Efficiency vs Efficacy in Sales Training

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Among the many casualties of the financial crisis of 2008, the economy suffered a loss of jobs. “Do more with less” became the unfortunate mandate from senior management. And you know what? We did.

Across the next few years, we experienced what many call the “jobless recovery,” where most of the jobs lost were never backfilled. Reason being, we drove automation across core business processes – simply put, we “SaaSified” many of the processes already existing across business functions.

Sales teams saw the SaaSification of business processes become mainstream, enabling the “do more with less” mandate across the organization. For the first time, we saw the robust sales technology stack as a way to improve overall rep efficiency. A full suite of productivity-oriented tools began to dominate the marketplace, including CRM (Salesforce.com), Marketing Automation (HubSpot), Sales Compensation (Xactly), Email Management (ToutApp), and many others.

As with all productivity tools, over time, return erodes as features become more ingrained. A great example is the original Blackberry – now that everybody has a cell phone, the “improvement” to productivity is lost. Early productivity gains give way to ubiquitous adoption, which becomes the new reality. The result is diminishing returns on the original improvement to performance, and a lack of improvement to overall efficacy.

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Leading economists have suggested that the productivity boost trend lines seen in this tool stack will fall over time. Tools that would once deliver a 15 to 20% improvement in productivity are now forecasted to offer only an 8-10% increase. Paradoxically, we goal sales organizations out at a 10-20% improvement on quota year over year. Said differently, our productivity investments will not necessarily enable us to achieve – and overachieve – our assigned quota expectations. This leaves us with only one or two feasible options:

  1. Hire more reps
  2. Make existing reps better…or drive their efficacy

In either case, you will inevitably find yourself having to train and enable your team, and you will do this over three key events: Onboarding, Upskilling, and Product/Service Introduction.

If you look at any of those events – we’ll take onboarding as an example – you should ask yourself a question: if you had to grade your onboarding process today, what grade would you give it? An A? Perhaps a C or D? Maybe an F?

We find that most of our portfolio companies self-assess their onboarding as a C. When we actually peel it back, the Cs look more like Fs.

Why?

According to the research firm CEB, reps are forgetting 70% of all content that they are exposed to in one week, and 90% in one month. Training is lost, and reps revert back to old habits and messaging.

So how do we make training stick? We believe that the core of sales training processes lack structure, a framework that allows training to have frequency and continually serve an organization.

The issue becomes clear when we look closer at the greater sales tool marketplace. Modern technology has allowed innovative, forward-thinking companies to completely rethink different aspects of the sales world, from incentive compensation and payroll to document management, lead generation, and marketing automation. Why? Because they create structure in the function.

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If we look to our friends at Salesforce.com, a truly market-leading CRM platform and the foundational tool of the modern sales team, we can see much of the kind of structure missing in today’s sales training. Before Salesforce, the sales forecast was best captured in Excel and subject to the varied approaches of individual sales managers. Arguably the process lacked uniformity and adherence to a structure.

Salesforce.com took this random, disjointed approach and created a framework for frequency and structure. With a toolset capable of tracking the sales funnel from lead to closed deal – and ingraining in reps compliance habits of logging data, Salesforce.com created structure within pipeline management. Today, a rep can’t advance an opportunity from stage to stage without the opportunity meeting specific criteria.

It’s no wonder that sales managers still say, “if it’s not in Salesforce, then it doesn’t exist.”

The same story can be found in any other category, except for one: sales training. The way we teach and learn has not meaningfully changed since the days of Dale Carnegie and Henry Ford. We often treat onboarding and upskilling like myopic single events and ignore the larger framework that ties rep learning from day one to year one, year two, etc. We still invite reps to webinars, audio conferences, and sales meetings – and lecture at them, often expecting them to simply absorb and apply this content in their selling situations, all without chances to practice and learn.

You can see where this leads, and we have a perspective on how to apply the much-needed structure and frequency to the long-forgotten sales training process.

Join us in Part 2 to profile the “learning cycle” as a framework to support every phase of your sales training.

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