How To Avoid the Pitfalls of Ineffective Sales Training

Joe was joined by Chris Murray, author of "Selling With Ease" was and Named in LinkedIn's Top 40 Global Sales Experts to Follow for a conversation all about what to look for in sales training! Enjoy!

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Transcript – How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Ineffective Sales Training

Joe: Hello and welcome to the Essential B2B podcast, brought to you as ever by Leeds Forensics. I am your host Joe Ducarreaux. This episode is the audio taken from the webinar we ran called Avoiding the Pitfalls of Ineffective Sales Training, where I was joined by Chris Murray, author of Selling With Ease and the Extremely Successful Sales Club and one of LinkedIn’s top 40 global sales experts to follow.

There’s a lot of actionable tips for you in this podcast, so let’s get straight into it. Here is Chris Murray on Avoiding the Pitfalls of Ineffective Sales Training.

Joe: What are the most common mistakes that organisations make when it comes to sales training?

Chris: Let’s address the elephant in the room straight away and start off with not inviting me in to talk to them.

Joe: Get Chris Murray involved.

Chris: It’s just I can see that being edited out in the rerun. Honestly, the biggest mistake that people make when they approach sales training is the age-old Stephen Kirby thing of not starting with the ending.

It’s starting from where they are and looking ahead rather than starting to what they want to achieve with it and working backwards. So I’m stuck in between a rock and a hard place here. I’ve come on and I desperately want to help sales leaders improve the sales training to their teams. Then this is going to be watched by some of my competitors going, but what does he actually do when he gets in those meetings.

I had a tough sleepless night yesterday thinking about it, which is why I look so old. I came out and I think I’m going to be as helpful as possible and the biggest question that we start off with when we’re talking to sales leaders is this; what is it that you want to see your sales team doing next week and next month that they weren’t doing last week and was the main reason that you asked us in? Because it’s not what aren’t they doing and what would you want them to do more of. Next week, what do you want them to do more of and why?

People keep going too generic with sales training and which is why they end up sending people on training courses that are….. if it was the drinks industry, generic sales training is like just sending someone on a course on how to make the best gin and tonic. When actually what you want them to come back and do is be able to present the wine list at Le Gavroche in Mayfair.

So everybody gets the elevator pitch and everybody gets certain questioning and everybody learns how to sell at. Nobody ever thinks about the 21st century and where their clients are now, which is pretty much well-educated enough to be further through the process. So what they need is sales training that teaches buying motives and shows how people buy from rather than how salespeople sell at, certainly in the 21st century. But do you mind if I expand on that just a little bit for the audience?

Joe: Please, go for it.

Chris: So what do you want them to be doing more next week than they were doing last week? You’ll hear your sales team say one of three things more often than not. Those three things are, if I could get in to see more people, I could definitely close them. The second one is I can get in to see lots of people, but they don’t want to change, we’re too expensive, they don’t like us, I can’t close them. The third thing is I’m seeing lots of people, I’m closing lots of people and I’m not hitting my sales target.

Everybody bunches all that together in one group or heading under sales and some of that actually isn’t sales training or what I would define it as sales training as such, it’s just that everybody gives it the same banner.

If you can’t get in to see people but you could close them if you could, then that is a prospecting issue and that’s prospecting training. One of the biggest problems that people make with prospecting is they start selling too early. So it’s not necessarily sales training they need, it’s how to get in front, it’s prospecting training.

The second one is I can get in to see them, but I can’t close them. Those are sales skills. Those are, I’ve got in to see them and now I need to understand buying motives. I need to understand questioning skills. I need to be able to present. I need to be able to uncover opportunities and needs and then show them how we can help. Those are sales skills, presentation skills.

And the last one, I’m seeing lots of people and I’m closing lots of people, but I still can’t hit targets. That’s a focus issue. That’s a stepping back even before prospecting and saying maybe we’re calling on the wrong people then. If we’re closing lots of people and we’re seeing lots and we can’t actually fit any more people in our time, then maybe we step back even before the prospecting stage and ask who should we actually be targeting here?

Joe: Your key takeaway from your very first point, you said people are being too generic with things, defining exactly where the problem is but also making the mistake of not starting with the end goal in mind. So clearly the key thing there is to start there, work your way backwards and that will help you.

How often do you think, Chris, do you go in and you see a company like that and they haven’t even taken that first step, they haven’t even thought of your question, where do you want to be next week, for example, let alone five years’ time. How common is that mistake?

Chris: I rarely get invited in to see people where everything’s going swimmingly. That was one of the biggest surprises a decade and a half ago when I really first started going out and doing this. I remember a colleague saying to me, are we ever going to see anybody that isn’t in some kind of turmoil? Why would they call us? What would be the point of that?

But it’s a funny thing, sales, isn’t it? The sales director, sales leader, sales manager is tasked with coaching, bringing people ahead, moving them on. The sales team, when they came for the interview, none of them said, unless they’re brand new to sales, very few of them actually say, I’d love your money, I’ll take your car but just so you know when you give me the sales target I won’t know what to do. That doesn’t happen at interviews very often.

So you’ve got essentially a sales leadership team who have got their own job to do, which isn’t sales training. It might be a bit of coaching but they’re not sitting there for eight months, a year building modules and creating learning outcomes. They are heading up a sales function. Then you’ve got the sales team who essentially believe that they’re doing the best job they possibly can. And the stuff that they can’t do, they think is impossible already and that people are asking too much of them.

So, if you ask a sales director that question, if you go in and say, thanks for inviting me in, you must have noticed something. What is it that you want them to do next month that they weren’t doing last month? They’ll go through every single member of the sales team. Derek can’t close a fridge, nevermind a sale. John is picking up a phone twice a day and he’s got a KPI of 40.

You realise that actually the things that people think are wrong are just the sort of the monster that they see in front of them. Actually, like the old poem, Beowulf, the problem isn’t the monster in front of them, it’s probably the monster’s mother. You can kill the monster and you can keep knocking it down but it’s the source of the problem that you’ve got to come up against. I always say to sales managers, the way you manage a sales team is the way you count it. The way you count it is the way you manage it.

It’s quite funny when people say, I just want them to do 12 appointments a day. I want them to make 50 calls a day. Actually, that’s not what you want them to achieve. What you want them to achieve is a million dollars profit and that leads into that. When you realise that you don’t want them to make more phone calls, you actually want them to get close to your million dollar profit, you actually start drilling into what really needs to happen now.

Joe: I’ve got to be completely honest with you Chris, on my bingo card of this webinar I didn’t have the epic poem Beowulf coming up, so congratulations on surprising me with that one.

Chris: I just thought I’d go medieval in ‘23.

Joe: Let’s stick with looking at the leaders assessing where they’re currently at with the state of their sales training. How does a sales leader assess the effectiveness of their current sales training programs?

Chris: Do you know sales training is very much like teaching people how to play instruments. Now, I don’t know who taught Brian May to play guitar and I’m sure he’s very good or she’s very good. But I don’t think anybody would say that Brian May’s success is completely down to that person. All the things he’s played with Queen, all the things he’s written, all the incredible guitar shows and world tours he’s done. He has taken on board some coaching, some help, some training along his way, spoken to the masters, I would have thought, around the world in the guitar world. But everybody says that when…….I used to have a guy in the music industry and he used to say that everybody wants to know how to make their guitar sound like Brian May. There’s a guy called Dec Cluskey and he used to say, Brian May’s guitar sounds like that because Brian’s playing it.

The whole process of working out where they’re up to and what they’re doing and choosing what should be in there and the effectiveness…… I don’t want to oversimplify this genuinely, but if sales training has worked, your sales go up and you can see the learning outcomes happening in practice within your sales team, and it sticks and people like it and want to use it. There’s no point buying somebody a toolkit that stays in the back of the van. You’ve got to make sure that they are motivated and bought in enough to actually want to use it. That meant the training worked.

If then it has a knock-on effect with the number of meetings booked, the profit that’s delivered and the units that are sold, then you can put that down to it. I think sales training, I always call it pennies for pounds. If you’ve got 10 people in a room and a day’s sales training doesn’t pay for one deal in that team that pays for your sales training four times, then your sales training isn’t working. If you’re not getting a return on the investment that is palpable. If people sit around the room and go, good God, I didn’t know it was going to work that well.

One of the first things that hits us, as a sales director, is getting sales trainers in that everybody has a nice day out and a bit of a spread for lunch and sent to some stately home hotel in the Midlands, everybody stays over and has far too much to drink and you lose at least three days of working week. While that’s really nice, then you realise that if you’re a big enough company, you can get away with ticking that box.

I used to work with two types of companies, I call them battleships and pirate ships. Battleships are really big companies where even the person in charge doesn’t own it or have any real knockback from whether we spend money or not. Pirate ships don’t have to be a small company, it can be Apple, it can be Virgin, but pirate ships, everybody knows that if they’ve got a treasure map, they don’t have to ask anybody’s permission, they can go and win the deals. I always did a lot better in my life in pirate ships than I did in battleships, in big corporates.

I find delivering sales training for pirate ships to be much more fun because everybody cares. If you are genuinely doing sales training, as a tick-box exercise. I deal with some massive companies around the world who invest but don’t treat it as it should. I talk to people who have got pennies to spend on thousands of salespeople, because when you add it all up it looks like a lot of money. It isn’t achieving anything but they can say they’ve done it. Like I say, it’s not a sales director’s job to be a sales trainer and HR and L&D aren’t salespeople. So what you really need to do is use someone that’s going to look deep in, really understand what the mother of the problem is and talk about that rather than just keeping everybody on the board happy beforehand. I’d rather keep the board happy afterwards.

Joe: I wonder, Chris, if the reason that you have more fun with pirate ships, perhaps there’s more rum involved. I don’t know.

Chris: I was kidnapped, I reckon, from the Mediterranean as a baby. I don’t belong in the north of England. I should be on a beach somewhere with lots of sun and possibly vineyards. Yeah, beaches and rum. Yeah, I don’t know how you figured me out that quickly.

Joe: I think we touched on a few bits and pieces with my next question for you. What other key indicators are there of ineffective sales training? You touched on a few that, as you said not to oversimplify, but sales go up. Are there any other key indicators of ineffective sales training?

Chris: When nothing happens, if everything stays exactly the same as it was before it happened, then you wouldn’t accept that from a salesperson making a call, so why would you accept it from a sales trainer looking after your team. That’s one thing.

I asked a question from my list at the end of last year to sales directors and I got some about what it was, what was the big question they wanted to ask about their sales teams. I got some really interesting answers and stuff that I’d never have put at the head of an article, if I’d written the article without doing this exercise. But I got one reply from an absolutely brilliant guy in Australia who uses our stuff. He wrote back and said, I don’t know if my sales team is happy. I don’t know whether I’d know if they were or whether they weren’t or what to look out for. I’m moving into 2023. The job market is horribly unpredictable. It’s really difficult to get good people. I’ve got good people. I don’t want to lose them, what should I look out for? I thought that was a really interesting answer to a question of what’s the big question you want to ask.

Sales training is very rarely used as a motivator or as a tool to keep people happy. But I’m doing some work with the NHS this week with some telephone teams and the leader of that team said that there are better paying jobs out there. Everybody is quite unloved as it is. Giving them some training and helping them be better tomorrow than they were yesterday is going to have such an effect. In fact, they’re really, it’s not me saying this, they’re really excited already that this is going to happen.

Now, isn’t it funny that a team that is customer facing, in essence, are really looking forward to improving themselves. Most salespeople who get put on sales training aren’t necessarily looking forward to it or think it might be a waste of their time.

I reckon if you were looking for a key indicator, I’m just wondering how motivated your team are right now, how motivated are they when they come out? If they answered a blind questionnaire after they’ve done the sales training about how useful it was and how beneficial it was. That in itself, by some of the answers that I got last year, would be a really big payoff for sales teams and sales leaders this year, I believe.

It’s just don’t take them for granted, invest in them and show them you care and help your own business at the same time. I can’t think of a better win-win actually. Sales teams I think are feeling a bit unloved and salespeople at the moment are moving for £2k. You’re thinking like, is it just the £2k? It might be, because there’s a lot of people who are quite short term-ism when it comes to careers.

But at the same time, I don’t know. There’s a couple of jobs that I’ve had in the past, that I’d have really given some thought to jumping ship for a couple of grand. Maybe it’s everything else around that. In sales, and I come back to something I mentioned before; sales, when you don’t know how to do it, is an impossible task. So if you’re dealing with SMEs, like I do, who are both creators and owners of businesses and their own sales team, they’re terrified about selling because they’ve never classed themselves as salespeople. Then salespeople in this environment, at the moment, prices going up, just everything, the cost of living shooting through the roof and buyers closing their doors to new suppliers, or at least hammering them down if not. Going out there, finding business and keeping companies afloat, it’s like everybody’s back in the bunker in the company saying to sales teams, go on then, come back when you’ve got one. It’s like, but how do I get one? Oh, off you go!

That’s the sales team sitting there and they don’t know what they don’t know. that really scares people. So motivation, as well as all the other KPIs. Sorry, that one went on for a long time, but I’m already quite passionate about that one.

Joe: No, absolutely. And actually, it was an incredibly thoughtful answer because it’s not necessarily the first metric you would expect to look at for that sort of thing, is it? It’s happiness, effectively.

Chris: We should expect it when we go to work, shouldn’t we? It takes a lot of time. I think it’s good to be happy when you’re out there doing it. It’s funny, with some of the buildup to this webinar, I noticed that you used effective and engaging in a couple of the pieces that you put out to me. It’s really interesting, because 15 years ago we decided on three words that we were going to be really happy with about our training and what we were going to be, and they were effective, engaging and bespoke.

I think those are the three things that you should look out for when you are building this. Effective, does it work? If it doesn’t work, why are you doing it? Engaging. I remember 15 years ago, I was on a LinkedIn conversation in one of the trainers groups, and one trainer said, how can I make my training more fun? How can I make it more enjoyable? How can I make them laugh? And a wise old owl of a trainer got on and said, you don’t want to be entertaining, you want to be engaging. Sales teams don’t want to be put in a room and have somebody come in with a hat and a cane and do a couple of dance numbers. They want it to be effective so they can go out and sell more and they don’t want to be bored before the first custard cream at 11 o’clock. And bespoke, I think that you don’t reinvent sales training but everybody’s problems are their own. Industries don’t matter too much, but situations, individuals and issues.

Joe: Entirely correct. Because I think I’m sure we’ve all seen that episode of The Office where they go to have a training session that is the video from the 80s and everybody’s like, what’s going on here?

Chris: I often take my guitar in, it’s very important.

Joe: He went home to get it.

Chris: Mine’s always in the back of the car or the tour bus as we like to call it.

Joe: Are there any examples you can give us of ensuring that the training you give is engaging? Are there any recent examples you have at all?

Chris: God, yeah, of the nightmares that happen during sales. Here’s the thing, I only do role plays in certain parts of our training. If you put up a slide at the beginning of your training day with a couple of people arguing and say, just so you know, I’m not going to be doing any role play today. Half the room goes, oh, no, I was really looking forward to that, because some people love it. Some people can’t wait to get it. Some people are what’s my motivation? Where am I? Come on, bus stations in autumn. Here we go and they’re off. Then the other half of the room, they’re going, don’t pick me, please don’t pick me. Please don’t. And the one thing I have learned is that people don’t learn new stuff when they’re scared or embarrassed. They’re in a defence mode that doesn’t take on new information. If you’re scared and embarrassed, that’s not working for learning, that’s first of all.

Also in some sales training with role plays, it is a bit like taking two toddlers who have just had stabilisers taken off their bike and getting them to race. Two people have just learned how to do something brand new to them and then you put them in a room with one knife and see who comes out. That’s wonderful sometimes. I honestly think that sometimes, because there are places for it, but I think sometimes role plays are a great way for sales trainers to waste three hours in a day rather than actually impart any information.

So I see that going wrong quite a lot because, yeah, the days of just turning up with a box of Lego and a couple of scenarios to try and have an impactful training day. I think there’s a couple of different types of sales trainers out there and we were talking about effective, engaging and bespoke just then. I think I’m still embarrassed, but surprised when I hear about the people who’ve just picked up a box of sales training without giving any thought, without going any deeper themselves, without studying the art science of it and have no individual anything to add to the subject. Then just like David Brent, they have a clipart picture of that guy with a big hammer hitting a computer. You’re like thinking you bought that for £78 off the internet and then you’ve conned somebody to look to give you a day of your time and their time with their sales team.

So I am heartbroken that it happens all over the place. All you have to do is look at the feedback from some good sales trainers to recognize that still 80% of the sales training out there is from people who have just been hired because they can speak and drive, and delivered to people who really need their help. I get really angry about training days that are a waste of people’s time.

Joe: I can tell you’re certainly passionate about it, Chris.

Chris: It’s a failure, isn’t it?

Joe: Absolutely. No, you’re 100% right. You did mention a clipart there. I wonder if there are any more modern examples of how technology can be leveraged to increase the effectiveness of self-training at all.

Chris: There’s a number of great companies out there that I won’t name any names of because they don’t pay me to. You can listen to your sales team’s calls. You can go through them and coach through what they’re doing. You can find that question of what would you like them to do next week that they weren’t doing last week. Don’t find the things they’re doing wrong. Find the things you’d like them to do right. You can see that on video call recordings. You can see it on the recordings of audio calls. You can look at the numbers of the calls they’re making and their hit rate. Don’t tell me that you want them to make 60 calls and they’re only making 20. Tell me how many meetings you want them to book a week or how many units you want them to sell and then tell me how many they have sold and how many calls that took.

There are loads of bits of tech that you can use. I got asked, this was before lockdown. I got asked a number of years ago by a sales director. He said, Chris, everybody’s working from home and I don’t believe they’re working from home. Is there any way that we can put up little spy cameras in their home office and watch them so I can have a look?

Joe: You’re joking?

Chris: I think not. I wish I could make that up! I said, it’s possibly not legally, first of all but also I had to explain to him that the only people you’d end up hiring were people who couldn’t get jobs anywhere else. So you’re getting the dregs of people who need to be watched. The people who genuinely are so bad at what they do for a living, the only job they can get is if someone lets their house be bugged. I think that’s frightening.

So stop counting things just to count them. I’m big on CRM systems that work for the sales team and not for the sales manager, as an example. People say, what’s the best CRM to use? The one your sales team fills in and gets more sales out of. Salespeople can’t even fill in their own expenses. That’s them getting their money back. If they don’t want to get their own money back, they’re not going to fill in your CRM system. So it’s got to be worth their while to do so.

If your CRM system is just for the board to watch how badly the sales team are doing, it’s the wrong CRM system in my mind. It shouldn’t be a report system for the board, it should be a tool to sell more. But at the same time, it can be used to make sure that everybody is following the map that you’ve given them and there should be a roadmap.

I talk about game boards, like snakes and ladders. If you’re playing a game of snakes and ladders, you know where you’re on the board, you know where your competition is. Most sales managers and their sales teams, with regards to any individual opportunity, don’t know where they are on the board. I think at any one time, you should be able to pull that up and know. But it’s all about business development. It’s not about managing well. It’s about getting more sales in.

Joe: No, absolutely. What you were saying there, Chris, actually echoes on the, just a bit of cross-pollination advertising, the B2B Sales Playbook podcast, which I also host, we had Tyler Witt on there a little while ago. He was talking about exactly those sorts of things, listening to calls and that sort of thing. So for anyone watching this, go and have a listen to Tyler Witt on the B2B Sales Playbook as well, because you have a common ground with him there, Chris. So clearly, it’s valuable information.

So how can organisations measure the ROI of their sales training programs?

Chris: Like I said earlier, genuinely and I don’t want to oversimplify this. But if there’s a room of 10 people, one of them should be able to close a deal, following that sales training that they wouldn’t have got beforehand, that is possibly worth four times in profit than the sales training day cost. Now, getting one of them to do it, that’s paid for it four times. Getting 10 of them to do that, ding-dong, absolutely fabulous. And that’s the idea.

Joe: Well there you go, Chris Murray there on sales training. Let’s have a look at our key takeaways then: 

  • The biggest mistake in sales training is not starting with the end goal in mind and not defining your problem specifically. 
  • The three most common issues that sales teams face are difficulty in getting in front of more customers, inability to close deals and not hitting targets even after closing lots of deals. 
  • Sales training should produce measurable results and be designed to motivate and engage participants enough to want to implement what they learn. 
  • Sales training is rarely used as a motivator or a tool to keep people happy but it can have an impact on job satisfaction and retention.
  • Thanks very much to Chris for joining me for this podcast and thank you very much for listening.  Remember to subscribe to the Essential B2B podcast and give us a 5 star rating where possible.  Also subscribe to the B2B Sales Playbook which is the other podcast that I do for Lead Forensics. We’ll be back next week with another episode of the Essential B2B podcast.  Cheers.