The problem with sales training, part 1: Content and messaging

These days, a majority of the articles I read include a reference to sales enablement. It’s the topic du jour in sales and marketing leadership circles. An interesting twist is that many of these sales enablement points of view are being pushed by sales training vendors — that is, organizations or professionals whose primary offering is sales training. Why the parsing of words here? Aren’t sales training and sales enablement the same? Let’s begin to answer this question by looking at some statistics that show the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of sales training:

  • Sales professionals forget 85% of the content and skills within four weeks of training – Association for Talent Development (ATD)
  • As much as 80% of new sales skills are lost within one week of training if not used – Association for Talent Development (ATD)
  • Up to 85% of sales training fails to deliver a positive ROI – HR Chally

That’s definitely not a glowing endorsement for sales training. Hence the “re-packaging” of sales training as sales enablement by legacy sales training providers seeking to align with marketplace trends, in order to sell more training. I’m not saying sales training is irrelevant, but instead that it must be seen as a critical, yet partial component of a sales enablement program.

So what is sales enablement? Last year, Tamara Schenk of CSO Insights released a research note providing a clear and concise definition of sales enablement: A strategic, cross-functional discipline designed to increase sales results and productivity by providing integrated content, training, and coaching services for salespeople and frontline sales managers along the entire customer’s journey, powered by technology.

That definition is very straightforward and, thankfully, void of unnecessary marketing jargon. Thank you, Tamara! More importantly, it gives us a backdrop for examining three key distinctions between sales training and sales enablement:

  1. The messaging and content of training and related sales kits are not oriented or differentiated to fit the buying journey.
  2. Training is not just about the skills, but also the techniques for using related sales ready assets in the context of the sales cycle.
  3. Coaching and reinforcement is either lacking or neglected, both within the training and following the training session.

Today I want to dig deeper into #1– Messaging & Content. In subsequent RevenueInsights, we have examined #2 and #3 more closely. (See #2: Training)

Why is the Training and Sales Kit Content Not Compelling in Sales Training?

For marketing, the importance of content has exploded through powering marketing campaigns and supporting sales channels alike. The wrestle with the immense volume of content being generated results from how misguided it is – with a heavy product/capability slant. That trap has two consequences. First, the emphasis on product/capability means less focus on the current, pain-ridden use case the buyer is encountering WITHOUT the product/capability. For example, “You may have a really great mousetrap, but at this point, I am not aware I even have a significant problem with mice.”

The second impact of the product/capability content slant is messaging that is too often laden with LOTS of essentials and too few differentiators – it is “me-too”. Essentials are characteristics or capabilities of a solution that are valuable, but not necessarily unique to the seller’s offering. Certainly, sellers need to ensure buyers are aware they provide the essentials, however, when the core message of both the sales training content and the sales ready assets concentrates on the essentials, the true differentiators either get lost in the mix or omitted all together.

Have you been sold that enablement and sales training are one in the same? How can you improve your content by putting an emphasis on prospect pains and highliting product differentiators?

For further clarity on Sales Enablement, take a look at this interview that Tamara Schenck and I did with Jonathan Farrington of Top Sales World earlier this year. And stay tuned as I will cover training and coaching over the next few weeks.