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Why are so many sales trainings useless?

The training of customer teams from Darwin’s perspective


That's what these dinosaurs probably thought when the vegetation they loved became scarce and they found themselves in competition with other herbivores better suited to a cooling Earth. That’s what led some 65 million years ago to the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction.

This is also what many business managers hear from their sales forces confronted to a changing ecosystem.

Its software editors facing the Cloud, taxis facing Uber, booksellers facing Amazon, IBM facing Apple in the early 80s, carriage manufacturers facing Henry Ford some 100 years, the silk workers facing looms ...

The challenge of competitiveness is permanent throughout the life of the company, fortunately with often less dramatic consequences for the latter than for the dinosaurs!

In the field, especially in complex B2B sales solutions, this is manifested by the "commoditisation" of the offers. If yesterday the installation of a corporate communication network required such a specialized expertise that telecom operators had a quasi-monopoly, now the technology is so widely distributed that dozens of good solutions available at low cost.

For a sales team, there is nothing worse than to fight on the sole ground of price. Their commissions will suffer and there is no room for negotiation, dialogue with the customer, exchange ... everything that makes the day for a sales person!

Digital transformation amplifies the pressure on sales forces. The risk is to make them obsolete, replaced by websites or automatic transactions on electronic marketplaces.


In this context, companies engage in transformation programs, i.e. deep and lasting changes. They deploy sales force training programmes to market the new offers. Sales forces are trained on the products, explained the features meant to impress the client, handed the configuration and pricing tools, provided with value propositions and counter-arguments to fight competition...

Yet the majority of business leaders complain that their sales figures are below the target, the new offers are neither innovative nor relevant, that the sales forces are destabilized, that customers are unhappy. In short, the vast majority of sales training programs are a failure!

Why? Because these programs - especially in the technology markets - focus on the "what to sell" rather than the "how to be relevant to our customers." Which means focusing on the product or service offered by the company, rather than taking a close look at what is important for the customer. More precisely for the decision makers and influencers who are responsible for signing the purchase order... or not.

Moreover, these training programs on hardware offers / software / services are designed to pass on information rather than to develop new know-how.

Many manufacturers have realized they had not (only) sell a product but that the customer buys a usage, a practical application. Aircraft engines are no longer sold and maintained, they are provided for a number of operating hours. This is the mutation experienced by IT vendors with software are priced not more terms of licenses-users with premium professional services, but offered as SaaS in the cloud. This is what IBM is facing today (see the article "Computing, fast and slow"), which is not his first transformation!

Successful businesses know that they must go further, deeper and a good sales training must change behaviours long term. In other words, they want at last "training that sticks."


Why would sales training be only for sales engineers and account managers, that is to say, the "sellers"?

Sales of complex projects in electronics, energy, construction, transport... are all done by a team that interacts with the customer in many ways, sometimes for several years. But sales people are not those the customer sees most often: engineers and support professionals have a greater number of customer interactions, with different people from the sales forces and often with a very strong mutual trust.

Customer commitment should happen at all levels of the organization and at all points of interaction; all those who contribute to the customer experience are concerned. With this logic of Total Customer Focus, virtually the whole company adopts and practices a truly customer-centric behaviour.

For a company to behave that way, it is wrong to try and convert support engineers into sales people. They will be unhappy and inefficient. However, it is desirable for them to adopt a new posture. When a customer calls because of a software bug, the support engineer should try to understand how the dysfunction is a problem for this person, what he or she really needs. And experience shows that instead of just offering a "patch", it is often possible to provide a more useful and relevant response that meets the hidden needs of the caller and helps increase sales with, for instance, the activation of new features.

Learning these behaviours - in fact very logical - is not done in a theoretical way. It is done with concrete cases, in the context of the company, in direct contact with the trainees' personal experiences.


And it is repeated over time because the human mind has this tremendous ability to forget when not practicing.

For this, the support of both the colleagues and experienced professionals is the key to a successful sales training.


The ability of the organization to put the customer at the centre of everything, to seek to be relevant and anticipate their needs better is what successful companies do not just once, but several times, reinventing themselves and learning constantly.

Darwin certainly had not idea that when writing "On the Origin of Species" he would influence the way to manage businesses in the 21st century...

Is this a reason to ignore it?

The company that is engaged in a strategic transformation program will evolve, change its appearance, and change its behaviour to adapt to a new reality. This is what dinosaurs did not or could do, for not having had a good training programme!

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