May 31, 2012

Sales Training Programs Are Outdated

It’s time for sales forces to find a new playbook. The sales training programs available in the market are showing their age.

I started my career in software sales, and was groomed on sales training programs like Huthwaite’s SPIN Selling, Miller Heiman’s Strategic Selling and a little Tom Hopkins for good measure. They’re all great solution selling programs. They teach your reps how to find decision makers, build value propositions, negotiate and close. But here’s the problem, they were all written in the pre-Google era. Actually, they were all written long before the Internet.

All these programs originated in the mid-70’s in large companies like IBM, NCR and Xerox. For example, the term “solution selling” was coined in 1975 by Frank Watts while he worked at Wang Laboratories. The SPIN Selling methodology came out of a research study commissioned by Xerox in the early 70’s, and then converted into their internal sales methodology in 1976. It became a publicly licensed sales training program in the mid-80’s.

While these programs are very good, they’re also very dated. The research and methodologies they’re founded on came out of the heyday of large, enterprise sales forces. During the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s sales people were the most efficient and effective conduits for distributing complex product information. So B2B companies hired massive field sales forces to network, build relationships and distribute product information.

The role of the sales force has changed. Companies don’t need massive field sales forces to distribute product information anymore. Advancements in the Internet, communications and mobile technologies provide companies far faster and easier ways to get that knowledge into the market.

We’re living in a far more complex world where information is a commodity. The Internet makes it easy to distribute information, ideas and connections. This means sales people are dealing with customers that are savvy, well educated buyers. And in many cases customers know as much about the products and services as the sales people do.

It’s time to change. The sales books are obsolete. They’re based on research from 40 years ago!

Do you agree? Has sales changed? If so, how do you train sales people to be effective in this information rich world?

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