Do Sales Training Seminars Really Work?

Mike had the right credentials, but for some reason, was producing mediocre results. The company tried some of the best training programs on the market, but Mike didn't change. He didn't make quota last year, and they were thinking about dismissing him if he didn't achieve the next quarter's quota.

Everyone liked Mike. They thought he had great management potential. His sales manager couldn't figure out what was wrong. As a last ditch effort, they asked us to work with him to figure out the problem. When we met, Mike opened up. He said he was nervous on prospecting calls and that he didn't make a good first impression. He could not get follow-up appointments and prospects would rarely return his calls. He was reluctant to discuss this with his manager.

After we administered a assessment, we found that his clients and prospects had similar impressions. He was too friendly, and because of his nervousness with new prospects, started selling too quickly. He would mention only the product features, without understanding needs or developing rapport with his prospects. We developed a plan to work out the problems.

In our coaching sessions we did a lot of role-playing. We even made some calls together. The improvement was dramatic after a few sessions. Mike developed confidence and improved on every call. Mike started to close more new prospects, and three months later was 112% of plan.

This experience helped me to personally recognize the power of one-to-one coaching. Mike's behavior changed because of a few suggestions and our close working relationship. That would have never happened if we had just put Mike into a sales training seminar with eleven other people. Nor would that change have happened if we relied only on his manager to provide coaching. Even though he had a good relationship with his manager, we were able to focus exclusively on Mike, a luxury for most sales managers.

Do seminars really work?

When you are in the classroom with a dozen or more, how much individual attention can you get?

Going to crowded seminars just doesn't work consistently. It's analogous to attending a group golf lesson. Okay, you will get some benefit, but if you could afford private instruction, which would you rather have? Of course, private coaching. The instructor could work on your game 100% of the time.

Unfortunately, in most seminars, learning is geared to the "average" student. That means that some of the information will be valuable, and some of the information is irrelevant. I guess that's why we see some eager faces on some in the classroom, while others are doodling on their notepad. By focusing on the individual rather than a group, you can expect better results.

Sales and Marketing Management magazine found that the average amount spent on sales training for experienced salespeople was $3737 per salesperson in the nineties. Today, I'm sure that figure is low. We've found that many companies are spending big training dollars and are not getting a decent return on that investment. As a matter of fact, MOST COMPANIES DON'T MEASURE THE ROI.

Instead most rely on attitude questionnaires, which measure only trainee satisfaction. Hundred of corporate trainers are telling their boss, "Our people liked the training." Yet the boss is asking, "What result did we get from the training?" We've noticed that most companies have some sales training, however the effectiveness of that training is across the board. In many companies 2-3 months after training, the effect disappears. And for some it goes away in days. People go back to doing things the way they did before the training.

In one study by the Xerox Corporation, they found that without follow-up coaching and reinforcement, as much as EIGHTY-SEVEN PERCENT of the training effect is lost. That's 87 cents of every training dollar. The reason for this loss is that new skills feel uncomfortable and awkward.

Here's a real life example. After most learning, we go through a very awkward period where the new behavior doesn't feel natural and doesn't bring the results quickly. Those who stick with it, usually gain results as the skill feels more comfortable and starts to result in better performance. However, most of us have difficulty with adopting new behaviors, unless we get encouragement and feedback.

Coaching is the only way to keep a new skill reinforced and encourage during this learning dip after the training. Think about it. If you had a coach with you on the golf course or driving range when you were trying to learn that new swing, wouldn't you have a better chance adopting that new skill? With the right coach he or she would encourage you, provide you feedback, and diagnose your problem areas.

Most sales managers aren't doing enough coaching. Some don't have the time, and others simply don't know how. In a study by the NY Sales and Marketing Executives, they found that the number one request of salespeople is that THEIR MANAGERS SPEND MORE TIME WITH THEM. Salespeople want and need feedback, even the star performers on your team.

How the coaching process works . . .

We've developed a system to help salespeople achieve better sales performance. The process starts with an assessment. We gather data from the salesperson, his boss, customers and prospects. After the confidential information is compiled, the salesperson gets a detailed report about his performance from his raters. This feedback helps the salesperson get a reality check about their strengths and weaknesses

We debrief the results together, and then develop an action plan to improve those identified weaknesses. Then the salesperson begins a developmental program. Books, tapes, joint-calls, research or other activities are recommended. One-on-one training combined with self-study may also be used.

After the plan is finalized, the salesperson is mentored for a period of three months. Weekly follow-up calls insure that the salesperson is on track, focused, coached and encouraged. This coaching may be done face-to-face or coaching via telephone, fax, and e-mail.

With this individualized process, the salesperson receives more learning in less time. Learning that is target to the needs of the student. Traditional classroom training normally take days and time off the job.


Rob VeVerka is president and founder of Professional Learning Systems, a leadership and sales training company. Recently the Director of Executive Education at the University of Cincinnati, he was responsible for corporate training programs and the Executive Program. Rob conducts sales and management training programs and is an executive coach who provides leadership development for senior-level executives. Previously he was a regional sales manager with Ernst & Young and at Xerox Learning ...

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