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

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

Too often the assumption is made that more content leads to more behaviour change – this assumption is dead wrong.  Consistently, as the level of information increases in sales training, the amount of time dedicated to practising skills and getting feedback on key behaviours plummets.  This results in training that superficially touches on numerous topics without driving mastery of key behaviours.  There is a simple solution to this fundamental mistake; do less in training.  Help your participants to focus on a few key behaviours by including enough practise and real-time coaching so that when salespeople leave training they are well on their way to mastering these key behaviours.  Better still, this focus helps their managers to reinforce a few key behaviours 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 Behaviour Change

This fundamental mistake, including too much information and not enough targeted practise 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 Behaviour Change – Some training and development professionals fundamentally misunderstand what it takes to get behaviour change.  It is possible that these professionals simply are not familiar with the research on behaviour change, which conclusively states that information alone does not create behaviour 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 behaviour).  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 practises to drive behaviour change.  There are many good resources about behaviour 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 Programme – 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 favoured 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 practise.
    • Solution:  It is important for training and development professionals to find ways to objectively prioritise and rank key behaviours 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 behaviour change.  Salespeople are action-oriented; they want skills that help them sell to clients, not additional information.
    • Solution:  When delivering programmes, training and development staff should look at time allocation in a training programme 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 summarising to reinforce new knowledge.  Thirty percent of the training is spent on introducing new concepts, behavioural models, and processes.  And, 50% of training time is dedicated to practisng key behaviours and receiving feedback on these key behaviors.
Training is expensive.  That is why it should focus on mastery of a few key behaviours 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 behaviours to drive success with clients.
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