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  • Writer's pictureGreg Meehan

Want a High-Performing Sales Team? Stop Training Sales Monkeys

Here’s something I’ve been thinking about: Is there a better alternative to sales training?

I mean, what’s the first thing companies usually think about doing when their sales team misses a quota? Sales training.

Need to hit new targets? Sales training.

Just hired new people? Sales training.

Now here’s the problem: The training doesn’t stick.

What are we missing?

A “churn ‘em and burn ‘em” career

The crux of the issue is that companies hire easy, train quick, and then fire quicker when salespeople don’t perform. Is there any surprise then, that most sales teams continue to behave like… sales monkeys?

They piss off potential (and even existing) customers and give their own companies a bad reputation.

They continue to miss quotas despite all the money that companies spend on sales training programs that address specific, surface-level problems like – my team doesn’t know how to cold call, so let’s give them cold calling training.

Or my team doesn’t handle objections well, so let’s give them objection handling training.

These training programs cover the latest, hottest tactic like “the best opener” or “how to observe body language”.

But you know what? It’s like trying to fix a broken leg with band-aids.

While these skill specific trainings give salespeople the knowledge of HOW to do something, they rarely give them a WHY. They don’t solve the problem at its root.

Issues keep cropping up, companies keep organising training programs – to the point where it seems more reasonable to hire a fresh batch of sales people and start from scratch.

There must be a better way of doing things.

I definitely don’t have all the answers, but perhaps just taking the time to have a proper look at the sales career in general can shed some light on how we can begin to find solutions.

Is the sales profession broken?

How do people get into sales?

Ask a person in sales and nine times out of 10, the answer will be: “I fell into it” or “I didn’t know what else to do”.

Most people get into it purely for the money, and of course having money is essential – but there’s rarely a desire for a real career.

So, here’s the reality: New salespeople are hired cheaply, given tiny basic salaries, and told that they have to quickly perform well to earn their commission or on-target earnings (OTE).

This seems like a good deal for companies because there’s less cost to hiring a whole bunch of people and throwing them into a survival of the fittest kind of work environment.

The motivated, high performing salespeople are retained while the ones that don’t make the cut supposedly leave as soon as they start struggling to make ends meet.

Unfortunately, when people are scrutinised on short-term results and are constantly fighting for survival, they are less creative and perform worse. They might seem more driven, but they actually take longer to solve problems.

According to Pew Research, the top three reasons people left their jobs in 2021 were: Low pay, no opportunities for advancement, and feeling disrespected.

And yet, this seems to be exactly how the sales career operates. Can we really expect more from our sales representatives if we’re not treating them right?

What if sales was treated like a “proper” career?

And conversely, what if other functions in the company were treated the same way the sales team was treated – with the carrot-and-stick approach?

The fact is that every single function in a company contributes to the bottom line in some way. Why is it that only sales people are paid OTE, instead of a proper salary?

What if we were to track every single person’s contribution to revenue or profits – and put them on a performance improvement plan (PIP) if they don’t deliver. So, imagine:

Missed a campaign launch deadline? PIP for marketing.

Missed an employee engagement target? PIP for HR.

Couldn’t ship a new feature in time? PIP for engineers.

If this sounds like a strange plan, think about why we’re so ready to implement it when it comes to the sales team.

Here’s something else to think about: What if instead of OTE, companies paid their sales reps an actual living wage? How would that change the way we hire, develop, and grow our sales teams?

What would sales professionals be like if they saw a promising future career, and a clear path forward at the company where they worked?

Building your sales team for the long term

Rather than trying to fix the problem of low sales performance with band-aid solutions, why not set your sales team up for success from the start?

A broken bone needs to be reset – and the saying “pay peanuts, get monkeys” makes sense. If we don’t rethink the sales career, we’ll just be stuck in that cycle of missed quotas, high churn rates, low morale, and poor sales execution.

For a sales team to be effective, they need a deeper understanding of what sales truly is, as well as the value they have the potential to create.

We tell salespeople, do more sales, get more money. But what do they do for the buyer? What service do they provide to the customers, to their company?

Any effective sales training program would not only cover skills and tactics but also give an understanding of the underlying principles of why particular skills and tactics help to convert leads into happy, paying customers. This takes time.

Skills that would benefit the sales team include:

  • Human and behavioural psychology

  • Copywriting

  • Creative writing

  • Verbal communication

  • Public speaking

  • Storytelling

  • Conflict resolution

  • Negotiation

  • Data analytics

  • Branding

  • Marketing

It’s a long list – and definitely not an exhaustive one – so there’s no way a training program covering all these could be completed in a one-week or even one-month onboarding.

Training programs need to help sales people understand the basic fundamentals of sales so that we, as sales individuals, can creatively carve our own successful path based on those core principles.

Perhaps if enough people went back to the drawing board and built sales teams with strong fundamentals, we could transform the sales profession into something meaningful.

Connect with me on LinkedIn to share your thoughts and exchange insights.


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