Sales training and national sales meetings – an odd couple


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Over the years we have attended a number of our clients’ national sales meetings.  Great events!  Lots of good things usually happen.  Salespeople exchange ideas and best practices, sales leaders make compelling presentations (Microsoft comes to mind) and yes, everyone has a really good time.  As a matter of fact, we have such a fond impression of these events we hope, even in face of present trends, that they are not eliminated or replaced by some virtual technology.

We have noticed, however, that some companies tend to strive for a bridge too far and conduct serious sales training at their national sales meeting.  We would suggest that in most cases this is not a good idea.  At national sales meetings, sales training usually doesn’t turn out very well and the attempt plays havoc with the other benefits that are derived from the event.

Now, it is clear why companies proceed down this path – it’s about money.  Adding it all up, the percentage of money that it takes to implement a company-wide sales training program that is attributed to travel and expense can be as high as 40%.  So the logic goes: If we have all the sales reps together why not save that T&E expense and do our sales training at the national meeting?

And why not? Because, as we said, the sales training usually does work as well.  Why?

  • Sales rep attention.  At a national sales meeting a significant number of the sales reps would rather be someplace else, and doing anything else than sales training.  This is particularly true if previous meetings have been more like the ones we just described.  In other words,  sales reps had a different expectation about what would be happening.
  • Timing problems.  Most national sales meeting are jammed pack with activities some emerging at the last minute. So more often than not the amount of time devoted to the sales training is insufficient.  In the worst cases, several hours are lopped off the training at the last minute to make agenda time for a new priority. So the sales training ends up being a half-day on Friday afternoon with salespeople leaving early to catch their flights home.
  • Before and after sales training.  It is will know that what happens before and after the training is as important as the training itself.  If that simple idea is ignored, the training becomes just an event.  A typical consequence – without reinforcement 87% of the skill developed in the training is lost within 3 months.  Now, if the sales training is conducted at the national sales meeting, how much pre and post special care and attention will be given to the training given all the other priorities that are on the front burner before and after the national meeting? For those who have not had this experience, the answer can come perilously close to being counted in hours versus days.

So while it’s possible to save some money, at what cost?  What are some alternatives?  If you have a large sales team where bring them together is expensive from a T& E perspective, how can you conduct some effective sales training and minimize that travel expense item?.  Let’s look at a couple of ideas that hold promise.

  • Try on-line training.  In the last several years on-line training has improved dramatically; it is now an effective, efficient, and affordable way to implement a wide variety of sales training programs.

It is particularly effective for conducting any type of knowledge based learning such as: product, marketplace, and technical training.  Although the opportunities for practice and feedback are limited, on-line training is also effective for delivering sales skills training focused on developing initial awareness and understanding of the best practices for any consultative selling model.  When using an on-line approach for sales skills development, the practice and feedback needs to come about via sales management coaching.

  • Bring the training to them.   Rather than bring the sales reps to the training do it the other way around – bring the sales training to them. Try conducting the training over several sessions dedicated strictly to the training at the “district” level.  Move a small group of dedicated trainers to each district to maximize the consistency of the sales training.  Make sure you leverage the advantage of the location of the sales training to engage the local sales managers in the training for the sales reps.

Although this implementation strategy does not eliminate the T&E expenses it certainly minimizes them and most importantly it provides the focus the sales training deserves.

We would suggest that both sales training and national sales meetings are important.  But when done together, they are indeed an odd couple that does not get along so well.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Richard Ruff
For more than 30 years Richard Ruff has worked with the Fortune 1000 to craft sales training programs that make a difference. Working with market leaders Dick has learned that today's great sales force significantly differs from yesterday. So, Sales Momentum offers firms effective sales training programs affordably priced. Dick is the co-author of Parlez-Vous Business, to help sales people have smart business conversations with customers, and the Sales Training Connection.


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