For the past two decades or so, I've been involved in training in one way or another. I've been a participant, attending training programs on topics like sales, leadership, project management and productivity. I've invest in training for the teams I’ve managed, and I was involved in large-scale change management and transformation programs, of which training was an important component. I've also worked with dozens of companies as an external consultant, advisor and trainer.
And over the years, I’ve gotten a pretty good sense for where a lot of sales training mistakes are made. Meaning - results suffer, and training gets a bad rep. For many companies, it’s considered an afterthought, a bonus, or to 'keep our people happy'.
To me, training is not a 'bonus', or something we do in a desperate effort to impact and correct deeper, underlying organisational issues. It's a key component of implementing corporate strategy, boosting growth and fostering an environment in which long-term success is not only possible - but likely.
So let’s talk about the seven most common training mistakes I’ve seen corporations make.
1. Thinking that 'one-size-fits-all'
In my industry (sales training), there is a surefire way to generate a lot of business as a training provider. First, you create a basic, foundational sales training program. Then, you go out and sell the same program over and over again. You don't change a thing, regardless of whether you're selling into a chemicals manufacturer or financial services firm.
Unfortunately, this approach doesn't work very well - but on the upside, it's cost effective. Many training firms still feel they can deliver the same program over and over again, making no changes at all. And many clients buy from them, because they’re usually much cheaper than the alternative.
To be engaging, training needs to be relevant - participants expect case studies, role-plays, concepts and terminology to be customised to their industry. If training fails to meet that standard, participant start to see it as irrelevant. They start resisting, questioning the training content, and refusing to accept its relevance to them and their reality.
The end result is this: no learning happens. Participants are often so blinded by the fact that the content is seen as irrelevant that they completely discard any merit the training could have.
Good training needs to be customised – like one of my clients once said ''it was like it was one of our own guys doing the training''.
2. Thinking e-learning will solve everything
I remember the good old days of e-learning: you sat in front of a computer for hours, clicking through slide after slide with the occasional quiz thrown in for good fun (often, this happened in a separate room somewhere in the HR department).
I wish I could say those kinds of practices stayed in the good old days - but they’re still here.
Even today, a lot of online training is basically nothing more than a bunch of narrated slides, and maybe some video modules. The problem is that people don't learn in just one way - and most of us don't learn very much at all from watching a series of slides pass by on a screen.
To be truly effective, online learning needs to encompass a wide variety of learning methods, like:
- Live webinars
- Live chat
- Q&A forums
- Downloadable tools, cheat sheets and checklists
- Job aids
- Multiformat content (video, audio and text)
- Email reinforcement
- 'Ask The Expert'
For online learning to be successful, you’ll need to build a wide range of tools – not just some slides on the corporate Intranet.
3. Not including long-term reinforcement
Remember when you learned how to ride a bike? Drive a car? Ice skate? Did your parents give you a broad based instruction by the side of the bike, push you off into the distance and then head back inside for coffee?
I’ll bet they didn't. I’ll bet they walked alongside you every step of the way, giving you encouragement and tips on how to get better. I’ll bet they were there to pick you up when you fell off (which inevitably happens).
As it turns out, in terms of how we truly develop new skills, we’re all pretty similar. We require someone to walk alongside us for a while. Help us avoid common mistakes. Give us small hints and tips that can make a big difference in our ability to master a new skill. And sometimes, encourage us when things are hard.
Long-term reinforcement is not optional in that process - it's crucial.
By Ago Cluytens is Practice Director EMEA at RAIN Group, and a recognised global B2B sales thought leader on understanding the buyer's perspective in sales, Insight Selling and selling to the C-suite. You can learn more about Ago, read his blog, and watch him in action or connect on Twitter, Linkedin and Google+