On Training…

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On TrainingMy friend and client John Ruvolo of Martini Media recently posted a manifesto (of sorts) on the status and attitude toward training sales people in our industry.  He invited me to comment and I thought The Drift was the best place to do that.  In his post, John wonders “…why training and development is so universally desired by our sales teams and why it is equally so universally absent from most companies, particularly in our space.”  As someone who’s built a substantial company — Upstream Group — training and equipping digital sellers over the past 18 years, I would say that training is not absent in most companies — but that the approach to it is often flawed.

For starters, there’s the “Training as Content” scenario, in which a company with a weak or non-existent learning and development culture brings in a sales trainer as part of the content for a sales meeting or offsite.  Even if given only a few hours, he or she may do great work but the results are often ephemeral.

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When approached about working with a sales team, I always work to get inside the relationship between management and sales and really understand the deep behavioral change that needs to happen.  Frequently,  discussions about training and development have only centered on fixing some broken quality in the seller —  presentation skills, overcoming objections — and are not  part of a larger plan to invest and grow the individual.  That’s not to say training should just be a warm, fuzzy “Kumbaya” experience either.  That’s why I isolate 5-6 specific actions that sellers can commit to and that managers can manage.  In the end, doing is believing.

To John’s larger point about our industry lacking the stomach for real training budgets, two thoughts:  First, investment flows to the unsolved problem.  If the problem is “we should do some sales training” then very little money is going there.  Reframe this as “we need to shorten our sales cycle” or “we need to change our median order size from X to 3X” and watch the budget tilt in your direction.

Second,  large enterprise training organizations have conditioned us to believe that “training” has to carry a hefty price tag — not to mention internal staffing, expensive compliance software, lots of complexity and days out of the field for your team.  I don’t believe this to be true.  If you believe in training then make it a habit; do a little bit of it yourself on a constant basis.   Even if you don’t think you’re fully qualified or have performance anxiety about it, your effort and commitment will be recognized by your team members.   You develop a closer bond, better communication.  Pretty soon, you’ve quietly developed a learning culture.  Then when you bring in somebody like me, we end up doing incredible, transformative work together.

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