I grew up liking fast food. Honestly, who didn’t?
Playing sports and a fast metabolism meant that the stop at Wendy’s after practice was a given. But, as I got older, I learned that it didn’t satisfy me as much and it always left me worse off after I walked out.
Fast food is easy and gets the job done. But over time you learn the job is a hell of a lot more than just a quick bite.
Enough with food.
Let’s talk sales trainers.
According to a study by Xerox — 87% of content learned in a live training with a sales trainer is lost within 30 days. This is a stat I’ve mentioned countless times over the years in seminars, workshops, podcasts and so on.
It is not disputed. It is a fact.
And this is not the only research championing why spending on outside trainers is a waste. I have found dozens of other studies, research and reports that state the same fact about the ineffectiveness of trainers (with one case study even claiming employees forget 70% of what they learn within just 3 days).
But, you know what really confuses me? The response from companies. Everybody from the C-Level executive to the first time Sales Manager — they agree! They know hiring a trainer always sounds good, but never lives up to the hype.
So, why do they still hire sales trainers?
The stat must not be shocking enough to bring about change. So as I have continued to write and share I am left confused as to why so many organizations still rely almost exclusively on trainers when spending their training budgets.
Why do they do it? Why don’t they stop?
If my POV on this subject isn’t clear by now, let me help. Trainers are not the 3 Michelin star meal they promise. Trainers are not the steak at Ruth’s Chris. Hell, Trainers are not even a good burger at Shake Shack. Trainers are a hell of a lot like fast food. Going through the drive-thru you have big hopes, but they never meet them.
Why is it such a big deal?
Today, more than ever we need to be better. Employees are coming out of colleges less prepared than ever (and with loads of debt) and taking on jobs where the skill gap that must be closed is greater than any in recent history.
The numbers should shock you:
- $31 billion: cost to U.S. economy due to employee turnover.
- 91%: of corporate training is delivered by live trainers or boring online learning modules (via LMS).
- 61%: of employees in a sales training study labeled live trainers as either, ‘Mostly Ineffective’ or ‘Ineffective’.
- 32%: of millennial workers say they are engaged at work.
And, after listening to many employees over the years, the overwhelming majority of whom say they’d rather have been back at their desk on a sales call than in the classroom being lectured to, I now understand. After years of asking myself why managers still spend the majority of their budget on trainers and other tools that don’t work? I have many answers, but let’s just start with a few…
Here are the 3 reasons I believe companies still hire their buddies — I mean trainers.
#1 – Optimism Bias
This is no different than those people you know that go to McDonald’s and order a Big Mac, fries and a Diet Coke (somehow they think they are making a healthy decision by avoiding an additional 1,000 calories from a regular Coke). The same thing is happening with companies today when they pat themselves on the back for investing in outside trainers despite the fact that most of it just becomes waste.
Managers focus on the fact that they see trainers as innovative and different (a.k.a. on the Diet Coke). It is based on a line of thinking in which you believe that force feeding ideas leads to it being retained when really everything they deliver has minimal shelf life, low long-term retention and is an overall bad investment for the organization.
Look closer, and you will see it actually has a massive negative cash impact on an organization. How? Let me list:
- Low Retention = Low ROI
- Lost productivity during training
- Negative culture impact if the training is undesired
- Travel, Meal and Hotel Expenses (And you still have to buy them dinner!)
#2 – It’s Easy.
Being transparent — hiring a sales trainer is the easy choice. Aside from booking their travel it has to be the laziest way to invest your training budget. Manager’s get a few days off while they sit in the back of the room. And most of the time, the Manager may not even attend the entire training.
The reality is that this is the safe choice. Everybody has done it in the past and there is no fear of pushback from senior leadership as it has been an accepted method of investing in training since the 1960’s.
#3 – No Manager Development Program
Most companies spend over 98% of training dollars on employees, not managers (UPenn, 2014 Study). Forget the fact that the format preferred by outside trainers (lecture, classroom, manuals, etc.) is dated — what is worse is that they offer minimal systems for managers to continue their program after they leave.
Now just following their PowerPoint deck doesn’t count. Coaching and managing people is a hell of a lot more than abiding by whatever acronyms are stressed in a training deck. Managers need systems and coaching to be able to ever truly benefit from and expand upon the content shared by an outside trainer.
Having no coaching foundation is a surefire way to ensure your training investment will fail.
So, this will surprise you.
I actually like trainers. I have many friends and colleagues who have training businesses and I was even once traveling around the world on the travel budget of clients.
And, I believe that given the right trainer and timing, they can be effective at adding value to an organization.
The problem is too many are frauds (yes!) who never deliver on their promise. Who do not have the foundational understanding of how learning works. And, who do little to update their spiel year after year.
Before I close down the drive-thru, here is my quick list. If you are thinking about bringing in a sales trainer , ask yourself these questions first:
Sales Trainer Hiring Checklist
What to ask:
- Do you have a Learning Matrix? A plan that outlines what you want our team to learn, why do they need to learn it, and by when does change need to happen.
- What is your Reinforcement Plan? A tool or platform in place to reinforce the workshops over the next 30–120 days (at a minimum).
- Are you scheduling Prep Meetings? Standard meetings ahead of training should occur on at least 2–3 occasions prior to an on-site. There should be no surprises.
- Follow-Up Meetings. To get the most out of the investment, the trainer should provide a few follow-up calls post-training to discuss learnings and followup implementation.
Note: If you are not prepared to do all of the work above then you should not hire an outside sales trainer for even a day. And any trainer who would show up without the above is stealing and doing your team a disservice.
Will that complete your order?
Like I said, I like fast food. I get the attraction.
Tired, hungry and on the run — why not just hit the drive-thru and keep on moving?
The problem is that complex problems aren’t solved so easily, and there is always a price to pay.
Today more than ever we need to be better about training. We dropped beepers for cell phones and blockbuster for Netflix. It’s time to drop trainers for something better.
And challenge ourselves on the question, “Are the tools we invest in actually going to increase performance for the long haul?”