline process or foundational skills, like questioning, are taught as a group training intervention, meeting the needs of every participant is difficult.

Unfortunately, more generic training classes are not always useful. We have observed that the requirements of managers to see and heavily reinforce “best practice” behaviors over the long term also results in a bell-curve. Best practices remain hidden and scarce. Creating smaller groups of learners is a solution for specialized and targeted skills, but training small groups on just a few skills in the course is not economical when teaching large sales teams.

Why not just push coaching as the training modality of choice and put it on the shoulders of managers? Because, although manager coaching is ideal, it is difficult to observe, reward and reinforce. In spite of repeated attempts to have sales managers focus on skill development combined with joint sales calls, skills are not a priority. Closing the sale dominates any and everything else.

What about the training department?

First, you need a big one, and most are not adequately resourced. Second, requiring the training department to coach and reinforce effective sales behaviors can be useful, but it is expensive and subject to the talent and tenure of the trainers. The same problem applies to vendor support in skill reinforcement; they want their product to have the highest priority.

What about technology?

Artificial intelligence-powered simulations and sophisticated programs are excellent options if they are affordable, and matched to your market and competition. But in the end, the core problem remains: there is a lack of objective insight into the needs of each learner.

What should you do?

To solve this problem, we need an adequate pre-learning assessment. All learning starts with identifying what the learner knows and which skills they can demonstrate.  The ability to use the data to adjust the learning curriculum for each person is lacking because of a shortage of adequate and accessible assessment tools.

What’s the best practice?

Use assessments that are designed to identify benchmark behaviors, motivation, culture, acumen and capabilities, to create a curriculum based on learning outcome goals. Next, develop a curriculum of short modules or, preferably, micro-learning sessions based on the assessment results. Micro-learning focuses on one behavior, skill, knowledge, structure and best practice in each lesson. Relevant lessons are connected in series to form a unique learning pathway for the learner.

Finally, the behaviors and skills covered should include process, hard-skills, and soft-skills; the entire package needs to cover skills, knowledge and also behaviors and best practices. Why not cover what is needed and nothing else, based on an individual’s needs? Is your training infrastructure able to customize learning down to the individual level at scale?

Training and development need to evolve.

The only thing we can’t make more of is time, so Sell Well.

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Mr. Charlie Johnson

Charlie Johnson is a masterful sales advisor, trainer and an inspiring mentor with a unique ability to keep teams and employees challenged and engaged. As the founder of CJC Associates (formerly Medical Education Training Associates), Mr. Johnson has driven the design and delivery of leadership development and sales training programs for clients since 1999, always with a focus on customizing content and delivery to align with overall corporate strategy.
Mr. Johnson holds an M.Ed. degree from the College of New Jersey and a B.S. in education from Rider University in Trenton, NJ. His industry memberships and affiliations have included the Industry/Academic Surgeon Training Partnership Committee for the National Academy of Medicine (formerly Institute of Medicine), the Surgical Education Board for the University of Toronto, and the Board of Directors for the Association of Education Foundation.

Dr. Gunter Wessels

Dr. Gunter Wessels

Dr. Gunter Wessels founded LiquidSMARTS℠. He is passionate and dedicated to the improvement of human performance and ethical business practices in sales and marketing. Dr. Wessels leads a global practice that delivers strategic consulting and next-generation personnel development services to individuals and global corporations alike. His expertise comes from more than 25 years in the healthcare industry, including 14 years as a consultant to global and local marketing and sales teams. Dr. Wessels has a Ph.D. in Management with an emphasis in Marketing and Psychology from the University of Arizona, an M.B.A. from the A. Gary Anderson Graduate School of Management, and a B.S. in Biology from the University of California.

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