Why most sales training is a waste of money

And what to do about it!


Each year in the US alone, sales organizations spent over $70 billion dollars on training. 

Yet if you ask most VPs of Sales or Chief Revenue Officers what the ROI from that sales training investment is, they usually have only the vaguest anecdotes. 

Even with the best training, 90% of what people learn fades within 4 weeks. Two or three great “nuggets” that sales professionals recall from a 2-day class they attended last year might be great, but it’s probably not a very efficient way to build sustainable sales “muscle”. 

We’ve been in this field for longer than I care to admit, and we’ve seen everything – the good, the bad and the ugly. Here are four simple ways to get a better return on your training investments.  



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1. Less product training for your sales team

In our experience, too many sales training programs are directed at product.

Clearly, onboarding new hires or launching a new product requires product training – no-one wants to look stupid in front of their prospects. And most people would think that (all other things being equal) a sales rep who knows everything about your company’s product (or service) should outperform one who only knows the basics.

However, in complex sales, we routinely see the exact opposite. We’ve seen long-tenured AEs with 10-15 years’ experience selling highly complex technical solutions out-performed by new hires that come from a different market and industry vertical. Because these new hires know less about the product, they tend to spend more time talking about their prospects’ businesses (pain points and consequences) and less time talking about their product.

If you’re talking about you, you’re losing. 

In enterprise sales, too much sales training directed at product knowledge creates two other big problems:


  • Product features and benefits are often almost irrelevant once you get to the C-Suite where the larger buying decisions are made. Very few senior executives really care directly about product performance for the simple reason that they aren’t usually the ones using it. A hospital CEO doesn’t care about a better workflow created by your product operating in the lab downstairs, or the ultra-intuitive user interface of your wonderful software solution.
  • Too much product knowledge (especially in technical or scientific industry verticals) can sometimes result in salespeople reverting to their “comfort zone”, selling into the user level, and losing to competitors solving those bigger C-Suite problems. Your sales training curriculum should focus on value propositions that resonate in the corner offices, not just at the user level.

Unfortunately, unless you’re selling “the next iPhone” – something so breakthrough that it practically sells itself – product benefit differentiation is usually quite narrow between competitors. The sales teams that win do so by exploring and valuing operational, financial and personal benefit for the key decision makers, not product features and benefits.

SOLUTION: Rename “Product training” to “Customer Pain Point training”. Focus more time and effort on business acumen, value capture and monetization, and selling skills targeting those higher-level value propositions including operational, financial and personal benefits.

Help your sales team fall a little out of love with your product, and more in love with what it delivers for the decision makers in your target accounts.

2. Less sales strategy, more tactics

This might be unconventional, but I believe many salespeople selling into the enterprise spend far too much time account planning.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a strong proponent of good planning (and good sales training directed at it). But we regularly see account planning tools become bigger and bigger over time, and eventually suffer from “bloat”. Not only do these planning templates soak up a huge amount of time, they create two additional problems:

  • They become so large and complex that it becomes almost impossible for a sales professional to look at a plan and confidently decide “what’s my best next move”. A good account plan is only as good as its ability to help salespeople make better decisions on how to advance the ball.
  • They give your sales team a great excuse to not be out there talking with their customers and prospects. If I need to spend three or four days of training just to learn how to use your Large Account Management templates, I’m probably also going to need to spend 80% of my time filling it in, at the expense of time with prospects and customers. And if I’m not really good at tactics (robust planning for key meetings, and the sales skills needed to reliably execute in from of the customer and uncover genuine pain points and priorities) , the customer data I load into the account plan may be garbage anyway.

SOLUTION: Don’t over-complicate account plans. Constantly seek to distill your planning strategy templates and sales processes into their simplest useful form. Avoid adding new content unless you take something away in its place.

And spend more of your sales training time on customer-facing sales skills so your team gets real insights from every meeting, and gets really good at execution in front of the customer. Even your top sales people in an enterprise sales team benefit from interactive coached role-playing to stretch capabilities.

The best sales training programs focus on:

  • Building confidence exploring higher-level (non-product) value propositions, including personal benefits for stakeholders, that are much harder to commoditize,
  • The basic block and tackling that we all assume experienced salespeople can do well, but which they often do not – opening a meeting effectively, asking better questions, listening skills, making earlier proposals, surfacing objections to gain agreement to next steps and team selling,
  • The skills of engaging executives (gaining credibility, punching with brevity, monetizing value, making bigger, earlier proposals) – not just “theoretical care-abouts”, but repeated, intensive role-plays to surface skills gaps in a safe environment.  Aim to be “brilliant at the basics”, even in the C-Suite.
  • “Help them to fall a little out of love with your product, and more in love with what it delivers.” 



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3. Focus sales skills training investments on your front-line sales managers

Underperforming front-line sales managers are extremely expensive. 

Great sales managers are generally great coaches. They can drive massively higher productivity from their teams – they onboard new sales hires faster, they identify competency gaps in their teams earlier, they can often get the same or better performance from lower-cost AEs, and they can inspire the best to strive for even more. 

Every dollar invested in building the coaching skills of a manager who has 8 direct reports gives you a much higher return that the same invested in her sales team.

The step up from being a high performing AE into being a front-line sales manager is one of the hardest promotions in sales and one that is usually least supported by the right training and tools. As a result, we see many sales managers never graduate beyond being a “super-rep” – they might know how to coach deals, but not the people, behaviors and competencies of their sales reps. That doesn’t scale, and under-trained managers will often end up with one or two sales reps under performance management at any one time, and a bunch of “mid-pack” salespeople who never get better. 

If you’ve got the same faces appearing at the President’s Prize awards each year, you’ve got a coaching problem. 

“Many sales managers never graduate beyond being a ‘super-rep’ – they might know how to coach deals, but not people.” 

SOLUTION: Direct more of your training budget towards your front-line sales managers. Focus training on the following: 

  • Understanding the difference between coaching deals and coaching salespeople 
  • Observation skills and how to maximize the value of field travel (most managers fail badly at this) 
  • Building up a competency picture of each salesperson on their team, and the gaps
  • Segmenting their sales team and adapting their leadership style to suit each person on their team
  • Establishing appropriate coaching cadences 

Create a simple competency framework for salespeople (it amazes me how many sales organizations don’t have one), and give managers a simple means to start building up a picture of strengths and gaps as part of their regular daily CRM workflow so they know where to invest their precious coaching time. (Here’s a simple solution for Salesforce users)

Focus some of their KPIs and compensation on their ability to coach the gaps. If their earnings are affected by coaching, you’re much more likely to get buy-in and discipline from them.

4. Make it a process, not an event 

Learning and Development and Commercial Excellence folks talk a lot about “pull-through” – the ability of training to change behaviors in positive and sustainable ways to drive field sales performance. One of the single biggest mistakes we see is sales training deployed without thinking through the day-to-day tools that turn an event into a “workflow”. 

The most important tools and processes that we see to building sales “muscle” are: 

  • Simple, robust Pre-Call planning – an instant productivity boost for salespeople in the “middle” to get more from their critical sales calls, and an invaluable tool for field travel for managers. Ensure that your sales training curriculum covers robust call planning in your sales training, but reinforce it with tools that the sales team can use every day
  • Sales coaching tools that operate in the Managers’ CRM workflow, rather than as a separate paper-based process or in a disconnected app 
  • KPIs and compensation – especially around coaching. Sales leaders need to gain buy into the idea that their job is not just to push deals but build capability in their team, and you’re much more likely to get their engagement if part of their comp is influenced by it. If you would like discreet advice on setting up simple coaching KPIs contact us




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Drive productivity, discipline and revenue growth 

If your team uses Salesforce and you are looking to set up a robust, powerful process to increase productivity and build sales “muscle”, check this out. 

SWIFT Sales Performance Engine for complex B2B Sales delivers a drop-in solution for field sales teams:

  • Value-add pre-call planning drives higher rep productivity 
  • A simple, effective competency framework 
  • Coaching integrated with manager’s Salesforce CRM workflow
  • Leadership drill-down visibility to the entire process to drive accountability
  • Supported by a comprehensive training and support curriculum

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Swagger Sales™ trains your team to perform better and gives you the tools to track progress.

The dashboards bring all the information into one place – it’s really about accountability, you can look at it very quickly to see if you have a problem in a certain area.

Kim Moller, Senior Vice President of Sales
MiMedx Group, Inc

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