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Sales Training Programmes: Putting the A back in KSA

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richardsonsalestraining15 July 2013Blog

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Pressure Creates DiamondsCorporate Learning and Development (L&D) departments are under pressure to produce results. This is especially true with sales training programmes.

"Ability is what you're capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it." ~ Lou Holtz

Training budgets are often one of the first to get cut when times are tough and budgets are scrutinised.  While the number of L&D departments that have fully made the transition from training to a performance focus is still less than might be expected, there is certainly a welcome and growing focus on delivering Return on Expectation or ROI, changing behaviours, tying training to business objectives, and positively impacting top-and bottom-line business results.

You won’t ever hear me complain about a focus on skills and behaviours, especially in classroom training for sales training programmes.  In fact, I may actually clap or cheer whenever I hear that training is part of a larger change effort, with full-fledged learning systems and transfer plans, and especially change leadership and change management efforts. I encourage prework for knowledge transfer, using e-learning and other asynchronous methods as well as synchronous virtual instructor-led-training (vILT), prior to classroom training. This just makes sense as part of an overall learning system (making learning a process, not an event).

And Diamonds are Multi-faceted

Given all this, I understand the prioritisation and focus on skills and behaviours in a classroom setting. I support it, applaud it, and would like to see more of it in our sales training programmes. I want to encourage you not to forget an important element of learning that I see many of us shying away from today. Yes, I’m talking about the A in KSA… which to me, still means “knowledge, skills and attitude.”

Note: To be clear, KSA was originally “knowledge, skills, and attitude” and to some, now refers to “knowledge, skills, and abilities.” For a brief but interesting treatise on KSA in learning literature, visit Don Clark’s site at

Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.~ Zig Ziglar

I’m sticking with attitude. Even ibstpi® defines a competency as “an integrated set of skills, knowledge, and attitudes that enables one to effectively perform the activities of a given occupation or function to the standards expected in employment.”

Without writing an academic dissertation or debating the nuances of various schools of thought, it’s also generally accepted that one’s beliefs and values lead to the formation of attitudes, which generate emotions (the affective domain), which often determine actions and behaviours (or at least what we decide to act on). As I’ve often joked, we do our best to hire someone for their knowledge and skills, but the whole person shows up at work. To a large degree, attitude and motivation determine our choices, course of action, and success.

If that is the case, even in our skills- and behaviour-focused training efforts, we should continue to attempt to positively influence attitude, shouldn’t we? I still believe the answer is “yes.”

How you think when you lose determines how long it will be until you win.~ Gilbert K. Chesterton

In the Beginning…

In the sales training profession, there’s an intriguing division of what some consider “old school” and “new school.” (These are not my terms, nor is “old school” necessarily meant derisively in this post.) The old-school approach often targeted individual reps that sought to improve their success. Very often, the primary focus in these sales training programmes was on sales techniques. But what the trainers and advocates also did, usually quite well, was share the mindset of top performers and how to emulate them. Much of that content was about influencing attitude and creating motivation.

I have no desire to return to the days when we thought “Always Be Closing” was good advice and approached sales as an art, rather than a science and a business discipline. But when people are involved, and you want them engaged, you still want their “hearts and minds” to follow you. To get them to learn and adopt new behaviours or earn their discretionary effort, you need to have their full buy-in.

Funny, but when you think about it that way, persuasion and influence seem required for both selling and training, don’t they?

So, how do we do this?

Keep the Baby; Toss the Bathwater

Aristotle had it right with Ethos, Logos and Pathos, and this early group of sales trainers and motivators certainly “got it” as well, using the same methods. (I’ll write more on Aristotle’s rhetoric in a future post on influence.)

Many of your best instructors probably do this naturally, too, but here’s some advice from the Department of Educational Psychology and Instructional Technology, University of Georgia:

"The trick with designing the ideal persuasive message is that it has to be of such quality that the recipients' own cognitive responses to it are numerous as well as favourable" (Zimbardo & Leippe, 1991, p. 182). For example, studies (e.g., Allison, 1966; Wade and Pool, 1983; Bage, 1997) have found that persuasive videos were more likely to produce attitude change when post-viewing discussions were held. If the instructional unit begins with an emphasis on cognitive outcomes, continues with the persuasive media message, and concludes with a discussion session, then students will be challenged with several opportunities to develop and express their own cognitive responses to the information presented. Each phase of the instruction should present "plausible, important messages with new information [in order to] provoke more cognitions and hence increase attitude change" (Zimbardo & Leippe, 1991, p. 150). Thus, the persuasive component should not merely restate the information provided earlier, but should elaborate and expand upon it.

This is a common design technique for general learning, but did you realise you could also use it to purposefully help shape attitude about what’s being learnt?

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Put the A in KSA for Your Sales Training Programmes

Here are some other ideas that might help:

  • In addition to teaching “what to do” and “how to” do a task, ensure participants understand the “why” behind it
  • Share relevant studies or supporting research when possible
  • Provide demonstrations, of course, but also have examples of real-world results Use testimonials or support from respected peers, top producers and authority figures
  • Avoid defencive reactions if participants express scepticism
  • Appeal to a larger purpose
  • During all of the above, involve your learners in the discussion, encourage engagement, sharing, and story-telling – bring in their experience and perspectives
  • Ensure frontline managers buy-in and support the ideas/training, so that they can continue the attitude and behaviour shaping after the training
These suggestions are proven, but human behaviour is complex. You can help participants open their minds and change attitudes during training. I’ve seen it. At the same time, it’s also known that emotion follows action, so don’t give up on the participants you may not be able to reach or influence during training. Occasionally, people begin to feel differently about something after they try it or start doing it. This is another reason why the post-training support and coaching from managers is so important.

Hopefully, this post reminded you of the importance of shaping and influencing attitudes during your sales training programmes, as well as teaching skills and behaviours. Perhaps it sparked some thoughts about how you might do that. Or, perhaps you feel differently. In either case, I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts in the comments. Just be sure to have a good attitude. ;-)

Life’s battles don’t always go to the strongest or fastest; sooner or later those who win are those who think they can. ~ Vince Lombardi

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