A friend of mine is the Executive Vice President of Sales for a company that sells into the oil and gas industry. His sales team is dispersed over a large section of the US and Europe and consists of dozens of experienced professional salespeople. For me, as a sales trainer, this would be a prime prospect-except my friend, Dan, doesn't believe in using outside training because, he argues, their past experience with outside trainers hasn't produced results.
Having written a blog post about why sales training doesn't produce the results companies want just a few days ago, the subject was fresh on my mind when I got a call from Dan early last Sunday afternoon. Seems Dan had a problem-and an opportunity for me to possibly turn it into a teaching moment. I don't mean to beat the subject to death, but Dan's problem proved to be such a great demonstration of why so often sales training doesn't have the results companies want.
Dan called asking me if I could give him some help. He and his family were at their lake home which is about three hours from Midland, and nowhere near an auto mechanic, especially on a Sunday, especially on Easter Sunday.
The serpentine belt on Dan's car had broken, leaving him stranded in the middle of nowhere without transportation other than an old, barely running four wheeler, and no possibility of getting a mechanic out until the next day-if then. Dan had sent his teenage son to the nearest town that had an open auto parts store to buy a belt. Fortunately, the store had the right belt and the old four wheeler made it there and back. Unfortunately, Dan's son had failed to ask the guy at the parts store how to install the belt. Instead of calling the parts store, Dan called me. This was my moment to sell Dan sales training. Lucky for me Dan doesn't have a mechanically inclined bone in his body.
I told Dan how to install the belt: "The belt snakes around the various pulleys for the fan, the ac, the alternator, and the other accessories on your car. There is also a tensioner pulley that will allow you to relax the tension on the belt so you can get it over the fan and around the various pulleys. All you have to do is take a wrench and pull the bolt on the tensioner pulley, probably to the left, and it will move the pulley enough so you can get the new belt on. Once you let up on the wrench, the tensioner pulley will again apply the right amount of tension. It's easy. Won't take you ten minutes. Just make sure to wind the belt correctly around all of the pulleys, and make sure the belt isn't inside out, the little ribs are on the inside of the belt. If you get the belt on and it's too big, make sure you've found all of the pulleys it must engage. If you haven't missed a pulley and it is too big-or if you don't have enough belt, then they've given you the wrong belt. Otherwise, if you need more help, just give me a call."
In the course of three minutes I had given Dan all the training he needed to put the new belt on.
Knowing that he probably would be calling me back, I decided to head in his direction. Sure enough, about an hour and a half later Dan calls back. He has spent more than an hour looking for the tensioner pulley. He's decided to stay until Monday and see if he can get a mechanic to come out to the lake house and put the belt on for him. I let him know that I'm just a little over an hour from his place and we'll get him up and running shortly.
When I get there it takes about 15 minutes to get his belt on. It was easy. Dan was embarrassed. His response: "Man, I'm sorry. After watching you do it, it seems so easy. I'm really sorry you had to come all the way out here just for this."
"No problem," I said. "You've just experienced the exact same thing your sales team experiences when you hire a sales trainer-the verbal instructions don't mean just a whole lot if there isn't real world application to go along with it. Hear it and it makes sense but it's kinda fuzzy. Hear and see it and it makes great sense. If we take the belt off and have you to do it from scratch, you'll never forget how to put a belt on again. Same thing for your team. If you want sales training to work, it has to go beyond telling to applying. You knew what to do after I told you on the phone but you didn't have the experiential knowledge to actually put it into practice. Your team needs the same thing when they learn new behaviors."
I have a meeting with Dan and the president of the company early next week to talk about sales training-and coaching.
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