The Waste we create by training Sales People in Retail

We talk a lot about Lean Organizations. We all do a lot to become Lean. The definition and the core idea of „Lean“, according to Lean Enterprise Institute is to maximize customer value while minimizing waste. Simply put, it means creating more value for customers with fewer resources.

And, at the same time, we miss lots of opportunities to make our Organizations more lean. I don’t think that the reason for this is our ignorance or laziness. No – the main reason, in my opinion, is that we don’t see how some functions could become more lean. We just got used to doing things the certain way and we tend to think that this way is the only possible.

Since I’ve been working as a Sales Trainer and Consultant for more than a decade, I see huge „waste“ being created in my industry every day. There are as many as 8 fields where we spend our precious resources (time, money, energy) in vain:

1.    Defining Sales People development needs. The common way of doing things goes somewhat like this: we usually send a group of our employees to some (product, sales or any other skills) training. They all attend, but… At that point, I’ll just say that different people have different needs. And talents. And challenges. They don’t need to attend the same training. Imagine how much time (and time IS money) we waste by doing so!

2.    Choosing a development methodology. We have all heard that people obtain 70 percent of their knowledge from job-related experiences, 20 percent from interactions with others, and 10 percent from formal educational events (you can read more about this here). Nevertheless, we still spend huge amounts of money on those formal educational events, much more than, for example, on supporting peer – to – peer learning. So, this is the second non-lean part of the People Development process.

3.    Choosing a training provider. Well – what can I say – most of HR people think that they can define their Sales People needs on their own and that training provider should just execute. Or they execute by using their own, internal, resources (trainers). The situation is, however, much different in the practice. There are training providers who really only – execute. They do generic training, or training which they claim are tailor-made (what they really do is just change the logo on their PowerPoint presentation). A very good provider will (besides talking to you about your people needs) do the serious analysis of the Sales Process itself, supporting Systems (such as setting targets, reporting, compensations), Management model and Sales People Skills by observing them at work. Because the target should be higher Sales Volume, right? And maybe, just maybe, there are wiser ways of reaching it (instead of just executing training).

4.    Making groups for the training. We usually make ten to twelve people training groups. And we often split them by region. Or by some other criteria. And my suggestion here is that, if you really have to send people to the training, you group them by the challenges they face on their day-to-day job. Otherwise, the trainer has to address different kinds of problems on the training, which usually means that (s)he doesn’t address any of those problems good enough.

5.    Sending wrong people to the training. Imagine having ten fields where you want to plant some seed. And you have the limited amount of (very expensive) seed. You know that some fields will be much more fruitful than other ones. The soil in some of them is so bad, that you will literally throw away your precious seeds if you choose those fields. My question is – will you spread your seeds equally – the same quantity of seeds in all ten fields or will you choose the ones that will give you the best harvest? It’s very intuitive, right? That’s why I get so frustrated when I see how we send non-trainable people to the training. We don’t just waste Company’s money, but that kind of people usually contaminate others on the training and ruin the possibility of learning something new for them.

6.    Thinking that the training has to motivate people. If you ever attended any kind of Leadership Training, you should know by now that low motivation needs to be „treated“ not with the training, but with the one-to-one conversation with the Manager. Training is a Development Intervention designed to gain a new knowledge and low motivation will be the obstacle for that. Training is not designed to increase Employee’s motivation. And if you do so, you’re treating an illness with the wrong cure. And you make waste, of course.

7.    On the training. I’ve already mentioned generic training. And those that just look like they’re „tailor-made“. Now let’s talk about how real LEAN training should look like. It should address attendee’s real-life challenges and give answers to them. Don’t hire outside trainers to do generic training if you really need them (you can do them on your own or buy them online for much less money). If you already hire an outside expert, (s)he should ONLY train your people on the concrete situations and problems they face.

8.    After the training. If the training has no follow-up and someone who will be accountable for the implementation in practice, your people will most probably forget almost everything they have learned within a week. It’s called Forgetting Curve and was described by Herman Ebbinghaus more than a hundred years ago. So – if we know that fact for such a long time – why do we keep doing it?