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Sales Training Sustainment Planning

Based on Richardson’s more than thirty years of experience and research, we believe that effective behaviour change occurs in three phases: planning, development, and sustainment.

Sales Training Sustainment Planning

Planning should occur at both the organisational and individual levels.

  • Organisation-wide: leaders need to effectively communicate the change and align stakeholders at multiple levels to sponsor the change.
  • Leadership: leaders need to take a hard look at whether they have the right processes, metrics, systems, and talent to successfully enable the change both in the short and long-term.
  • Sales Professional: at the individual level, awareness of the need to change and the desire to change should be instilled in a systematic manner. Sales professionals’ skill sets and innate talent should be assessed against the requirements of the change.

Many change initiatives fail because the heavy lifting at the organisational level and the desire to change at the personal level are insufficiently addressed before training occurs.

Development

Development is the traditional focus of training, including:

  • Positioning the relevance of new skills and knowledge to sales professionals
  • Exposure to new processes
  • Use of best-practices models and real-time feedback

Sustainment

Sustainment is what occurs after sales professionals leave the training session and return to the field. Sustainment should include:

  • Expectation setting
  • Knowledge retention
  • Skill application
  • Supportive systems
  • Relapse prevention

While skill development occurs during set events using a variety of modalities (e.g.,instructor-led training, virtual classrooms, workshops, and online), skill sustainment and behaviour change take place back on-the-job in a much more chaotic environment, which means it needs to be incremental and consistent over a period of months.

Clients who are successful at behaviour change do three things extremely well.

  • They spend about a third of their budget and focus significant time getting the sales force ready to change and planning for a successful change.
  • They focus on improving a limited number of key behaviours through training. Since working memory is finite, clients direct their sales forces’ attention to the small number of best practices most likely to impact their business results.
  • They place a heavy emphasis on the sustainment portion of behaviour change because this is where the “rubber hits the road.” Clients who effectively drive behaviour change spend a fifth of their budget on sustainment and 17% on evaluating the impact of behaviour change on their business results. Measurement is a key component of sustainment.

5 Steps Required for Successful Sales Training Sustainment Planning

These five steps build upon one another in a sequential manner.  By focusing organisational attention, time, effort, and resources on each step, new behaviours become more embedded in your sales team’s daily operations.  Additionally, this systematic and systemic approach to sustainment enables counter-productive practices and cultural elements to be both surfaced and be addressed.

Step 1 – Set Expectations

Most organisations have strong and competing interests for people’s time and attention.  This competition can make it very difficult for new behaviours to gain traction, especially since there will be a dip in performance after training as individuals make the transition from conscious incompetence to conscious competence to unconscious competence.  Management, at every level of the sales organisation, needs to help people focus their time and attention on applying the new knowledge and skills.  Officially, management should set expectations for what should (and should not) occur as individuals work to master their new skills back on-the-job.

Step 2- Retain Knowledge

After training, new knowledge quickly atrophies without consistent reinforcement.  The foundation of sustainment is that individuals retain key knowledge gained from training so that it can be applied back on-the-job.

Step 3 – Apply Skills

This sustainment step is at the heart of helping people to apply retained knowledge and skills to their everyday situations and challenges.  Successful application includes:  (1) identifying when to use the new knowledge and skills, (2) using the new knowledge and skills, (3) receiving constructive feedback on how well the new knowledge and skills were applied, and (4) persisting in the use of the new knowledge and skills in appropriate future situations.  The emphasis is on incremental change, individual persistence, and continuous improvement.

Step 4 – Support

This sustainment step is at the heart of you ensuring that people believe the required behaviour changes are “real” and not a “flavour of the month.”  If people go through training but their work environment has not noticeably changed to support the new behaviours, people will think that the new behaviours are optional or, worse, that management is not really serious about behaviour change.  On the other hand, if people go through training and return to a work environment that is significantly different and better aligned to support the new behaviours, people will think “management is serious about this change.”

Step 5 – Relapse Retention

Change takes time and most of us are impatient.  If people don’t feel like they are making progress with the new behaviours, they are much more likely to return to their pre-training behaviours.  It is important to break up behaviour change into incremental steps so that people feel they are making progress.  In addition, success, even partial success, is important so that people feel the benefits of putting in the effort to master the new knowledge and skills.  Finally, holding people accountable for their behaviour change through verification dialogues helps people to take personal ownership of the need to continue using the new knowledge and skills rather than the “old” way of doing things.