During the 1970s and 1980s, it was common for large corporations such as Hewlett Packard (Compaq) and IBM to put their new sales recruits through a twelve to eighteen-month training programme. I know, because I went through one myself, before designing the next generation.
Today, salespeople consider themselves "lucky" if they get an initial two weeks of training.
Have companies discovered that training doesn't really pay off?
On the contrary! Training appears to be even more important today than years ago and it is getting more important all the time.
This extract from one of my favourite books 'All Together Now' by Sir John Harvey-Jones articulates the last point perfectly.
"There is practically no area of business where the difference between rhetoric and actuality is greater than in the handling of people. Every businessman will always claim that it is the people in his organisation who are the key to its success. Indeed it is difficult to argue anything else. A company consists of money (which can ebb and flow almost with the speed of light), of fixed investments (which by definition are obsolescent from the very moment that they have been made), and a range of products - and hopefully a market position - which are under continual attack from competitors who are trying to produce better and more desirable products for less costs.
What a company does have, and handled rightly can maintain, is the commitment, skills and abilities of its people. This is constantly attested to by the statements in company annual reports - I cannot remember the last time I failed to see the chairman's last sentence paying tribute to his people. Yet despite all these facts our skills at enabling our people to give their best, and continuously beat the best that come against them, are remarkably tenuous. Moreover, this area of activity is seldom subject to the sort of analysis, debate and experimentation so readily devoted to fields such as production or marketing.
Even though we are all welded to the concept of continuous improvement, when did you last see an improvement plan for the management of your people? If you have seen one, I would bet long money that the plan referred to reduction of administration costs or overheads, rather than being a plan consciously adopted to enable more of our people to contribute more."
In 1990, I had dinner with Sir John, and I was able to clarify a number of points with him face to face: He remains one of my most significant mentors.
Less Training With Higher Expectations
So, what's going on here? How should a Sales Director reconcile the fact that many corporations today provide less upfront training for their sales staff than in years past, yet attach increasing importance to staff development?
This is hardly a surprise, because the current stock market ethos creates a powerful dis-incentive for firms to invest in their people. A firm's investment of human capital, in the form of training and other forms of education of staff, is not separable from the general expenditure of a corporation. It therefore appears as a cost on the corporate balance sheet.
Alas, many Sales Directors, having concluded that their best strategy is to cut back on training, look instead to hire people who already possess all the talent and skills needed to do the job and send them out into the field armed with what they know. But many Sales Directors know how difficult it is to find skilled salespeople. And anyway it is not possible to equate experience or seniority with success.
Huge Demands On Salespeople
The fact is that selling in today's climate is both an art and a science. Selling is a profession that demands a far wider range of skills than ever before - skills that require continual fine-tuning and constant practice.
Lack Of Ongoing Reinforcement And Development
The operative word here is "ongoing". Even if salespeople have undergone progressive sales training, there's no guarantee that they will be successful. It is common knowledge that skills grow rusty over time and salespeople are prone to pick-up bad habits along the way or to simply skip steps and take shortcuts that can lead to long-term trouble. Perhaps even more important these days, is the fact that markets, competition, technologies, and customer preferences are all in a constant and accelerating state of change.
This fact requires that salespeople are able and willing to rethink their sales strategy and approach frequently and receive a regular top-up of skills and motivational coaching.
The key word here is frequent - long gone are the days, when professional salespeople could attend a "one-size fits all" program, and consider themselves qualified for life, that mentality, as I say often enough, is being relegated to the annals of selling history.
Today's top performers, the "Top 5% Players" wake up and smell the coffee every day, before the majority have even stirred from their slumbers.
Today's News: Is again scarce, as I am still with clients in the "Heart Of England" - but I'll make it up to you tomorrow.
I will just mention, that I made a decision with this client to introduce in a number of trusted and highly respected friends, all internationally renowned sales experts: The experiment is working superbly.
Last month, Leslie Buterin brilliantly addressed a small group of young sales professionals on "cold calling techniques" and today it was the turn of Paul McCord, to coach a group of more senior sales team members on "referral selling"
Despite the fact that he already had a mentoring appointment at 7.30am CT with his own client, he delivered a two hour session at 5am CT, to my group here in the UK. That is really quite an incredible thing to do, and indicates why Paul is another member of my "inner sanctum" of high commitment, high intelligence, high profile and high integrity friends, who will form the nucleus of something very special, which is due to launch very shortly - The Global Sales Council - a small, unique, band of brothers and sisters, with a "big-picture" international focus. More soon, I promise.
Oh, and the feedback from Paul's session? - "Superb" "Extremely useful advice" "Excellent, thoroughly enjoyed it" "Brilliant, what a really great presentation" "What a pleasure to listen to a master"
I have another treat in store for the team tomorrow - Nigel Edelshain will be giving them an overview of the implications of Sales 2.0 - yep, I do spoil them.
Tomorrow: I have a real surprise for you on The JF Guest Author Spot - you will enjoy it!
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