Training is Sales and Marketing’s BlindSpot

Despite rapid advances in technology like Big Data, behavior based marketing automation, customer engagement platforms and intent data through content consumption marketing; the lament of CEOs and Boards of Directors on the ineffectiveness of marketing is growing.   Their beef with marketing is over a disconnect between budget, priorities, and revenue ROI.   For CEOs the only thing that matters is revenue – driving quality leads, getting sales in front of the prospect, and helping them to close the deal.  While every CEO likes to see his or herself on TV and mentioned in print, in the end their own jobs depend on meeting revenue numbers.  The vagaries of marketing’s metrics around visitors, conversions, likes, etc.  and the black art of attribution doesn’t create a sense of formulaic predictability CEOs are looking for. While much of the conversation is focused on marketing’s challenges, Sales is not immune from the same complaints.  In the era of the customer and social selling, CEOs are baffled by less sales productivity where more is expected.  The battle over lead follow up, forecast accuracy, opportunity aging and understanding the customer’s needs should be won already rather than becoming harder.  Sales methodologies have been changed, predictive technology that helps Sales to respond more effectively to customers based on behavior patterns has been implemented, and coaches employed to work mano-a-mano with sales teams. No one is claiming that the world of B2B marketing and sales has gotten easier and that technology makes these jobs a cake-walk.  Nor is the claim that CEOs and Boards are, more or less, unreasonable or forgiving than in years gone by.  But it does beg the question why Sales and Marketing keep struggling. One reason is training – or the lack thereof. According to ANA and McKinsey’s 2014 Marketing Disruption study, 77% of marketers recognize that they need to deeply understand customer journeys and how to align their programs to them. Yet only 13% “have reached a point where they’re taking action and achieving measurable impact.”   What’s holding marketers back from stepping up is a dogged addition for outdated best practices and marketing models but also an alarming reticence to invest in learning new skills and methods. According to ANA/McKinsey, 89% of marketers admit that training and skills development is critical to being successful in the future.  Yet training investment are anemic and often the first line item to be cut when funds get tight.  No wonder a third of marketers are unable to make data-driven decisions and don’t know what tools to use or how to use them. Sales believes in training but has not evolved their content to meet the needs of front-line sales staff.   Brainshark’s recent State of Sales Training study highlights a startling discrepancy between what needs to get done and what’s actually getting done. For example, 38% of sales training professionals say their organization’s training content needs quarterly updates. However, 42% say that, in reality, their organization’s training content gets updated once a year at best – leaving them open to inconsistent, incorrect and/or outdated messaging, and even potential compliance violations. “Engaging, timely content that is accessible when needed is vital to sales training and overall sales success,” said Brainshark Inc. CEO Joe Gustafson. “The survey results highlight a great opportunity for organizations to meet this need – with stimulating sales content that’s both easy to access and consume. For organizations, this often means taking advantage of rapid content authoring and updating capabilities and ensuring just-in-time training delivery – to make sure that training works and sticks, and help reps be better prepared to close more deals.” Part of the problem is that the most prevalent methods of sales training for organizations today include: Live classroom training (80%), live Web conferencing (65%), on-demand training (67%), video (49%) and social learning (28%).  Struggles related to live training include:

  • Difficulties aligning schedules (61%)
  • Reps easily distracted (45%)
  • Lack of coaching and reinforcement (35% and 36% respectively)
  • Lack of rep engagement (36%)
  The track record for on-demand training isn’t much better.  Organizations face challenges including deadlines not met (25%) and an inability to track completion/progress (23%). Both Marketing and Sales need to get with the times and deliver ongoing training, coaching and onboarding support in order to effectively understand and respond to customer lifecycle engagement expectations, increasing uncertainty and digital transformation.  While in-classroom training will never lose its effectiveness, it needs to be supported with just-in-time, bite sized consumable training units. According to the Brainshark study, the two areas where pace-setters are reversing the skill gap are with video and mobile-based learning.  “Consider providing just-in-time learning content within the context of workflow as a form of performance support,” shares Joan Babinski, VP of Corporate Marketing, Brainshark. “So when reps have to do somewhat tedious or confusing processes, give them content that can pop up on their screen right when they need it – rather than making them wade through materials or try to recall hours of previous training.” For training to be effective, it needs to be viewed as a strategic enabler. While who owns the training problem may vary within any organization, all parts of the organization have to align and work together to improve training content effectiveness.  As long as Sales and marketing don’t address the link between training, performance, and meeting customer engagement expectations, the greater this blindspot will result in a redefinition of their perceived value; one neither function will relish.   First published in my Forbes blog "Outside the Box"

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