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Less Information, More Behavior Change: Avoid this BIG Mistake in your Sales Training

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richardsonsalestrainingJune 5, 2013Blog

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 With the world awash in information, there seems to be a disturbing trend in sales training – many programs are focusing on breadth instead of depth.  Specifically, many sales training programs emphasize too much information across a range of topics and not enough practice on a few key behaviors.

Too often the assumption is made that more content leads to more behavior change – this assumption is dead wrong.  Consistently, as the level of information increases in sales training, the amount of time dedicated to practicing skills and getting feedback on key behaviors plummets.  This results in training that superficially touches on numerous topics without driving mastery of key behaviors.  There is a simple solution to this fundamental mistake; do less in training.  Help your participants to focus on a few key behaviors by including enough practice and real-time coaching so that when salespeople leave training they are well on their way to mastering these key behaviors.  Better still, this focus helps their managers to reinforce a few key behaviors back on the job, making coaching much more manageable (for the coach) and relevant (for the salesperson).

Why People Assume (Wrongly) that More Content Leads to More Behavior Change

This fundamental mistake, including too much information and not enough targeted practice and coaching in sales training, seems to be spreading fast.  Here are the three likeliest explanations for this dangerous trend:

  • Lack of Understanding About How To Get Behavior Change – Some training and development professionals fundamentally misunderstand what it takes to get behavior change.  It is possible that these professionals simply are not familiar with the research on behavior change, which conclusively states that information alone does not create behavior change.  Anyone who knows a smoker knows this simple truth.  Even though smokers understand the terrible health effects of smoking and that this habit is likely to shorten their lives (i.e., they have the information), most persist in smoking (i.e., they don’t change their behavior).  Giving smokers more information does not change the fact that they smoke.
    • Solution:  It is important for training and development professionals to apply research-based best practices to drive behavior change.  There are many good resources about behavior change available online from the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD), the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI), and Prosci™ Change Management.
  • There are Too Many Needs for a Single Training Program – Frequently, training and development professionals usually have to satisfy many different needs and, frequently, many different sales leaders.   When leaders have a wide variety of perceptions about what the sales people need, training and development professionals can get draw into the political cross-fire between competing points of view.  The easiest way to meet as many needs as possible or reconcile competing leadership agendas is to put favored topics and additional information into the training.  In this way, multiple sales leaders feel that they have put their “seal of approval” on the training.  Unfortunately, this leads to more information in sales training and less skills practice.
    • Solution:  It is important for training and development professionals to find ways to objectively prioritize and rank key behaviors based on salespeople’s known skill gaps and share this data with sales leaders.  Front-end analysis is well worth the additional time it adds to a training initiative, especially if it helps to base training on common knowledge gaps instead of on personal or political agendas.
  • Underappreciate Salespeople’s Challenges - Many training and development professionals don’t inherently understand the salesperson’s daily experience.  Most salespeople are on “information overload” keeping track of: multiple opportunities, contacts at various clients, colleagues at their own company, and internal and client processes, as well as charged with the completion of administrative tasks.  Layering more information on top of this load makes many salespeople throw up their hands and say, “I am just going to do what I have always done,” which results in little or no behavior change.  Salespeople are action-oriented; they want skills that help them sell to clients, not additional information.
    • Solution:  When delivering programs, training and development staff should look at time allocation in a training program with a critical eye.  A good rule of thumb is the 20/30/50 split.  This means that 20% of the training should focus on context setting to establish relevance and summarizing to reinforce new knowledge.  Thirty percent of the training is spent on introducing new concepts, behavioral models, and processes.  And, 50% of training time is dedicated to practicing key behaviors and receiving feedback on these key behaviors.
Training is expensive.  That is why it should focus on mastery of a few key behaviors that will drive sales results instead of a broad swath of content and information.  The very best training and development leaders know that their investment in sales training should focus salespeople’s attention, time, and effort on mastery of a few key behaviors to drive success with clients.
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