By Marylyn B. Schwartz, CSP
RISMEDIA, August 14, 2009-Founded in 1944, The American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) has been providing research, education and support to more than 70,000 members in 100 countries and who provide services in the field of workplace performance and education. Dr. Brian Lambert Ph.D. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the organization’s Director of Sales Training Drivers and is a renowned researcher whose accreditations are exemplary.
In ASTD’s most recent study, State of Sales Training 2009, Dr. Lambert took aim at answering some crucial questions about the state of sales training and the effectiveness of delivery methods being employed by companies today. (Full survey may be ordered at: http://store.astd.org or by calling 800.628.2783; ASTD Product Code: 190903.)
Those of us in the real estate industry have seen the number of classroom-delivered training sessions drop significantly over the past three years and be replaced by on-line programs and webinars. One need only speak with real estate Boards of Education directors to know that they struggle to fill seats in scheduled classes. It costs far less to deliver a sales training program on line than it does to hire skilled sales training professionals to conduct in classroom education.
What Dr. Lambert’s research concludes is that what we are losing by foregoing predominately hands-on classroom education far outweighs the nominal upfront savings realized by delivering primarily on-line programs. The old adage, you get what you pay for, has never been more apropos.
MBS: Dr. Lambert, I’ve read your study and found it to be very enlightening. As an educator, it was my contention that there were topics that could easily and effectively be delivered using on-line methodologies. However, there seemed to be no replacement for human interaction and learning where sales skills were concerned. Who were your respondents and how did you correlate what was learned?
Dr. Lambert: The study was comprised of responses from managers, field sales professionals, training and development experts and financial services workers. In order to break down what we learned, we realized that we had to compartmentalize the data into several ‘buckets’ of content mix. The five categories we created were: selling skills, product training, industry knowledge, company-specific knowledge and management issues. What we found, in a nutshell, is that knowledge transfer on the web was effective, skills transfer was not. Knowledge transfer is the practical problem of transferring knowledge from one part of an organization to another as well as transferring good ideas, research results and skills between organizations, businesses and the wider community in order to enable innovative and/or more effective products and services to be developed.
MBS: For example, one company creates a better ‘mousetrap.’ That information may be made available to other companies (patents and ownership issues appropriately dealt with), and said information may be shared through a clear step-by-step on line seminar/webinar. Unlike need-to-know knowledge which is immediate and necessary for doing one’s job well… the so called sales skills.
Dr. Lambert: Knowledge transfer, sometimes known as best practices should be learned first. Once the person understands the ins and outs of the organization, they are ready to absorb practical selling skills. It is difficult for sales persons to bring product to market (in the case of real estate, product is the property) without a clear understanding of the resources available to them to integrate throughout the sales process. In other words, what the broad overall services of the organization bring to bear on the entire sales cycle. Sales training becomes more effective when training content and delivery are fully integrated into a firm’s wider base of learning and development activities.
MBS: There is a good deal of discussion about the value of the so-called Sales 2.0 as a sales component of Web 2.0. Tell us what they are and what impact they are having on education.
Dr. Lambert: Web 2.0, referred to as ‘on-demand’ technologies integrates technology with proven sales learning techniques in order to increase sales effectiveness and velocity. The sales team and the consumer are linked through the Internet, thus allowing the sales professional to react immediately to clients’ interests and needs. Sales 2.0 is seen by many as enhancing the quality of communication and collaboration between sellers and buyers and members of the selling team and stimulating a more proactive and visible integration of sales knowledge and the customer’s buying cycle. Of great interest is the finding that Sales 2.0 and Web 2.0 paradigms have, as yet, had little or no impact on generalized sales training approaches. Our research suggests that individuals are actually better able to learn selling skills by sharing knowledge within formal or informal mentoring/coaching/training relationships, engaging in “trial and error” learning and observing other highly skilled sales professionals as well as their peers.
MBS: Many organizations employ some level of Internet based initiatives to assist their sales teams. What do the sales teams think of this approach? Is it well-used within the organization?
Dr. Lambert: People don’t want it. Further, when available, the take up rate (how often it is used) is terrible. By far, people prefer informal to formal learning coupled with trial and error. Think of it this way. Would you want your doctor trained this way? Good trainers/coaches understand that there are three crucial components necessary to facilitate sales training. The team needs feedback, motivation and observation. Learning isn’t learning unless behavior changes. There must be verifiable transfer of knowledge. When an organization replicates what happens in live training with a good on-line reinforcement program, the organization can fully correlate sales performance with the desired outcomes.
MBS: What skills should be measured when analyzing the effectiveness of a sales training initiative?
Dr. Lambert: Listening, adapting the sales process to the buying process, problem solving, creativity in the process, empathy and ethical decision making. As you can see, these are tried and true skills that can only be inculcated through experiential learning combined with hands-on training. There was a disconnect between what was assumed to be what sales professionals needed and what they actually wanted. A key reason for undertaking the research was to separate supposition from reality. Our biggest ‘ah ha’ was the need for re-defining sales training and placing the components into the aforementioned ‘buckets.’
MBS: Do new sales professionals have different needs from experienced ones?
Dr. Lambert: Years of experience do not equal expertise. Buyer trends and decision making processes morph over time. Are you operating in the 80′s while the buyer is shopping in the 21st century? The sales person who is keen on enhancing skills and staying current with trends is the one likely to succeed. It is time to start putting the ‘people’ back into sales people. Create better systems, processes and tools is all we hear. Technology does not help place the focus on the customer. Building relationships requires tools and company support, but it is the interpersonal skills of the sales pro that ultimately differentiates success and failure. The competitive advantage is not about pay scales and commissions. While money needs to be there, without the right kinds of support systems that couple hands-on training and peer-to-peer learning, people become dissatisfied and will not perform at optimum levels.
MBS: I am delighted to know that in most sales fields, instructor-lead classroom training leads as the most popular method for delivery. That coupled with on-the-job-training, coaching and mentoring makes for success. Let’s hope that those in the real estate industry take to heart the need to continue face-to-face interventions if we want to improve the state of the industry and skills of its practitioners. I never met a sales person who could learn how to handle a tough client or a difficult objection from a webinar. Your research supports that observation.
Dr. Lambert: While technology moves rapidly forward, the changes in effective training methodologies have not, as some might have anticipated, kept pace. The tried and true of people-to-people interactions still provides the best approach to effective learning and behavioral change.
MBS: Thank you, Dr. Lambert, for your enlightening research and all the great work done by ASTD over so many years. As a long-time member of the organization, I encourage our readers who are concerned about quality education to jump on board.
Marylyn B. Schwartz, CSP, is an expert in real estate and corporate sales training/management and team development. She is president of Teamweavers and a trainer for Leader’s Choice?. Contact her at: www.marylynbschwartz.com or e-mail: Teamweaver@aol.com.
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