• Bill Petrie

The Folly of Sales Training

Despite management investment, why it generally fails to increase revenue.

Every year, millions of dollars are spent on training salespeople to sell more effectively. In fact, throughout a sales career, the average salesperson will be exposed to four different formal sales training programs. Yet, regardless of the curriculum, there is one inherent truth that weaves through the tapestry of every sales training:


Sales training doesn’t work.


You read that correctly. Someone who has derived much of his income creating and delivering sales training across the promotional products industry doesn’t believe traditional sales training works. This is due to the fact that the vast majority of sales deficiencies aren’t about technical skill gaps; they’re about the conceptual gap between knowing what to do and being willing to do it.


In any sales training, about one-fifth of the salespeople will embrace what is taught and improve their sales performance because they have both desire and commitment. The other 80% will have the desire to make more money but lack the commitment to change and do what is truly required to be more effective. This is why crowding salespeople in a room for two days with a charismatic speaker won’t fix them. They may have a couple of laughs with their fellow salespeople, but getting them to secure more appointments with decision makers, sell past a buying process that places too much premium on price, or close more business will not happen in a group setting where all sales challenges are homogenized into a tidy package with a single solution.


Salespeople who struggle fail for any number of reasons – except the one that management assumes is the problem: “they understand features and benefits, but they’ve never been trained to sell.” At best, this is a symptom and not a cause.

Selling on features and benefits only has one function, and it’s not to tell the client how the solution will solve a marketing problem. Its actual function is to help the salesperson ask great questions. Spouting product features and benefits too early in the sales cycle will only cause confusion, delay decisions, reduce the overall value of the solution, and raise the cost in the buyer’s mind.


For sales training to be truly impactful and effective, it can’t follow a “tried and true” method that “guarantees” results. While there can be overarching concepts such as hard work, active listening, and joint venturing, for sales training to REALLY work, it must get to the “why” each salesperson is failing. In general, salespeople fail for one of five reasons:

  1. Fear – they are simply too scared to do the work necessary to succeed

  2. Apathy – they don’t care and can’t be bothered to change their attitude

  3. Ignorance – they don’t know what they don’t know

  4. Ego – they think they know best how the sales process should work

  5. Entitlement - they want success but feel it should be given without the necessary work required

Until the real reason – the “why” – a salesperson isn’t selling is identified, sales training will fail both the salesperson and the company because the lessons address the symptoms of the failure, not the cause. Only when the real reason for sales failure is determined will targeted and individualized sales training yield positive results.

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