ASTD 2013 Sales Enablement Blog Series 3/6

When I moved to Minneapolis to start college, I immediately got a job selling men’s suits at a department store downtown. When I started, I knew nothing about clothing, but I learned enough so I could torture an analogy here to make a point about sales training. 

When it comes to sales training, your options are very similar to the options one encounters when buying a suit:

 Option 1: Off the Rack: Plenty of vendors offer sales training that has already been made—you just need to find one that fits. If you do find a fit, this is a highly-efficient route—costs are typically lower when no alterations are required. 

However, the fit is almost always less than exact. Some things are missing, and some things are unnecessary—like a suit where the pants are cut too long and the jacket won’t button. And there’s always the issue of quality.

Of course, you can pay to “customize” off-the-rack training. Most sales training vendors offer customization that ranges from putting your logo on the cover to creating customized cases.

However, customizing training almost always means addition, not subtraction. Even if you leave some of that suit on the cutting-room floor, you pay for it—and for the service of removing it. And let’s face it, most of the real “customizing” is done by your salespeople—they keep what works and discard the rest. That’s like a tailor charging you to hem your own pants.

Option 2: Bespoke: Bespoke (from the verb bespeak, which means “to give an order for it to be made”) means one-of-a-kind training where the pattern is created from your measurements. Just like in suits, this is a wonderful option, if you can afford it. Unfortunately, there are very few organizations with the competency, time, and funding to create training from scratch. 

There is a third option, of course, and one I obviously recommend:

Option 3: Made to Measure: The difference between made to measure (M2M) clothing and off-the-rack/tailored clothing is the difference in starting points. Tailored clothing starts with the pattern, which is then altered to fit the customer.  M2M clothing starts with the customer’s measurements, and from those measurements a pattern is selected. 

The same distinction applies to sales training; M2M training begins with taking the measure of the sales organization, then selecting proven patterns that meet business objectives. It’s really a difference between a training-centric approach and a selling-centric approach to sales training development. 

The M2M approach works in sales training because effective selling is almost always based on proven, existing patterns of behavior. It’s just a matter of effective measurement.

So how do you create M2M sales training?

Principle 1: Start with the measurements. Invest the necessary time and energy to determine three key measurements:

  • What are current best practices that support the goal? Observation and interviews with your best salespeople—and their customers—reveal the native patterns of success that you should be replicating throughout the organization.
  • What behaviors must be added to achieve the goal? Benchmarking the best of the best in your market is good. Even better, look for external patterns of success in other markets and disciplines that you can use to innovate.
  • What behaviors must be shed to remove limits to growth? Again, benchmarking, interviews, and observation reveal limiting patterns that don’t support the goal and must be replaced.

Principle 2: Select proven patterns. Successful selling methods are based on successful patterns of human interaction. The best sales training capitalizes on some recognized patterns that have been researched, documented, and validated in various disciplines:

  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Anthropology
  • Physics
  • Economics

Example: My clients often use Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as a handy pattern for training salespeople to influence customer movement. It’s proven, it’s true, and it’s free.

In other words, you don’t need to invent the suit, and you don’t need to wear someone else’s suit; use the patterns out there that have been proven to work over time. That way, you own the suit versus having to rent it.

Principle 3: Use quality materials and craftsmanship. The best patterns in the world don’t work if the tailor sucks. Invest the necessary time and energy in these essential materials:

  • Technology—are you using the right method for the right content?
  • Training and facilitation tools—are your production values top-notch?
  • Delivery—is your facilitation world-class?
  • Seller tools—are you arming salespeople for success? 

In summary, there’s a middle ground between the quality issues of buying off the rack and the massive investment of bespoke. Use effective measurements, proven patterns, and quality materials and craftsmanship to create training that salespeople are willing to try on and are proud to wear. Best of all, you own it and it’s yours! 

peopleJoin me at ASTD 2013 for my session “Owning Mobile Sales Training: Implementing a Customized Sales Methodology Using Mobile Technology” where I will share best practices and lessons learned from real experiences. You'll walk away with tools and tips you can use immediately to build the foundation for sales training that gets used, whether the right solution is off-the-shelf or home-grown. You can assess and determine the ideal mobile and virtual delivery modes that maximize sales force adoption. You can benchmark sales behaviors and competencies that become decision criteria for buy/build choices,  and you can employ a process for getting salespeople and sales management to buy in and own the sales training process.


The ASTD 2013 International Conference & Exposition is the premier event for training and development professionals. This year's event will take place in Dallas, Texas, U.S.A. from May 19-22, 2013. Learn more about ASTD 2013's keynote speakerseducational sessions, and exposition at www.astdconference.org.