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New Research: Should You Stop Training Sales People?

4 min read
August 30, 2016

Sales training is such an essential part of the sales process, we hardly give it a second thought. A team member’s numbers aren’t where they’re supposed to be? Throw them in the sales training.

But in an environment where creative solutions are yielding big results in nearly every area of business, this “A to B” response feels more than a little uninspired.

In fact, new research suggests that gut-level feeling might be correct. In a recent study from the Sales Management Association, research found that sales training is best if not focused towards sales reps at all, but towards their managers. Training sales managers was found to produce the boost in productivity and energy sales training is expected to bring.

Flipping the Feedback Funnel

I’ll concede that sales management training can feel a little backwards. Why wouldn’t you spend training time on customer-facing sales positions, where the proverbial rubber is hitting the road? Most companies take this approach. Training for sales managers is usually tacked on as an afterthought or not at all.

But what if that approach is backwards? Let’s try to look at this problem from a different angle. If we are only providing our sales managers with limited training, we effectively handicap the amount of coaching and training they can pass on to their teams. With that considered, it’s really no surprise so many sales reps wind up falling short and needing additional training.

What if we flipped that feedback cycle and provided a majority of our training to sales managers? We could better prepare sales managers to develop their salespeople and make training sales reps themselves a secondary concern. We could effectively turn our managers into full-time sales trainers.

The Research Confirms

In their recent study, the Sales Management Association set out to test this hypothesis. They surveyed 161 companies about their sales training budgets and how that budget allocation affected the companies’ overall revenue attainment. Specifically, what percentage of their training budgets were spent on manager vs. rep training.

The results of the study showed a clear trend toward more management training resulting in more sales success. The more an organization spent on management training, the more likely they were to achieve their revenue goals.

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Even more telling, organizations that invested over half of their sales training budget in managers reported a 15% higher achievement of revenue goal than those that invested less than 25% in managers.

Even with this data in hand, I would never argue for no training for sales reps. Obviously there is a degree of onboarding and ongoing maintenance that needs to occur. I do however, think this research indicates the need for a shift in the training mindset. If your sales managers receive the majority of your sales training and own the development of their teams more proactively, sales reps have the support they need to develop themselves.

Sales platforms like Salesloft encourage ongoing sales training in the form of team analytics. You don’t need to be pulled into a day-long training session about how to improve your emails or phone calls. Salesloft shows your team in real-time who’s emails are working best and who’s performance is strongest. This type of real-time self-management allows sales managers to focus on the softer skills that deliver real results.

At first glance, reevaluating the way you train your reps can be scary. After all, it’s how you’ve probably done things since the beginning of your career. But creative solutions can yield dramatic results, and at least one study seems to indicate training your sales reps less and your sales mangers more can have a direct impact on your performance.

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