How To Make Training Work

Too many managers look at training – of any type – as a self-contained fix-all solution. It’s not. Good training programs are incorporated into the culture of the company or department, and then reinforced consistently and when opportunity comes up.

Lately, its seems fashionable for a lot of sales trainers to write articles about “why sales training doesn’t work,” which of course allows them to slyly inject why their sales training is the only sales training that does.

I prefer to stay on the positive side, so let’s talk about how to make sales training work. In fact, let’s back away a bit and talk about how to make any training work. Full disclosure: this article was inspired by a lunch that I had recently with a client who commented on how effective my training was. In retrospect, part of what made it so effective was how the client handled it – and that’s what I propose to talk about here.  First, however, let me pass along the Dirty Little Secret of sales training: Almost any sales trainer can, and will, generate ROI for your company. 

That’s a big statement, I know, and there are certainly exceptions, but the reality is this:  the economies of sales training are such that even the most expensive sales trainers can pay for themselves if just one person in the class takes what he learns and uses it to significantly up his performance. I’ve taught very few classes where at least a few people didn’t take the teachings and run with them. Again, there are exceptions; there are people out there teaching techniques that will actually generate negative ROI because the techniques, when implemented, actually make the customer uncomfortable and less likely to buy – but let’s assume that we’re talking about trainers who at least understand customer friendliness.

So, now that the Big Secret is out there, let’s talk about what you – whether you are manager or salesperson – can do to make training work for you:

Preparation is key. I wish I could tell you how many times I’ve walked into a room, looked around, and discovered that the salespeople have no real idea of why I’m there or what I’m there to do; they just know to show up at a certain place at a certain time. If you’re a manager, prep your people on what will happen and what the expectations are. If you’re a salesperson, don’t just settle for a scheduled meeting; ask what will be happening and what the expectations are – it’s your time, after all. Good trainers will inform you as to the program outline and plan when they are selling the business; make use of that.

Professionalism is the most basic expectation. When I was a sales manager and I sent my reps to training, I always did so with the expectation that they be on their most professional behavior; unprofessionalism was a reflection on me, after all. Want to maximize the value of your money?  Make sure your people are on their game when they’re in the room, and that they are punctual when returning from lunches, breaks, etc. If you’re the trainee, be the leader. Look at it this way:  You’re going to be there regardless, so if others’ conduct is keeping you from learning, it’s your right to call them on it. Is it the speaker’s job to “control the room?” To an extent – but I tell all my clients that I am a trainer and not a babysitter. If your staff requires a babysitter, that reflects on YOU.

Focus on the “nuggets” profitable behavior modifications. As the training takes place, you will find elements that you have heard before. That’s going to happen with any experienced worker going through any type of training. Training becomes unsuccessful when attendees focus in on those commonalities and stop looking for the differences. Virtually any training of any type, however, will have what I call “nuggets” – or ways to modify behavior that can be very profitable. I went to a training session for speakers a couple of weeks ago: 98% of it was stuff that I had heard and knew; I’ve been working the 2% for the last two weeks with some excellent results.

Learn and reinforce. There’s no substitute for management that participates in the sessions and learns right along with their people. There’s no substitute for when that management, having learned the lessons, continually reinforces that message when the trainer has left. My client at lunch said, “Our profit per stop is up significantly because of your training.” That’s great, and I appreciate it – but the reality is that it’s up partially because of what I taught, and partially because the company has adopted those teachings as part of the culture, and has reinforced those teachings in the months since I was there.

Too many managers look at training – of any type – as a self-contained fix-all solution. It’s not. Good training programs are incorporated into the culture of the company or department, and then reinforced consistently and when opportunity comes up.  Training is designed to show the benefits of behavioral change; however, true behavioral change does not happen within a one-day or two-day window.  It’s consistency of management and follow up that really spikes the ROI.

How do you pick a trainer?  To pick the right person for your needs, just follow these simple guidelines:

  • Pick someone who is an expert. There are a lot of “seminar” companies out there who provide general-purpose speakers with prewritten courses to present. The training breaks down when the first person asks a question that starts with “Why?” Make sure your trainer can answer those questions through personal expertise.
  • Pick someone who is willing to learn. Too many trainers come in with a “program in a box” and end up not speaking your language. Good trainers build in pre-training time to learn the specific challenges and needs of your business.
  • Pick someone who fits your culture, or the culture you would like to have. Training of any kind should set the tone for how things are done at your company; if the trainer is training a method counter to your culture, it won’t be effective. When it comes to sales training, I always tell my clients that sales training dictates how you want your customers to be treated; is the curriculum and approach a fit?
  • Finally, pick someone who is available post session. I’ve heard horror stories about trainers who came in, did an outrageously expensive session, then when the manager or trainees have a question, he wants to bill a big amount just for answering. Make sure your trainer doesn’t mind getting the occasional call or email post-session. I always tell my clients that they are free to call or email with questions, and if it gets to a point where I will need to bill for time, I’ll let them know well in advance.

A well designed, planned, executed, and reinfroced training session can be the best thing for you and your staff. A bad one can be a time waster. By following these simple steps, you can make sure that your training is effective.

Troy Harrison is the author of “Sell Like You Mean It!” and the President of SalesForce Solutions, a sales training, consulting, and recruiting firm.  For information on booking speaking/training engagements or about consulting, please visit


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