Monday, September 6, 2010

The problem with selling training

You could talk to any company that offers training products or services or corporate training professionals and hear the same laments about the challenges of selling training:

Organizations don't value training
Companies focus too much on sales and marketing and not enough on developing employees
The economy is bad and training is the first thing to go

I don't agree.

There are definitely challenges in selling training products and services, whether its inside and organization or as a training vendor, but I don't blame the economy or organizations themselves, per se. We have a perception problem in the training industry. Some of it is the nature of learning and some of it is quite simply our own fault.

The nature of learning itself is a problem with selling training. Human beings are always learning. Our learning isn't tied to a workshop or an e-learning module. We learn all day, every day...our intelligence is the collection and synthesis of our unique experiences. We don't really ever stop learning. Even if we don't consciously acknowledge this, we know this. And so, its no wonder that, if money is tight or resources are limited, that training is an easy budget to cut. Rightly so, the unstated belief is "people will continue to learn what they really need to know in order to be successful, with or without formal training."And organizations act accordingly.

The much, much bigger problem with selling training is what we're actually trying to sell. Have you seen the crap that gets passed off in training in most organizations? Is it any wonder that executives don't have a problem cutting the budget for that?!? How many of us who design training would look forward to going through an Articulate module? Attending a typical workshop? Um, not me. In fact, if I was the CEO making budget cuts, that type of training would be an easy decision. AND I VALUE TRAINING! The problem is that most training is designed fast and cheap, and so that's the value that's placed on it.

Let's say I'm an executive at a large company. I want my people to be well-trained...of course I do. I don't know anything about designing training. I know, intrinsically, that people who are motivated will learn what they need to to be successful. I remember my training....booooorrrrring. I remember that I learned the most by doing my job, finding a highly skilled mentor, and interacting with my peers.

And then the Director of Training walks in. She's well credentialed and has many years experience. She's asking for money to develop sales training. Here's probably what I'm thinking:

Gee, that makes sense...we need to make sure our sales people are successful and have the knowledge, skills, and tools they need to outsell our competitors. 
But, ugh. We have limited resources.
You know, we hired these people to do a job and we hire the best people out there. Shouldn't they already know how to sell? 
We have some of the best sales people I've ever can we teach the people who aren't doing as well what these superstars know?
Did I ever learn anything about sales from an e-learning module or workshop? No...I learned it by getting out there and doing it. I learned from watching people who were the best and then doing what they did.
I know the last time we spent money on sales training, everybody sat in workshops that cost a fortune and I didn't see any ROI analysis after those workshops were done. I also heard mixed feedback...some people said the workshops were good, but I also heard complaints about being out of the field, not enough real-world examples, and people didn't get to practice enough. Also, they kept complaining about the temperature in the classroom and they wanted more snacks.
Ok, but she's not asking for workshops...she wants to create online learning. I've seen those e-learning modules. Torture. Click, click, click. I don't want to make our sales people have to sit through that! Plus, they don't get to interact with each other. I don't see how that is going to help anyone get better at selling our (products, services, brand). 
I can't NOT invest in sales training if we have a need. But I don't see how this is going to help our sales people improve our bottom line. Still, she's the training expert, so I need to put trust in her that this is the best we can do.

Then the inevitable conclusion...I allocate some minimal amount of budget and the Training Director has to figure out what crap she can develop with the little money she has.

And the cycle continues.

If training professionals continue to settle for producing "fast and cheap" training to check the box, we'll never change the hearts and minds of the executives holding the purse strings. If we can't advocate for the difference between good design and placeholder training, we will continue to be undervalued. If we don't demonstrate good examples of how social learning can be supported, how technology can be appropriately leveraged, and how we can create immersive learning experiences that allow employees to practice real-life skills in a training environment...then the cycle will continue.

So let's stop blaming the economy. Let's stop blaming executives that don't value training.

Let's take a long, hard look at what value we're bringing to the training "table." If you're not proving your value, you won't be valued.

1 comment:

  1. So true, so true. You've managed to burrow into the brain of an executive so clearly I'm tempted to ask if any executives were harmed in the course of this blog post. (Not that I'd mind.)

    But the poor little fellas can't really be blamed. Nobody wants to buy "training" -- they want to buy "something I can put on my review so I'll get a raise or a promotion or a nicer company car or a bigger office". So that's what we've got to sell.

    So why don't we offer to to a little pilot program for those poorly preforming sales people, where the "top performers" do short video clips (that we produce) that get sent out each day with just one single thought about improving sales. Then measure the before/after performance of the group after a month.

    Then do another small step, prove it. Another small step, prove it. Eventually -- you've got his whole budget. Tee hee hee.