Need to Improve Salespeople’s Behaviors? Don’t Bother with Sales Training or CRM Until You Face the Facts

by Michael J. Webb

(pdf of this article)

Have you ever wondered, what is the best way to incorporate sales training methodologies in a CRM system? Sometimes the question comes when a company wants a better return from their CRM software. Other times it comes from a sales training company hoping to capitalize on integration of
their sales methodology with some CRM software.

Unfortunately, both are after a wild goose they’ll never catch.

Putting sales methodologies or training documentation in CRM systems is usually not too difficult. Naming process stages is pretty straightforward, so long as you catch the programmers before they start configuring. If you don’t have to collect answers to questions or do anything with the data you collect, there is really not much to it technically.

Some companies have created elaborate strategy systems, with color-coded organizational charts and more. Yet no matter how fancy, salespeople won’t use it very often.

If only the problem of getting salespeople to be more effective were a technical issue, all would be well with the world.

But it isn’t.

Wishing Won’t Make It So

Unfortunately, NOTHING you can do to add training or sales methodology to the CRM will make much of a difference in salespeople’s behaviors. The reason is that in most cases, you are adding work to salespeople’s lives rather than value.

That is just a fact. If anything, simplifying and minimizing the details entered in the CRM are better than burdening it (and the salespeople) with lots of sales methodology stuff.

This might seem like bad news for CRM software and sales training companies. It might appear to take away some of their arguments for the value they offer.

But it doesn’t. You still will need CRM and sales training. The point is that CRM and sales training can’t have the desired effect if the foundations are not there in the first place.

Changing People’s Behaviors Requires Changing Their Environment

You wouldn’t expect the output of a manufacturing process to improve by sticking some fancy labels on the manufacturing equipment, would you? If you asked machine operators fill out screens of information no one reads instead of making parts, would that enable them to produce more?

Of course not.

If you need machine operators to make fewer mistakes, you must mistake-proof the process. You make the jigs and fixtures that prevent them from doing things the wrong way. If you want people to produce more, you apply 5S techniques* to clean and streamline their workspace. You minimize the motions required for them to do their jobs. You remove incentives and performance measures not aligned
with the goals.

Most important, you don’t expect a different outcome unless you physically change the process being implemented. You change the things that drive people’s behaviors first. Then you look for changes in output.

When was the last time you streamlined the number of screens and clicks required for the salesperson to use the CRM system? (I once lost a battle with a CRM implementation team from SAP who argued it was too expensive to cater to the sales force. After their sales results didn’t improve, Motorola acquired the company.)

When was the last time you measurably improved the quality of your company’s leads, or made 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 things that change results.

Whoever said, your process is perfectly designed to give you the results you are currently getting got it exactly right. If you want different results, you probably have to change something you haven’t yet changed.

What Are the Facts?

People’s behavior depends on their perception of reality. Therefore, the place to start is with the credibility of the terms people use in the sales process itself. Words such as qualified, lead, and opportunity must refer to observable facts evidence salespeople can be trained to recognize consistently. The more capable salespeople on your team probably already recognize many of these facts.

The classification of an opportunity as qualified can be cut-and-dried according to observable facts (What did the prospect do or say? What business or technical problems do they have? How important are these to the decision maker? How do you know this?). When that knowledge is missing or the prospect has not yet taken the action desired, it can be clear what sales tactics or behaviors will achieve the goal most of the time.

These MEAN something to your team when they can be traced to ground, so to speak. When words to refer to facts, the list of Qualified Opportunities in the sales forecast has teeth.

The Role of Training and the CRM

The role of the CRM is to help salespeople and their manager’s account for their leads, opportunities, and deals as if they were inventory assets (which is what they are).

Salespeople embrace this when they believe their company:

  1. understands and respects what it takes to move deals through the pipeline
  2. will hold them accountable for what they can control
  3. won’t hold them accountable for what they can’t control

This puts salespeople and their managers on the same page with regard to moving deals along successfully. It becomes apparent to everyone which skills and behaviors are needed, a condition that greatly simplifies the task of training. Most important, this vantage point enables everyone to see and measure the results of that training.

It also becomes much easier to identify time-consuming or repetitive tasks that could be automated in the CRM to make the best sales behaviors more mistake-proof, make them faster, and a path of least resistance as well.


Salespeople’s behaviors can’t change until their environment changes in the following ways:

  1. when the language of the process is clarified (traced to observable facts)
  2. when the process has been shown to work a reasonable percentage of the time
  3. when the CRM system’s pipeline reports are based on grounded criteria
  4. when salespeople use the CRM to manage their pipeline, because management has ensured the CRM makes 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 we in management need them to.

Come to think of it, if managers aren’t doing those sorts of things right now, what are they spending their time on?


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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