Top Ten Sales Training Mistakes Most Companies Make

Sales training comes in many forms and ideally should be customized for each individual organization. At the same time, CEOs and sales managers make several common mistakes that can jeopardize the success of any type of training program. Here are some to look out for:

1. No support from the top. Leaders are typically more concerned about results than process — about the scorecard, rather than the way the score was achieved. Of course, they should be concerned with results, but what I see out there is little action, and what I hear out there is mostly lip service about the value of sales training. No wonder so many CEOs are frustrated by the lack of sales skill, proper attitude, and focused sales activity on their teams.

2. Little-to-no interaction with the sales team. For companies that aredoing some training, the most common method is to have an instructor lecture salespeople on “best practices” that need to be implemented or stats that need improvement. In these sessions, there is often no input, no feedback, and little to no interaction with the sales team. Locking salespeople in a lecture-style training session only serves to demean, demoralize, and de-motivate those in attendance.

3. Sporadic and/or inconsistent training. Most businesses focus on sales training only when sales are down or during the “slow” months. But when there’s no flow to training, there’s no flow to learning and thus no flow to the implementation of new techniques.

4. “One size fits all” sales training. Too often, a company develops a curriculum and runs their people through it like cattle with little to no adjustments for style, tenure, or level of salesperson. There should always be some customization to the sales training — recognizing the differences within a sales staff — or one-to-one interaction at differing levels.

5. Give “the pitch” training only. Many companies herd their salespeople in a training room and repeatedly go over “the pitch.” This type of training forces the salesperson to memorize the words, steps, and flow of the sales presentation as if there should never be any deviation from it. In these sessions, the salesperson works primarily on what to say, when to say it, and sometimes even how to say it. Rarely is there a why we say it! This approach results in “pitch-focused” salespeople who prefer monologues over dialogues in their sales presentations — a sure-fire recipe for failure.

6. Less-than-stellar trainers. Some companies throw someone into the training role who is ill-prepared for the task. If those in attendance feel that the training is more professorial than it should be or that there is no “experience component,” the message can get lost in the translation. This doesn’t mean that salespeople always make the best sales trainers, only that without a visible track record of success or tangible evidence of experience in a similar sales model, the audience may dismiss what it hears.

7. DWID training. The DWID (“Do What I Do”) method of sales training often pits a seasoned salesperson with a rookie riding shotgun out in the field. The senior sales rep (or sales manager) goes into a selling situation, asks all the appropriate questions, gives a smooth presentation based upon his or her discovery, addresses concerns smoothly and effectively, and earns the business with what seems to be complete ease. Afterward, they turn to the new rep and say, “That wasn’t so hard, was it? Just do what I do and you’ll be successful.” What gets overlooked is that the sales manager’s confidence, credibility, and charisma is based upon experience; he knows what moves to make, what stories to tell, what to say and what not to say, and so on. Typically, none of this DWID training gets captured on paper, so what appears natural to the senior sales rep is far from natural for the trainee. Thus, the training (if it stands alone) is ineffective and only leads to frustration and discouragement.

8. Non-applicable/usable sales training. Often sales trainers are put in place based on their “platform” skills; they’re good presenters with a good menu of material for general sales information. This may be a useful way to launch a training initiative, but it should not be mistaken for effective sales training. Training in fundamentals is critical to keep salespeople constantly focused on “what gets customers to the dance.” At the same time, training that addresses current specific situations (i.e., common objections or roadblocks to the sale and how to address them, appropriate ways to “open” the prospect through questions in a discovery process, real-life success stories and enthusiastic endorsers, etc.) needs to be included. After every training session, two questions should be asked of the trainees: “What did this mean to you?” and “What actionwill you take to apply what you’ve learned?”

9. No follow-up or measurement of new initiatives. Because implementation of new processes or initiatives is often uncomfortable (especially to more senior salespeople), there is a tendency to “give it a try” and if it doesn’t feel right (which, the first time, it hardly ever does), to abandon it. Many companies go through the motions of sales training and expect that all the new “stuff” will get embraced and acted upon when, in fact, this is rarely the case — especially without consistent follow-up and measurement.

10. No sales training — no problem! Many companies hire experienced salespeople from competitors or from similar industries and assume that they’ll be able to catch on quickly and start selling their product or service effectively. Often in this approach, the only training the newly hired salesperson gets is a brief overview on product knowledge and advice on “how we pitch it here.” That’s not enough to work with.

When developing your next sales training program, avoid making these common mistakes. Your sales staff will appreciate it and the results will justify the extra effort.

Gerry Layo is a Vistage speaker based in Sacramento, Calif.