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L&D is often stretched when it comes to sales training. Here’s why.

Blog Post

The global sales skills shortage hurts business leaders everywhere: Sales, Sales Enablement, Talent & HR but – especially – Learning and Development professionals worldwide. Our customers tell us that they know there isn’t enough sales talent available. They know their people don’t have the right skills to succeed. That awareness is a good place to start. But also perhaps the easiest place to start. What happens next?

Very often, this problem lands on already stretched L&D resources like a bag of cement. The message from colleagues seems to be: ‘We need some sales training – can you find some?’ Simple eh?

Not as easy as it sounds – especially for learning professionals.


Semantics is important here because sales training means a lot of different things to different people. Conventional wisdom suggests that the popular notion of sales training is typically (broadly) very focused on 2 things – product knowledge and methodology.

These requirements can fit well within L&D’s capability as the content is typically proprietary to the business: no one else can teach a salesperson about their product, target markets & personas better than the business itself. Similarly, there is a wide range of methodologies available ‘off the shelf’ which are essential as a foundation stone for a sales engine.

In broad terms, these requirements are addressable. In simple terms, they are teaching our salespeople what we want them to do and can, therefore, be delivered as traditional, linear training courses – typically offline or, at least, synchronously over a few days.

So far so good. However, our experience working with job specs, competency maps & enablement matrices all over the world suggests that this approach only solves half the problem. While every organisation is subtly different and will have its variations, the pattern is that, in addition to wanting our salespeople to do things, we also want them to think. And in most cases, think differently.

This talks to a different skillset entirely: how salespeople need to manage a book of business, how they think their way to exceeding their quota every single month, and how they navigate many complex sales journeys all at the same time that, almost by definition, are always unique. Why? Because guess what: every buyer is unique.

We are talking about softer skills that employers demand of their commercial resources everywhere: skills like confidence, discipline, creativity, professionalism and a whole lot more. This sort of skills development needs to take place over time and ideally happen on the job. That requires a different learning modality that doesn’t constantly take salespeople away from productivity and is designed to innately customise for the individual learner’s context.

In our experience, this (orange) half of the business requirement can be more challenging for L&D teams to address. They are frequently short of bandwidth in any event. In addition, both the curriculum definition and the learning design for this sort of programme are difficult and expensive.

As a result, and through no fault of their own, L&D teams frequently struggle to get beyond enabling their sales colleagues to do the right things. It is just really important not to ignore the other half of the sales training equation – the bit that businesses arguably need the most but often struggle to achieve. It doesn’t have to be that way. Think about it.

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