Q:  I wanted to do some sales training last year, but it just wasn’t the right time for it. We had too many things on our plate.  Looking at our calendar this year I am coming to the same conclusion.  Am I ever going to have time to do sales training? Will it ever be the right time?

A. Great question. Probably the number one reason sales managers don’t provide sales training for their teams is “the timing just isn’t right.”

Why is it that some companies, regardless of the press of the urgent and the demands of the customers, find time to provide regular training and development opportunities for their sales force, and others, in the same industry, just can’t make the time?

The answer really does not lie in the ebb and flow of “things to do.” Nor does it lie in the open spaces of the calendar – if only you could find some empty days, you could slot in a sales training event. The answer does not lie in the world of stuff outside of ourselves that so occupies our time and attention.  Rather, the answer lies inside ourselves and our organizations – in our attitudes, our values, and our corporate culture.

Let me lay some groundwork with a bit of thinking about effective sales, in general, and then circle around to address the question head-on.

1. I think everyone would agree with this statement:

Better salespeople sell more than average salespeople.

Better sales performance is not a matter of inheriting the best customer or falling into a lucky deal.  Those things happen occasionally, but year in and year out, the best performing salespeople are those who ‘sell better’ than the rest.  They do something, and usually a lot of things, better than their colleagues.  As a result, their customers respond more positively to them, and the salespeople post better numbers.  They sell more because they act differently.  Not just differently – but better.

There is a direct relationship between what the salesperson does and how much he sells.  Here’s a simple example.  One study found that 74 percent of purchasing agents said they would be “much more likely to buy from a salesperson if that person would just listen.”  Doesn’t it follow, then, that those salespeople who listen better sell more than those who don’t?  So, if you could help all of your salespeople listen better, wouldn’t that result in more sales?  Of course, it would. And listening is just one of a number of sales practices that are essential to better sales performance.

That’s my point.  What a salesperson does directly and measurably impacts how much a salesperson sells. And better salespeople, because they do things better, sell more than average salespeople.

2. Most of my readers would also agree with this statement:

Almost every salesperson can become better.

One of the things that I have most enjoyed about my career as a salesperson has been the fact that I have never yet reached my potential.  I can always do better.  And, frankly, I’m a pretty good salesperson.

I’m not perfect yet, even though I have tried to get there my whole life. Rarely does a day go by that I don’t find myself saying, “I should have done this or that better.”  Unfortunately, it is in the nature of sales that one is never as good as he can be.  Vince Lombardi aptly summed up the challenge of continuous improvement in a different area:

We will relentlessly pursue perfection, knowing full well that we will never attain it because no one is perfect.  But, we will chase perfection, because in the process we will catch excellence.

Put these two paradigms together (#1 & #2 above) and you have a pretty good rationalization for continuous and immediate sales training.  If better sales practices bring in more money, and every salesperson can become better, then investing in making them better will bring in more money.

How can you afford the luxury of not improving the practices of your sales team?

3. But wait, some of you are saying, sales training doesn’t automatically mean better sales practices.

You’re right.  It doesn’t.  But it sure outperforms the alternative of not doing anything and expecting everyone will just automatically improve by trial and error. I’m going to make a radical statement here:  I believe that there is not an exceptional performer in any endeavor who is entirely self-taught (with the once in a generation exception for the occasional savant).  Tiger Woods, for example, has a swing coach.

The more sophisticated and challenging is the endeavor, the more likely that the exceptional performer has had a multitude of coaches, mentors, and trainers along the way. Sales is an incredibly sophisticated endeavor, where learning on your own can only take you so far.

Everyone who wants to improve, in every endeavor known to mankind, sooner or later puts himself in a situation where he/she learns from a coach, trainer or mentor – someone who has gone before and has a gift of being able to discern and communicate the intricacies and insights of the field. It takes someone outside of ourselves to help us see and realize our real potential.

The dedicated salesperson, for example, buys all the books, gets the Ezines, listens to the podcasts, etc.  The sales manager who wants his team to perform well constantly injects them into learning experiences.  He brings in the videos, distributes good articles, sends them to the seminars, etc.

And, like everything else, there are qualities of sales training.  You can bring in old Tom, for example, who is getting ready to retire and is looking for something less demanding than sales to do. Or, you can employ the local unemployed salesperson who always wanted to be a trainer. The world is full of both types.

But, if you are going to invest your sales force’s valuable time and your hard-earned money, I’d recommend you invest it into a safe choice – professionals who have an understanding of how people learn and change, real-life successful experience in sales, and years of proven experience in the profession of training.

4. One more point

Have you ever stopped to calculate the cost of maintaining the status quo? 

Today — just this one day — how many opportunities did your salespeople not uncover because they haven’t been trained in how to better uncover opportunities?  How many opportunities did they miss because they have not been trained to listen well?  How many new customers should have been developed this month, but weren’t because your salespeople have never been instructed on how to develop a new customer?  How many high-potential customers languish in business-as-usual because your salespeople have never been taught how to penetrate large accounts?

Just play around with those numbers and the conclusion will stagger you.  The greatest cost in most companies is one which never makes it on the P&L statement – the cost of opportunities lost, customers not created, and sales not made due to a sales force performing at far less than its potential.

Now that I’ve laid some groundwork, let me go back and answer the question.

Is there ever a good time to do sales training?  It depends on your values, your attitude, and your culture.

If you believe that your salespeople can not become any better, then NO, do not make the time for sales training.

If you are perfectly content with the numbers your sales force is producing, then, NO, do not make the time for sales training.

If you think everyone will improve forever on their own, then NO, there will never be a good time for sales training.

If, on the other hand, you believe that just a small change in the behavior of a salesperson can leverage into huge increases in sales and profits, then, by all means, take the time, as soon as possible.

Is there a good time to do sales training?  That really is the wrong question.  The question you should be asking instead is: How can you justify continuing to bear the costs of a sales team performing at less than optimum?  How can you justify the maintenance of the status quo?