The Top Threat to Your Sales Success

By David Bauders

Technology is growing faster, more powerful, and more embedded in our day-to-day lives – both personal and professional.

We see this acutely in the sales profession, where artificial intelligence (AI) technology is being increasingly leveraged in sales tasks such as account-based selling, prospecting and communication, pipeline management, forecasting, and coaching. This can leave sellers wondering about their role and skills relative to AI.

In the cognitive era, sellers need to move up the sales value pyramid by focusing development on core skills that are more uniquely human. This includes skills focused on consultation, negotiation, relationship building, advisory capacities, and being a strategic, creative partner to clients.

AI is quickly taking over skills at the bottom of the pyramid related to routine transactions, providing basic information and technical requirements. Yet sales reps are not elevating core skills. Consider these facts:

  • Sales reps spend less than 25 minutes per week on skills training.
  • Sales reps spend 4-8 work hours per week on social media.
  • Further, 50 percent of sales reps’ current training is focused on skills that will be automated by machines in the next five years (i.e. those at the bottom of the value pyramid).

The net result is too little training – and training not focused on the right core skills. This adds up to missed opportunities and sub-optimal training spend.  

The Achilles’ heel of many sales training programs is the lack of retention. Less than 5 percent of current sales training contains retention activities. The Forgetting Curve (which is the foe of the Learning Curve) says humans participating in programs without retention activities forget around 90 percent of what they’ve learned within 30 days. Do the math: sellers are learning and retaining less than 2.5 minutes per week of skills training.

To reinforce this point, we should ask ourselves whether Warren Buffett would invest in your training program. He once said:

“Over the years, a number of very smart people have learned the hard way that a long string of impressive numbers multiplied by a single zero always equals zero.”

The resources invested in creating and deploying a sales training program to sellers that lacks retentive qualities will ultimately undermine the majority of that investment. In short, the lack of retention can be the zero that nullifies the value from training programs.

To reinforce retention, training programs need to engage learners with daily content on their own terms. It should be entertaining, social, mobile, experiential, and require only a few minutes a day. This harnesses the same elements of social media that promote hours of engagement by the average user.

Until organizations and individuals adopt a culture of daily, lifelong learning focused on core skills, they will be at risk of displacement by automation. The goal is to harness technology to deliver training with retentive qualities to enable the same impressive performance gains in humans that it is inexorably driving in machines.

This is the great learning challenge of our times. Companies (and people) that embrace this challenge and master its demands will cross the evolutionary chasm; those who don’t will be left behind.

You can hear me talk live about Training 3.0 concepts at the Sales 3.0 Conference in Philadelphia, PA, on December 4. My company, SPA, is a Premier Sponsor. You can also follow me on LinkedIn, where I regularly publish posts related to training, negotiation, personality, and analytics.

David Bauders founded SPA (Strategic Pricing Associates, Inc.) in 1993 and its subsidiary, SPASIGMA, in 2015. SPA is the world’s first company to provide an integrated, holistic, profit-driving solution that integrates decision-support analytics and entertaining, high-performance virtual training. SPA helps market leaders’ teams drive greater financial performance by providing the skills training and analytical tools to master the critical daily decisions that drive profitability and enterprise value: negotiation (sell-side and buy-side), profitability acumen, and emotional intelligence. SPA’s holistic approach helps clients sustainably create and capture higher economic value. SPA’s typical client experiences increased profits equal to 2-4 percent of affected sales in less than 90 days. Mr. Bauders and SPA have been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Inside Business, TED, CIO Review, and more.

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