Getting Salespeople to Practice What They’ve Learned

April 4, 2017
| ByMike Ryan

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 1 out of every 8 full time employees makes their living in a sales capacity. Companies that employ salespeople have a lot riding on their success, which is why they spend over $20 billion per year training them.

How do those dollars breakdown? The Association for Talent Development estimates that organizations spend an average of $1,459 per salesperson annually. Companies that compete within complex buying environments invest considerably more. In any case, the price tag for sales training can quickly exceed millions of dollars per year.

In spite of massive investments, most sales reps still underperform. According to the CSO Insights 2015 Sales Compensation and Performance Management Study, only half of the people who sell have the skill sets they need to be successful on a consistent basis. These deficiencies show up in the numbers. Roughly 45% of all sales people didn’t produce enough revenue to meet quota last year. The results were worse for first year performers. According to Aberdeen Group, only 29% of them hit their performance targets.

Shouldn’t all that training result in better outcomes? You’d think so, but sales training actually has a worse track record than the audiences it’s designed to support. According to a new study, less than 10% of all training efforts exceed expectations. More than half were seen as needing improvement.

Why have sales training attempts performed so poorly? Ask anyone associated with them and you will hear a long list of excuses. Participants not preparing before the sessions as much as they should be or they are just not fully engaged during its delivery are two of the more common complaints. While those factors can always be improved upon, the real reason sales training does not have the desired effect is because the lessons learned and the behaviors they are designed to change are not reinforced enough.

The reality is that offering a core curriculum alone (no matter how well it’s designed or delivered) is not enough to transfer learned skills into actionable behaviors. It’s certainly not enough to do so over the long haul. That’s where a properly designed sales incentive program can strengthen results. Program sponsors who want their sales teams to embrace new ways of working (or to more fully understand new products or services) should be crafting incentive plateaus that reward participants for putting those new skills into practice.

That’s exactly how smart incentive planners are supporting their training investments. They are reinforcing what’s been learned through reward structures.

They are smart about it too. They don’t simply point reps to the desired end result. Instead they focus them on incremental advances. They use an approach that rewards the application of learned behaviors in manageable steps. As reps show improvements in competency, objectives are rewarded and new ones are reset. The connection between training and results are reinforced as new skills are applied.

Does that approach really work? Research conducted by the Harvard Business School shows that small, incremental wins for sales people is a more effective way of instilling learned methods. It’s what motivates reps to embrace and apply new behaviors. The technique accomplishes two things: it encourages employees to embrace and ultimately use the new skill sets they have learned and it helps them see a clearer, more obtainable pathway to success.

This methodology has proven itself to be the most efficient way to not only reinforce learning, but to motivate salespeople to practice what they have learned and apply it over and over again toward long-term, sustainable sales success.

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