The article was originally published on in March 2019 by Iwona Golonko in Polish.

Investment in development or throwing money away. The thing about ineffective sales training.

The training market in Poland is worth over PLN 6 billion (according to the estimates of the Polish Chamber of Training Companies) and a large part of this money is allocated to sales training. Almost every company wants to improve the competences of its sales force even if they do it on very different scales.

Every training company and trainer promise very high effectiveness of their training. Unfortunately, research shows that after 4 months between 85% and 90% of sales training leave no lasting impact on the competences of the participants (The ES Research Group, ESR: “Up to 90% of these programs have no lasting effect on sales teams after 120 days. “).

In short, they are a pure loss — a waste of money (cost of the trainer, room, logistics, salary of participants), time and most importantly — the motivation of the participants. Because if nothing permanent came out of this training, why should I take part in the next one?

Here is my private list of the first 8 most common reasons for such low efficiency:

There is nobody who properly assesses the effect of the trainings

There is a lack of a serious approach to testing the effectiveness of training in companies. It happens either due to negligence, or most often due to the lack of appropriate competences, resources and time for a solid verification. During classes on “Examination of training projects effectiveness” in MBA HR course, all participants admitted that their companies didn’t determine the effectiveness of training at all.

There is a lack of adequate needs assessment

Lack of a good diagnosis of training needs — it may sound unbelievable, but still in a huge number of companies the diagnosis of training needs takes the form of a survey addressed to managers: “what training do your people need?”, or even to employees: “what training do you need?”. And while there is nothing wrong with such surveys, they cannot be the only source for diagnosing training needs.

The participants actually shouldn’t have participated

I have yet to met a manager who says: first of all, I need to improve my team management skills. And unfortunately, quite often, the manager claims that all his people need training (in communication, negotiation, etc.), when in fact he also doesn’t have these competencies, and can’t enforce e.g. proper preparation for the negotiations.

It turns out that it is often this element, that is, teaching the manager pre-negotiation work with the team, that solves a large part of the problem and significantly improves the business.

Single events instead of a scheduled program

Lack of care for long-term design of development programs. The trainings make sense only when they are a continuous process and we don’t interrupt it the moment we leave the room. It is influenced by many factors, and one of them is the Zeigarnik Effect — that is, better memory of unfinished tasks.

The worst for training effectiveness is when the participant can simply leave the training room and forget everything because he knows that nobody (neither the boss nor the trainer at the next training) will check his knowledge or require the use of new skills. 

Several trainers for variety and no contact between them

When the development project is a well-prepared, continuous learning process, different competencies overlap and do not let you forget about them. This happens when the trainer conducting today’s training knows perfectly well what the participants learned at the last workshop and knows what they will learn at the next one.

Thanks to that, he supports the implementation of new skills, shows their broader spectrum of use and the range of benefits that participants will experience from using these elements in professional practice.

Lack of possibility to quickly implement new skills

A one-off training without a care for the scope and implementation. Such a “point” training only makes sense when we teach a specific skill needed here and now, e.g. one of my clients had a huge problem with annexing contracts with customers due to the requirements of privacy politics.

We designed a training that was to address this particular problem — it had a very high and in addition easily measurable effectiveness. And the skills that were taught during this training will be useful to participants (KAMs and AMs) in a wide range of other situations with clients, not only when you want to complete formalities quickly and efficiently, but also when there is a need to, e.g. engage customer in solving the problem.

However, such one-off trainings are often organized randomly and are bound to be a waste of time, money and people’s involvement (e.g. several days of project management training for sales managers, despite the fact that their activities/clients, specific contracts or orders are called projects, they are not projects in the definition of project management methodology). Such training is therefore completely pointless. Training makes sense only when the participant is able to use his newly acquired knowledge quickly after leaving the room.

The wrong date or lack of time to prepare for the training

Training carried out with a lick and a promise, zero care about the right time and preparation. Even the best training at the wrong time is a waste. I used to train regional sales managers on storytelling and although the scope of training: knowledge, exercised skills and attitudes were very well suited to the needs, the training was planned in December just before Christmas, and right after a long break in the availability of their flagship product.

The result was that the participants, instead of devoting 100% of their attention to training, spent each break on phone calls and emails to clients, ensuring them that orders would be completed. The wanted badly to close and achieve their annual sales goals (what was impossible due to the break-in product availability before).

Sometimes the date is objectively good, but lengthy organizing processes or delays in signing a contract with the training company means that participants don’t have time to prepare for the training or have to resign from it because they already have too many other important meetings/activities planned for this day.

Fuzzy goals

Lack of clear, measurable training goals and the acceptance of superficial, worn-out phrases such as: increasing sales competences or mastering sales techniques. If we don’t know what this training is for, how can we evaluate its effectiveness at all?

It’s not always possible to translate training goals into hard financial business results. You can always ask yourself this difficult question: “how will I know that this training made sense”?

What situations do you come across?