Sales training consumes time and costs money. If training does not produce meaningful, long-term performance gains in a sales force, then it’s hard to see why any company would bother with it. Yet if “long-term performance gains” are the measure of success, then research supports my contention that about 90 percent of all sales training fails.

Obviously, it would be helpful to know in advance whether a particular sales training program you are considering is likely to provide a good return on your investment. So, here’s the question: What are the key differences between the 90 percent of sales training that fails and the 10 percent that succeeds? Here are the three major reasons why so many training programs fail:

  1. They have the wrong content. That is, they simply teach the wrong things.
  2. The training is rejected by salespeople. The trainees never “buy into” the premise that the program has useful things to teach.
  3. The training doesn’t “transfer” from the class to the job. Even if the trainees learn how to do something differently, they don’t go back and do it in the field, where it would count.

In a newly revised white paper, available on our web site, I summarize those problems, and their solutions, like this:

I will talk about the last two points in upcoming editions of eCoach. For now, let’s look at the first problem: Wrong Content.

This seems so basic that it’s hard to believe so many sales training programs get it wrong, but if you want training to produce lasting performance gains, you first have to teach the right things.

Many skills, traits, and qualities contribute to sales success. For example, personality and motivation definitely have an impact on sales performance. The trouble is, you can’t teach personality and motivation – and salespeople can’t “learn” it! If training is to be successful, it must focus on skills that can be taught, learned, mastered, and measured. There is no other way.


What’s more, the skills you are trying to impart must be presented and used within the context of a well-documented and effective sales process. The process must derive from solid research, and it must ring true to experienced salespeople. If they can punch holes in it, you’re done.

The process and the training program must be custom-tailored to your company. A basic principle of effective training is to tie the learning to real organizational objectives. Training works best when salespeople have a clear vision of how the things they learn can help them and their company to accomplish concrete goals that they actually care about.

One more thing: There might be a hundred skills that are teachable and learnable, and that contribute to sales success. But you can’t teach anyone how to do a hundred things well. You need to identify, teach, and reinforce the handful of skills that are most critical to high performance in a sales role.

Therefore, Action Selling ® focuses on teaching what we call the Five Critical Selling Skills, rather than 40 or 50 of them. (If someone wants to sell you a training program that does claim to teach 50 skills, run!) Here is the handful of skills that we believe make the greatest contribution to long-term performance gains in selling.

If you agree that the whole point of sales training is to produce meaningful, lasting performance gains, then the best way to avoid wasting money on ineffective sales training is to understand what the effective kind looks like.

This was a brief overview of some ingredients that make up the “right content” for successful sales training. In upcoming issues of this newsletter, we will look at the other major causes of training failure, “rejected by salespeople” and “ineffective transfer.”

For information about how to make sales training pay huge dividends, contact Action Selling ® at (800) 232-3485.

Intrigued? For a fuller discussion of the key factors that determine whether sales training will succeed or fail, see our NEWLY REVISED white paper, 90% of All Sales Force Training Fails: Here’s the Problem – And the Solution.