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How Can We Deliver Impact Through Sales Training? An Evidence-Based Approach To Developing B2B Sales Capability

Estimates of the size of the sales training market vary but are typically measured in billions. One estimate for the US alone put the total annual spend on formal sales training in excess of $10billion (Hair et al, 2009). If you’re a business leader thinking about undergoing a sales transformation programme consider this. Less than a third of transformations succeed as expected, with a staggering 70 percent of failures due to an organisation’s inability to adopt the required new behaviours quickly and completely (Keller and Price, 2011).

So, why does sales training so often fail to deliver the returns it promises? We set ourselves two key exam questions:

  • What are the most effective methods to embed learning and development in the workplace?
  • Can the impact of this learning and development be measured in terms of improved sales performance?

To answer these questions we carried out a comprehensive review of credible sales studies and academic behavioural research to identify the best ways to embed learning and to drive a change in sales behaviour that will deliver an increase in top line sales.

 

Sales Training Best Practice

In this first blog of the series, we explore what features of sales training make it more likely to succeed.

A meta-analysis of 144 research studies (Huang et al, 2015) found that to ensure that individuals put in maximum effort to transfer learning into their job, learning should focus on knowledge and skills. Crucially, knowledge should be tailored to the job, bite-sized and then tested on the job. It is through giving the individual opportunities to practice and to receive feedback on their efforts that will help them to turn knowledge into skills. A further meta-analysis of 117 studies by Taylor et al (2005) looked at the impact of Behaviour Modelling Training (BMT) and identified four key components:

  • Training should describe specific actions
  • It should show individuals how to use them
  • Trainees should have opportunity to practice these
  • Trainees should receive feedback on their efforts

Factors that increased the chances of an individual successfully learning a new skill included the following:

  • Rule codes- these explain what to do and why e.g. “Listen carefully and respond with empathy to reduce defensiveness” rather than simply describe the behaviour e.g. “Listen carefully”
  • Mental practice- encourage participants to imagine scenarios and role-play these before they act out new skills in real life
  • Real life practice- provide opportunities for individuals to practice, receive feedback and adapt.

To increase the chance of that new skill changing behaviour, training should incorporate the following:

  • Provide examples of both good and bad behaviours,
  • Encourage individuals to create their own real-life scenarios,
  • Encourage individuals to set goals that relate to the behaviour they have learned

Overall, BMT was found to be effective in enabling individuals to learn new knowledge and skills and had a smaller but more sustained impact on behaviour and job performance.

 

The Impact on Sales Performance

In their study Kauffeld & Lehmann-Willenbrock (2010) found that an identical sales training programme delivered in a modular or ‘spaced’ format resulted in superior implementation of the training content, self-assessed sales competence and crucially increased new customers and gross revenue performance when compared to training delivered in a single block. Spaced training delivery is defined as a number of units of training with time intervals in between as opposed to massed training where the entire training content is delivered in one tranche. The authors concluded that the results supported the theory of situated learning whereby the training was perceived to be relevant to the working environment, enabled participants to apply the learning in different situations and gave them opportunity to interact with their colleagues thereby creating an environment of support and collaboration.

In their study of 115 organisations that engaged in sales training, Roman et al (2002) found that training content was a key factor and that salespeople gain “higher performance and customer orientation when training content deals with company policy and sales techniques” whereas training that focused on product knowledge alone actually reduced salespeople’s effectiveness. The authors suggest that this is because the product training was focused on features and benefits rather than on seeking to understand the needs of the customer. Interestingly, when the sales training covered sales techniques, customer knowledge and computer knowledge, the performance of the sales force and their customer orientation increased further. In the words of the researchers “salespeople need not only to know how to make the sale, but must also understand customer needs and provide greater value by applying new technologies in order to translate their behaviours into higher sales outcome.” This is consistent with a separate study (Pollitt, 2010) whereby sales training that focused on the customer and his or her buying experience led to “additional sales that far outstripped the cost of the training.”

 

Key findings

So, if you are choosing between training providers, consider the following summary of the evidence:

  • Sales training that encompasses knowledge of the customer, the buying experience and sales techniques increases the performance of the salesforce
  • Content should be delivered in bite-sized, modular format with intervals between each module to enable theory to be put into practice
  • Participants should be encouraged to set goals that are linked to desired behaviour change
  • Participants should have the opportunity to practice what they have learned through role-play and then on the job
  • Feedback should be given after the individual has practiced so that they can learn and adapt

 

Bloojam are business psychologists who take an evidence-based approach to selecting and developing salespeople, leaders and sales leaders.  To learn more about our Academy approach to developing sales capability in your workforce take a look at our website.

 

Hair, J. F., Anderson, R. E., Mehta, R., & Babin, B. (2009). Sales management. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Huang, J. L., Blume, B. D., Ford, J. K., & Baldwin, T. T. (2015). A tale of two transfers: Disentangling maximum and typical transfer and their respective predictors. Journal of Business and Psychology, 30(4), 709.

Kauffeld, S. & Lehmann‐Willenbrock, N. (2010). Sales training: effects of spaced practice on training transfer. Journal of European Industrial Training, 34(1), 23-37.

Keller, S. and Price, C. (2011) Beyond Performance: How Great Organizations Build Ultimate Competitive Advantage, first edition, Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Pollitt, D. (2010). BT Business Sales dials up a customer-focused coaching culture: Program combines new technology with tailored training. Human Resource Management International Digest, 18(4), 7.

Roman, S., Ruiz, S. & Munuera, J.L. (2002) “The effects of sales training on sales force activity.” European Journal of Marketing.

Taylor, P. J., Russ-Eft, D. F., & Chan, D. W. (2005). A meta-analytic review of behavior modelling training. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90(4), 692-709.

Blogs Business Consulting Professional Services Sales Development Sales Leadership Uncategorised

4 Stats That Show How B2B Buyers Suffer From Information Overload (And Why The Salesperson Is As Critical As Ever)

Consider these stats:

  • In 1991, Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the world wide web, published the first website (info.cern.ch). Ten years later there were over 29 million websites and today there are over 1.8 billion.
  • Google, when launched in 1998, processed around 10,000 searches a day. It now receives around 2.5 billionqueries a day.
  • Last year there were over 600 million active blogs. 70 million new blogposts are published each month on WordPress. Nearly 80% of the Fortune 500 uses a corporate blog to communicate to their customers.
  • There are 57 million companies on LinkedIn. 2 million posts, articles and videos are published on the platform every day.

It’s all a far cry from the pre-internet days when information was scarce and a client’s ability to compare one supplier against another was limited. Today the pendulum has swung so far in the other direction that there is now too much information out there. The result is information overload for buyers. Buyers report that two-thirds of their buying journey is spent on gathering, processing and deconflicting information.

In addition, the word “buyers” is no longer correct. Buying groups are increasingly common in B2B sales. Research from Forrester shows that 63% of purchases involve four or more people, each of whom is likely to represent a different department and to play a different role in client decision-making.  With numerous stakeholders involved on the buyer side, each independently uncovering information from different sources, it is easy to see how buyers find it difficult to find agreement between themselves about how to proceed.

It falls to the salesperson (consultant, account manager) to help clients to make sense of the information they have uncovered, to help them to deconflict contradictory evidence, to challenge their thinking and to coalesce them around a solution.  Doing so enables the salesperson to demonstrate their knowledge, to establish credibility and to create that trusted partner relationship that creates the right environment for a sale to proceed.

Jim Bloomfield is a Director of Bloojam Consulting with 20 years’ experience of using business psychology to develop salespeople and leaders. He is a member of the Association of Business Psychology (ABP) and the British Psychological Society (BPS) and has successfully helped some of Britain’s best-known businesses exceed their sales goals.

Blogs Business Consulting Professional Services Sales Leadership

The UK has a Skills Shortage in B2B Selling

The latest report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Professional Sales demonstrates just how critical the sales profession is to the performance of the wider UK economy; 80% of UK businesses make part or all of their turnover from selling to other businesses.

The report acknowledges the profound impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on many businesses through the acceleration of the “digital revolution in how we trade and exposure of an acute skills shortage in professional business-to-business selling.”

Whilst the report highlights that businesses have had to quickly adapt to digital selling, it also recognises two much more long-standing issues: the lack of sales skills and leadership skills.

As the report argues, if companies do not train staff in how to sell, then digital technology will not confer much advantage, and may even be counterproductive.

Whilst investment in digital sales channels may grab all the headlines (and the investment), it is increasingly clear that the human element will remain crucial to effective selling. Too many businesses ignore the development of sales skills and capabilities at their peril.

Read the full report here.