Based on Richardson’s more than thirty years of experience and research, we believe that effective behavior change occurs in three phases: planning, development, and sustainment.
Sales Training Sustainment Planning
Planning should occur at both the organizational and individual levels.
- Organization-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 or become the “flavor of the month” because the heavy lifting at the organizational level and the desire to change at the personal level are insufficiently addressed before training occurs.
Development is the traditional focus of training, including:
- Positioning the relevance of new skills and knowledge to sales professionals
- Exposure to new processes
- Utilization of best-practices models and real-time feedback
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 behavior 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 behavior 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 behaviors 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 behavior change because this is where the “rubber hits the road.” Clients who effectively drive behavior change spend a fifth of their budget on sustainment and 17% on evaluating the impact of behavior 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 organizational attention, time, effort, and resources on each step, new behaviors 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.
Most organizations have strong and competing interests for people’s time and attention. This competition can make it very difficult for new behaviors to gain traction, especially since there will be a dip in post-training performance as individuals make the transition from conscious incompetence to conscious competence to unconscious competence.
Management, at every level of the sales organization, 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.
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.
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:
Identifying when to use the new knowledge and skills
- Using the new knowledge and skills
- Receiving constructive feedback on how well the new knowledge and skills were applied
- 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.
This sustainment step is at the heart of you ensuring that people believe the required behavior changes are “real” and not a “flavor of the month.” If people go through training but their work environment has not noticeably changed to support the new behaviors, people will think that the new behaviors are optional or, worse, that management is not really serious about behavior 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 behaviors, people will think “management is serious about this change.”
Change takes time and most of us are impatient. If people don’t feel like they are making progress with the new behaviors, they are much more likely to return to their pre-training behaviors.
It is important to break up behavior 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 behavior 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.