Every year, $20 billion is pumped into the sales training industry in America alone. It’s no wonder — having a reliable sales method is important not only to closing more deals, but also in keeping reps accountable.
Image Credit: Beta Soluciones Empresariales on flickr
And yet research also tells us that given enough time, people forget nearly 90% of what they learn in a classroom experience. It’s a fact of short term memory: people generally can only hold 7 items in their brain at one time. If you want to remember those 7 things long term, you need to move it to your long term memory. The question is: are sales teams transferring their short term knowledge into long term actions?
So before you invest in another sales training session for your reps, you need some sort of plan for retaining the information down the road. That’s where sales coaching comes into play.
Sales Training Versus Sales Coaching
It’s important to note that I am NOT using “sales training” and “sales coaching” interchangeably. Although related, they are two separate things. Sales training is the initial investment — the “how to make a sale following this method” part of sales. Sales coaching is what happens after sales training — the “how to retain the information you just learned and improve upon it” part of sales.
Ultimately, the best way to differentiate the two is to remember this: sales coaching picks up where sales training ends.
Why Sales Coaching?
Let’s take a moment to dive into the research to show why it might be important to have a sales coaching method in place beyond the sales training initiative.
1) Faulty ROI
Despite the fact that the sales training industry means big bucks for companies, there are still no overall ROI measurements in place to know whether or not the training has taken root. A Selling Power white papers says, “the majority of all sales training initiatives are not associated with the metrics that allow sales executives to accurately assess the ROI of their sales training investment.” Couple this with the fact that people generally don’t retain information easily, and without a strategy in place, you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
2) Scientific Research
As I already mentioned, you want your sales team to move their sales training from short term memory to long term. Research tells us that, “The more the information is repeated or used, the more likely it is to eventually end up in long-term memory, or to be “retained.”” So you need to have a system in place to help your reps revisit and use the new information again and again in order for it to stick.
Who Is a Sales Coach?
The way I see it, you have two realistic options for sales coaching.
The first (and probably preferred) way is for your sales managers to become excellent coaches. Now the brutal reality is that a lot of top sales reps have been promoted to manager and don’t necessarily have management experience or training — let alone coaching training. If you have sales managers who need to transform into coaches, this might be a better investment as far as training goes.
Your second option — if your company has the budget for it — is to hire a professional sales coach. Ideally, the coach would come part and parcel with your sales methodology (you know, the one your company invested all those dollars into). Smart methods will give you coaching options beyond initial training, and hopefully your company has invested in these options.
Now let’s say you’re not going to be able to hire a professional — or the recent sales training you received only has one post-training coaching session. Then we’re back to square one. The sales coaching responsibilities inevitably fall on the shoulders of the sales manager… even if they aren’t trained for it.
What is a sales manager to do? More on that next week.
Based on what we know, it just doesn’t make sense to expect salespeople to retain information from one training session. They need coaching in order to keep the information fresh and to improve their skill. Don’t fall into the temptation of leaving the retention all up to your sales reps — unless you’re willing to plunk down another million (or billion) dollars a few years down the road for another intense training session (that will inevitably fall out of their short term memory).
When have you seen a company invest money into a sales training program to no avail?
How have you seen sales coaching improve the sales team?