Tailoring Sales Training The Right Way

Sales training isn't an out-of-the-box commodity. Effective training requires customization and tweaking to fit the values, goals and ideals of a particular organization. Here's a few ways to cut and fit in the most valuable way for your organization. Republished with permission from Dave Stein.

tailorMany sales leaders and learning organizations want a customized sales training experience from their third-party providers, whether it be traditional live or some form of virtual. This can be good or bad, depending upon what experiences and materials are customized, and to what degree. It’s important for sales training buyer to understand any and all customization requirements and objectives; and, it is incumbent upon that person to have an effective strategy for customization.

Only once did a client say to ESR, “Yes, off-the-shelf training is just fine for my organization.”  Most companies feels that they are unique, that their problems are unique, and that only a unique training program can maximize their sales effectiveness potential.

Change vs. Status Quo

When an organization brings in a sales training company, there is a challenge that the organization is trying to overcome or an opportunity to leverage.

This fundamentally implies that a change is needed—that the status quo is not sufficient to propel sales growth to a new level. Therefore a sales training company is brought in to effect change in the behaviors of sales people in order to stimulate that sales growth.

Two Types of Customization

By acknowledging the need for change, it’s important to understand the meaning of sales training program customization. There are two types of customization:

  1. Tailoring—adapting the training materials to reflect the sales organization’s products, services, sales force characteristics, as well as market and corporate specifics;
  2. Modification—altering the intellectual property of the sales training company resulting in different learnings and/or outcomes, or modifying the instructional design of the program so that there is a core difference in the way the materials are presented.

Tailoring is almost always useful. Tailoring materials gets your company name in front of the sales people and personalizes the experience. Tailoring can replace canned, generic workshop examples with actual examples from your sales force’s existing pipeline, or recent wins or losses, personalizing the experience and maximizing the probability that the sales person will identify with the program, and benefit from it. Tailoring, if limited to phrasing, word usage, workshops and case study examples, is often helpful.

Modification is a two-edged sword. Modification can be helpful if there are processes within your sales organization that you know factually and empirically work, and if you can separate these working best practices from those processes which you know, or suspect, may be constraining your sales growth.

The Risk of Modification

Modification carries a potential risk—LCD—”lowest common denominator.” There is an observable tendency among course and methodology modifiers, resulting from pressure from certain stakeholders, to fine tune the new methods and processes taught in the course materials to such an extent that they are “devolved” into a mere reflection of the existing, flawed sales methodology. Customizing course materials to make the program “more like our business environment” can effectively negate the original objective of the program, which was to effect behavioral change.

Avoiding “Devolution”

How do you avoid “devolution” in your customized sales training programs? There are four considerations:

  1. Invest in a comprehensive, objective assessment of how your customers buy and the identification and prioritization of any gaps that exist between that knowledge and how your team currently sells;
  2. When documenting and implementing best practices, make sure that you have empirical metrics that denote that those practices do, in fact, stimulate behaviors that increase sales;
  3. Evaluate your sales training company’s methods for modification of educational programs. Each Sales Training Provider Profile and Evaluation that ESR publishes rates the customization capabilities of that sales training company.  We know the provider’s approach to customization is a very important buying criterion for most companies;
  4. Stick with tailoring of your training provider’s content, assuming you’ve selected the right partner.

Number three is important. Some sales training organizations resist modification of their programs at all. Some have a core set of learnings that are assembled and designed around a study of your organization’s best practices. Others have designed proprietary systems or methodologies for modifying course materials that are specifically designed to maximize the value of nomenclature tailoring, while minimizing the probability that the structural integrity of a course will be damaged by the customization effort.


My recommendation is this: Don’t make a snap decision on either a trainer or on your customization approach.

What have been your experiences with customization.  Am I right about this?

Source: The Value and Perils of Customized Training, an ESR/Brief.

> More on e-learning on the Mindflash blog.

Referred to by Geoffrey James, author of the Sales Machine blog on CBS Interactive’s BNET as “the world’s top expert on sales training,” Dave Stein, CEO of ES Research Group, Inc., has provided guidance, expertise and coaching to companies such as Bayer, HP, Microsoft and Oracle.

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