Is sales training the problem?

Guest blog by Joe Rodden, Sales Systems Manager at Catalant Technologies

Have you ever heard the comment, “Why can’t we just train the sales team?” after you were just asked to create a new workflow? I hear it in my day-to-day work and sometimes it can be an acceptable solution. But, all too often it’s touted as the end-all be-all solution when the problem isn’t a lack of training, it’s confusing processes, or there is a lack of management. I mentioned in my previous blog post “The Three Levers of Sales Operations” that training issues are the most straightforward to understand, but often the most misidentified of the problems we solve. A good process and user experience in a system shouldn’t require too much training. Let’s get into some common scenarios.

Scenario 1: Wrong People Entering The Wrong Data

If data can be easily and accurately verified elsewhere then the data entry burden should not be on sales. There is a subset of data that only the rep knows, or is best equipped to answer such as:

  • “Who are you selling to?”
  • “How much are you selling?”
  • “What are you selling and for how long?”
  • “Who are our competitors?”
  • “What effort have you put into the sale?”

There is a larger set of data beyond what anyone could figure out and verify. The litmus test here is, “Can anyone determine this information without having to ask the rep?”

Don’t ask them for any complex calculations or financially impactful information beyond the amount, chances are they didn’t get into sales because they love doing math. Training reps on this may get them to fill in the field you want but someone is still responsible for double checking it. Training is not the best solution here as we’re still duplicating efforts and no amount of training would let the back office trust this 100 percent.

Solution: This is a process/system problem. Train a different team to do it. If the information needs to be double checked and it can be verified without asking the rep, move it off their plate entirely. No matter how much you try to train here they will be thinking, “Why is this my job?” and “Shouldn’t X team be doing this?” They probably have a point.

Scenario 2: Your Process Is Confusing

Have you noticed that no one in sales seems to understand how your process is set up? It’s most likely not their fault. Next time you host a training around the sales process keep track of how many times the words “Unless’”or “If then…” are used. Each of these words would indicate a branch in the process. These are okay to have, but only if they’re early on.

Good Branches: Your company sells a mix of Software and Professional Services. When creating the opportunity pick your path. Follow the process the same way, every time based on what you’ve picked.

Bad Branches: Building off the above example, you’ve chosen Software. Great! Now tell me whether this is a new customer, existing customer, or if you’re renewing software. Let’s say you picked existing customer, are you going to sell this on a leap year? Yes? Alright, that means you’re now selling Leap Year SaaS Solution. Tell us what kind of paperwork you want now. Oh, and since this customer is in Education we actually can’t sell them that unless it’s a new moon tonight.

I’m being facetious, but hope you get the point. Often processes like this come when there are no clear business rules, or we’re trying to account for 100 percent of scenarios when we should be aiming for 95 percent with room for customization for the other 5 percent.

Solution: This could be a combination of systems or management problems. In either case it probably signifies a lack of business rules. Sit down with your head of sales and get some official rulings. It could also be that we’re trying to account for every scenario in one process. No matter where you work there’s probably going to be a handful of your biggest customers that follow a different process, don’t factor them into your solution design. Build a process for the majority and build in workarounds for the others. Despite what they may tell you, the sales team doesn’t typically want a lot of options, they want a straightforward process.

Scenario 3: I Don’t Know How To Do That

A user comes to you with a question about how to do something that you think they should know how to do in order to perform their job.

Solution: Ding! Ding! Ding! We’ve got a winner! Finally, a straightforward training issue! Help them out, answer some questions with a smile or if there’s a larger misunderstanding host a training. If you’ve managed to avoid or solve for the above two scenarios you probably have some happy reps and the training should be relatively straightforward and effective.

Scenario 4: I’m Not Going To Do That

Your processes have been re-designed to be straightforward. The data we ask sales for is only the stuff that they are best equipped to answer and we’ve done plenty of trainings. However, there’s one or two reps that are just refusing to log their activity or properly forecast their opportunities.

Solution: If this isn’t widespread across the whole team and you’ve done all the previous three steps then this is just a management issue. I’ll touch on how to solve those effectively in a future post but the best solution for now is ensure data exists to highlight this bad behavior. The only person that can change this behavior is their manager, it’s our job to make sure those people know how to look at a report and address this behavior. No amount of training will solve for a lack of management.