For as long as I’ve been working, I’ve experienced training.  We all have.  We also know that it doesn’t’ always “stick”.  This is especially true of sales training.  Let me share one big “why”.

As my role transitioned into sales leadership, and now consulting, I had to figure out why some training works better than others.  When an initiative involves training, whoever owns the results of that initiative (sometimes different from who leads the training) must understand why…and what to do about it.

There Are Two Kinds of Training.

The two kinds of training are really related to two kinds of content:

  1. Content that trainees can “know”. By this, I mean that information in the training is simply transferred with little or no behavior change. Examples in the sales world are how to prepare a bid or enter an order, how to find collaterals. General examples might be how to log into the company networks or get help, where to go for an access badge, etc. In banking, we had “how to spot and report possible money laundering” training.  The point:  learning is simple knowledge transfer.
  2. Content that addresses what trainees “do” (behavior content). A lot of sales training falls into this category.  It introduces and defines specific selling behaviors…perhaps with some role-playing for practice.  A training department can measure “success” as post-course retention of the material.  However, the vice president of sales, who owns results responsibility, needs actual behavior change. Millennial-friendly hip content, video role-playing or easily digestible micro-eLearning modularization doesn’t change behavior.  These innovations are great at “know”: they effectively transfer knowledge and introduce desired behavior, but they don’t drive behavior change.

The second kind of training doesn’t work…without help.  Behavior change training alone works for only a very small percentage of highly motivated sellers.  I have watched many companies fail to meet goals because they only put their people through a training event, refusing to invest in actual behavior change.

Many companies fail to distinguish between the two kinds of content.  As a result, they unconsciously cripple a “sales training” initiative by applying a “know” solution to a “do” problem.  They fail to adequately reinforce behavior change after a simple training event.

Changing Behavior is Simple, but Not Easy.

The difference between “know” content and “do” content is the level and type of follow-up required. “Know” requires follow-up coaching.  Coaching on behavior change is old ‘technology’. Until recently, it’s required a personalized coaching regimen (more about new innovations in that area below).  Here’s a table of the difference between a training event and coaching. Coaching ensures that behavior change is adopted. The differences are pretty self-explanatory:

Table, Training vs Coaching

The gold standard of coaching behavior content is and has always been manager-delivered.  Due to the one-on-one nature of effective coaching, a seller’s immediate manager is the logical person to deliver effective coaching.

I was one of the first in my company to become fully certified in the full suite of (Miller Heiman Group) coaching methodologies. I now help not only my own clients, but those of several colleagues to build coaching acumen in their management corps.  It’s a hugely rewarding part of my consulting practice:  I grow sales careers by growing sales managers’ careers.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) Comes to Coaching

The promise of AI is that it can act as an expert system that tirelessly monitors behaviors looking for gaps.  This is a powerful management tool.  It also requires an astoundingly huge data set in order to “teach” the system how to distinguish behaviors.

I work with one of the first systems capable of uncovering critical selling behaviors.  It diagnoses selling gaps proactively.  It’s able to spot deal risks and recommend corrective selling behaviors in time to change the deal trajectory is a major innovation. This system operates from an expert system database built from the deepest experience base in existence: the largest, most successful B2B selling organization in the world.  This knowledge base is poised to become the first to use machine learning (one form of AI) to diagnose sales opportunities via combing CRM data.  This requires a different CRM that collects behavior data rather than today’s usual “activity-based” tracking. You can’t coach from “how many calls did this salesman make”, but you can coach from data that can infer meaningful conversations.

While personal coaching is still the gold standard, an expert-based system focusing on selling behaviors lightens the load on front-line sales managers.  These people are a very overloaded group.  A system that can automatically catch and notify sellers of the most common behavior gaps allows managers to concentrate their coaching on higher-value issues.

Don’t Address a “Do” Problem With a “Know” Solution

If you and your company want to embark on a sales performance improvement journey, make sure your plan distinguishes between “know” and “do” content.   Then make sure that you do “do” correctly:  with a robust coaching component.  Also look for a solution which has a clear future into automated coaching using AI or some similar technology.

If you’d like a fresh set of eyes on your situation, I’d be happy to spend some time hearing your situation out, and your thoughts.  Contact me at mark@boundyconsulting.comif you’d like to access a free sounding board. Comment below if you have any additional insights or questions to share.

To your success!

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