Training A Salesforce vs. Teaching A Salesforce

Since the dawn of business time…man has attempted to develop himself and others through formal and informal training, hence the development of primary and secondary education systems. These all work to varying degrees of success depending upon leadership, curriculum, and the motivation of the student.

When business adopts training it is too often what I would call a “wham bam, thank you ma’am.” “You’ve attended our three day course on sales, we now expect you’ll increase your productivity by 30%” says management. The problem with this is….stay tuned…I’ll get to it in a minute. We first have to look at how humans learn, or train themselves.

Think back when you were a child and had to learn all things for the first time. Did you go to classes or attend seminars? Rather you had someone (mother, father, or otherwise) who worked with you tirelessly, and patiently, day-in and day-out, to help you achieve your goal. Whether it was to brush your teeth, or tie your shoes, it was always an ongoing, tedious training method, until such time as your parent would deem you capable and you no longer needed supervision to execute the task. Teaching is different than training. According to Merriam Webster:

Train – To instruct as to make proficient. To guide the mental, moral, etc. development of.
Teach – To show how to do something. Instruct. To give knowledge, insight, etc…

We don’t want seminars where business productivity methods are “taught.” We want people to become “proficient,” hence training is preferred over a teaching environment.
How do we achieve this without breaking the bank? Let me use an illustration. I train students in karate. Our training goes something like this. I TEACH them a technique (kick, punch, maneuver, throw etc…), then I ask them to perform it. I work with them for a few minutes until I am comfortable that they have the basic movement of the technique memorized. After having them practice it for a few weeks, I’ll ask them to demonstrate it again. I’ll then make more refinements to their technique and send them back to practice. Over months they will practice, and be taught, practice then be taught, until the technique is as familiar as tying their shoes. This is when they reach the level of “unconscious competent,” meaning they give no thought to it and can perform the technique proficiently.

It is our role as managers to train our salespeople through these four stages of being trained. They are:

The unconscious incompetent – They have no idea they don’t know what they’re doing.
The conscious incompetent – They have been instructed, so now they know they don’t know what they’re doing.
The conscious competent – Through training they are becoming proficient, but it takes thought.
The unconscious competent – Proficient without thought.

The final stage is where we want to be, and where we want our salesforce to be as well. I think you see where I’m going with this…the trouble with most training is that it is not training at all, it’s simply teaching. And teaching is not what we’re after.

As a manager it’s incumbent upon me to train my employees. By taking a concept or two at a time, and working with them on it, they can come to understand, and become proficient with it. Working side-by-side with your employees, rolling up your sleeves, finding out what they do, how they do it, and THEN offering your concept for integration is the key to long-term training. Meeting in the conference room and watching a DVD together is a nice complement to training, but training it is not. Training takes place on the dance floor… so to speak.

Imagine a soldier learning to fire a rifle in a classroom. Oh, he’ll learn the techniques, but where does he REALLY learn to shoot with accuracy. Or, football players, where is their training done

Like any training I’ve done, it’s important to understand that each salesperson has different training needs, and a few are fine as they are and need no training, perhaps just a little “molding” for future promotion. Assessing each salesperson’s needs and providing training for those needs is important. I would much rather have a trainer spend a few days in a car with a rep individually, than cram the entire salesforce in cookie-cutter style training for two days. Much of this time is wasted since each salesperson is at a different wrung on the ladder. To costly you say? It’s too costly not to invest appropriately I respond.

When I train I do not do classroom style training, unless it’s on a specific topic that most of the salesforce is not well versed, perhaps internet or appropriate use of email. But rather one-on-one training targeting the needs of that rep, or the few others that share the same needs.

Your sales manager is Sensei to your salesforce. Finding out first how to execute efficiently and effectively, then training these techniques into each salesperson as needed. Sales managers should keep track physically on paper or on a computer of the progress and needs of each sales person and work tirelessly to help each become a blackbelt in their own right.

I hope you found this useful. It took me four years of constant practice and training, painfully on the same techniques for months sometimes…to become a blackbelt (twice over). Look at your training (not just sales) in the same vein, and maybe you’ll look at training vs. teaching in a different light.

Good selling!

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One Response to Training A Salesforce vs. Teaching A Salesforce

  1. Pingback: Is the Internet Killing Our Hunters? | Symbion Marketing

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