Don’t Bother with Sales Training or CRM Until You Face the Facts

by Michael J. Webb

Can You Handle the Truth?

Can You Handle the Truth?

Increasingly sophisticated software is becoming available for coaching salespeople. These systems respond to context, such as the industry the prospect is in, the contact’s department, and the stage of the sales process. They may even collect answers to questions for future use in the selling effort. Some even offer elaborate strategy support, with color-coded organizational charts and more.

This should make sales training and CRM ought to go hand-in-hand, right? 

Unfortunately, no matter how fancy the systems are, salespeople don’t often use them unless forced to.

If it were a technical, procedural or a user interface issue, it could be fixed. But it isn’t.

Instead the issue is the company’s assumptions around what enables these software systems (and the people involved) to work. 

Assumptions Don’t Make CRM More Valuable, or Help Salespeople Sell

Although it is not their intent, the ugly truth is that adding training or sales methodology to the CRM mainly adds work to salespeople’s lives, rather than value.

Why is this the case?Because the people designing these systems (not to mention buying them) make lots of unwarranted assumptions, such as these:

  • Selling is something the salesperson does TO the prospect
  • Every prospect has the same “percent chance of closing” at each selling stage
  • The solution to sales problems is in what the salespeople do
  • Some trainer or outside expert knows how to handle a situation better than the salesperson
  • One set of scripts and coaching will work regardless of the quality of the prospect

If even one or two of these assumptions are wrong in a given sales opportunity, the salesperson is hampered, not helped. Consider things from the salesperson’s perspective. What kind of improvements do they really need?

  • Increasing the quality of sales opportunities
  • Providing informative content that helps prospects become more motivated and qualified
  • Gathering hard-to-get operational information about the prospect’s business for use in ROI and cost justification
  • Providing statistically accurate forecasts, so the salesperson can concentrate on selling, not managing their boss

Of course, every company environment is different, and there are many other things your sales team might need. The point is, if your CRM or sales training doesn’t give salespeople what they really need to do their job, don’t expect to change their behaviors easily.

Most companies have left the sales process up to the salespeople. Yet, the sales team can’t control the website, product development, or service delivery. No one has bothered to step back to look at things from the customer’s perspective – much less redesign them.

Today we have a condition where customers are using the Internet – and everything at their disposal – to solve their problems more effectively. Meanwhile sellers continue to function as disconnected marketing, selling, and servicing departments. 

If your customers aren’t following your company’s sales process, your salespeople aren’t going to follow it either.

Changing People’s Behaviors Requires Changing Their Environment

Suppose a factory wanted to increase their production of parts. Then, some suggests that the workers could increase output if they had fancy instructions on how to use the manufacturing equipment. Would such a claim be credible? Perhaps, maybe. Suppose someone suggested those machine operators fill out information screens so other people can see what they are doing in addition to making parts. Would that enable them to produce more?

Not likely.

To increase the output of a production system, you need to know which part of the process is the bottleneck. Then, you proceed to maximize or expand the capacity of that bottleneck. You make the jigs and fixtures in order to prevent people from making a part the wrong way. You minimize the motions required for them to do their jobs. You clean and streamline their workspace. You ensure incentives and performance measures are aligned with the goals.

Most importantly, you don’t expect a different outcome unless you physically change the work being implemented. You change the inputs that drive people’s behaviors, and especially their capacity to produce quality. Then you look for the effects on the output.

When was the last time anyone streamlined the number of screens and clicks required for a salesperson to use the CRM system?

It is surprising how tough such issues are in the CRM world. I lost such a battle with an implementation team from SAP. They argued it was too expensive to cater to the sales force. Their CRM got installed, alright. And a few months after their sales results didn’t improve, Motorola acquired the company.

Ask yourself when was the last time anyone measurably improved the quality of your company’s leads? Is there even any agreement on what such quality looks like? What about making it easier to nurture relationships with prospects that were not yet ready to buy? How have you helped salespeople make more consistent decisions when prioritizing their sales opportunities?

These are the kinds of things that really change results.

As the saying goes, “Your process is perfectly designed to give you the results you are currently getting.” If you want different results, you probably have to change something you haven’t yet changed. And, you won’t get very far if you haven’t defined the problem you are trying to solve.

The Role of Training and the CRM in the Sales Production System

Value is created when a prospect moves along their customer journey in your direction. Salespeople know they must get their prospect’s attention, information, and trust if they are ever to have a chance to earn any of their money.

A well-run company treats sales leads, qualified opportunities, and customer deals like inventory assets in a production system. They pay attention to what moves deals through the pipeline.  They seek data telling them where their bottlenecks are.

Customers are seeking so solve increasingly complex problems. They need all the help they can get if they are to understand the effect of your machines on their production operation, or whether your approach applies to them.  If they can’t find this information on your website, they look elsewhere. You can’t detect this sort of problem unless you are looking for it. Which doesn’t happen if you expect marketing, sales, and service to keep doing what they usually do.

Sooner or later, the bottleneck in sales probably will involve a salesperson’s ability to develop coaching relationships, reach decision makers, and create compelling value propositions. Until it does, improving those things won’t make much difference.

Moving customers through their customer journey is important to the entire company, not just to the sales department. This helps align management with salespeople and their customers. Needed content, skills, behaviors becomes more apparent to everyone, and this simplifies the task of improving. Most important, it is easier to see and measure the results of improvements, such as training.

It is also easier to see time-consuming or repetitive tasks that could be automated via the CRM, such as reporting, or prospect nurturing. 


Salespeople’s behaviors can’t change until their environment exhibits the following conditions:

  1. The language of the work (leads, opportunities, etc.) are traceable to observable evidence
  2. The work flow is reasonably repeatable and measurable
  3. The CRM’s pipeline reports measured data rather than guesses or assumptions
  4. The salespeople use the CRM to do their work, because management has ensured it easier to do so
  5. AND when management INSPECTS those reports and makes decisions based on them

THEN and ONLY THEN will sales behaviors change in the way management would like them to change.


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Michael Webb

Michael Webb founded Sales Performance Consultants to create a data-driven alternative to the slogans and shallow impact offered by typical sales training, sales consulting, and CRM companies. Michael helped organize and delivered the keynote speeches for the first conferences ever held on applying Six Sigma to marketing and sales. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

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