The following information was collected in an ASTD Sales Training
SIG event in Atlanta, Georgia. In this session conducted by my
company, DrawSuccess, participants were asked about
- barriers to success in sales
- challenges faced when training salespeople
- qualities of an effective salesperson
- lessons learned about how to make sales training programs more
interactive or effective.
This article will discuss their responses and provide some
solutions and actions to take to make your sales training more
(Note: We want your thoughts, too! In fact, we'd like to start a
forum to discuss the challenges you face as well as collect your
ideas and solutions as well. Please follow the link at the bottom
of the page to enter your thoughts.)
Barriers to success in sales
The group listed barriers in two categories - things salespeople
can control and things they can't. The comments in the former group
were much more extensive than the latter. The good news is that
training is the perfect solution for most of the barriers
The uncontrollable barriers were issues the company or organization
might have control over, but the sales representative often
doesn't. Answers included a bad product, poor execution after the
sale, bad management, competition, cannibalization, discounting,
poor marketing, no unique value proposition, lack of goal clarity,
and lack of money or budgets.
The issues listed in the controllable group fell into three
categories. Most were soft skills that are easily trainable, such
as organizational skills, time management, and influencing skills.
Others were more challenging nuances to successful selling, such as
"inability to build trust," "not reading the hidden agenda," and
negotiating skills - all of which can also be enhanced with
Personality and confidence traits that can affect successful
selling can be improved with hands-on practice and training, such
as overcoming fear, lack of confidence, and lack of commitment.
Finally, training can be helpful in overcoming other controllable
barriers to success in sales by introducing procedures and
techniques, including learning the product features and benefits
(and making them meaningful to the client), questioning skills, and
Challenges faced when training salespeople
Anyone who has trained sales professionals knows that this can be a
particularly challenging audience. The responses to questions on
this topic can be grouped into three categories: disruptions,
belief, and attitude.
Many of the challenges cited by the group centered on engagement,
particularly from distractions of emails and handheld devices.
Because salespeople understand their main job is to sell, they feel
justified in answering customer calls and messages, even during
This is why overcoming the second challenge, belief, is so
important. Unless the training demonstrates "what's in it for me"
to the rep, and helps overcome the belief that training is taking
money out of their pocket, it will be difficult to engage the
The final group of challenges can be categorized as attitude -
sales reps who are resistant to learning new things. They might
have big egos or act as know-it-alls. Their response to new ideas
is, "That's not how we did things at Acme widget." They might have
short attention spans.
Solutions to these challenges include activities to improve
engagement, conducting upfront discovery to determine training
focus, demonstrating ROI (of time and potential lost revenue during
the session) and aligning agendas.
(Note: You can find an activity to improve engagement in your
training sessions in another of my ASTD Links articles, "Draw
Out Participation and Engagement.")
Qualities of an effective
The qualities of successful salespeople fall into four standard
groups. At DrawSuccess, we delineate these as genius styles.
more about four inner genius styles.)
They must have sensitivity and empathy, be helpful, and display
active listening (blue geniuses). They also should demonstrate
flexibility and adaptability with high energy and be friendly and
engaging (red geniuses.)
The green genius skills include a sense of urgency and
determination and strong goal clarity. Finally, gold genius
characteristics that make a salesperson successful include having
good work habits and time discipline and the ability to demonstrate
effective questioning that leads to discovery.
It's rare for one person to naturally have each these styles.
Therefore, these behaviors need to be explored and cultivated. In
addition to discovering their own natural styles, sales reps must
be able to recognize the inner genius styles of their customers and
prospects and learn how to adapt to build better relationships with
people whose style is different from their own.
The good news is that a training program can be effective at
teaching these skills.
How to make sales training programs more interactive or
Participants identified several suggestions they learned for making
sales training more interactive or effective, from asking their
opinions to making it fun. Other suggestions related to knowing
your audience included "be sensitive to difference learning and
teaching styles," and "use behavioral styles of learners to adjust
training material" because "some people want the facts, most need
opportunities for greater context."
For the complete session report and helpful handouts - and to add
your own thoughts and solutions - visit the DrawSuccess website and enter the code DrawSuccessSalesActivity.