I am often asked by clients for advice about the best place to conduct training.
My advice varies depending on the client’s individual circumstances but one of the most reliable guidelines I follow on recommending training venues is that ‘the best place to learn to swim is in the water’.
Learning to Swim
Imagine you are teaching people to swim. You can teach them all of the theory and all of the techniques and motions of swimming, but until they get in the water, that learning is useless and in some cases detrimental to real learning relative to the desired outcome (an ability to swim). I recall my own early swimming lessons as a child. The swimming class we were in spent the first two weekly lessons practising stroke and head position standing next to the pool. In the third lesson, the teacher was replaced by a new teacher who started us back at square one. So by the time I got in the water, I had had almost a month of ‘learning to swim’ in the air. The comfort I had learned to feel mimicking swimming movements in air felt completely unnatural in the water and I swallowed a lot of water and was panicked by the experience. Several of my friends in the class had a similar experience and we were put off swimming for years. When I resumed swimming lessons at 11 years of age, I had a great teacher who got me straight into the pool every lesson and got me feeling comfortable in the environment where my learning had to be translated into action. Yes, we still practised, discussed and trialled techniques standing next to the pool, but most of each lesson was spent in the pool.
So What About Sales Teams?
So when it comes to training sales teams, the best place to train them (in most circumstances) is on the sales floor.
Training at a remote location usually involves a different (often unfamiliar) environment, sometimes different dress requirements, different training participants . Yes, salespeople can have enjoyable learning experiences away from their sales floor, but you have added a significant step between their learning of skills and their use of those skills in their day-to-day role.
Some Advantages of On-Site Training Include:
- Learning new skills in on-the-sales-floor training means that the salespeople are more likely to raise, and have answered, their ‘real-world’ objections to aspects of the training.
- There are significantly fewer steps to processing, adapting and implementing sales techniques from training to the floor when the training is conducted on the floor.
- The salespeople are conditioned by their environment, so having the training on the floor helps ‘condition’ the new sales behaviours.
- It also ‘conditions’ salespeople that the sales floor is a learning environment, so they may learn more from their customer interactions on the sales floor.
Some Disadvantages of Off-Site Training Include:
- The extra time and cost involved in transporting sales teams to the training venue.
- Extra steps and work required by sales teams to adapt and utilise the new knowledge and/or behaviours to the sales floor.
- Some unscrupulous trainers may exploit some dealers’ beliefs that salespeople going away and coming back with any difference must necessarily mean an improvement.
- Training courses of more than a day off-site often induce idiotic behaviour in some salespeople (excessive alcohol, late nights, dangerous driving, showing off, etc.)
Naturally, Planning is Required
Of course, training has to be conducted at times when the sales floor is not full of customers, or an area of the sales floor may be cordoned off for training. training may make use of a nearby office for group discussions and other exercises, but this should be done with the focus on getting back on the sales floor immediately to practise the skills learned, before trying them with a real customer.
Don’t Throw Them in the Deep End!
I am not advocating a policy of sink or swim. Lazy and stupid sales managers waiting for salespeople to make a mistake and then criticise them is not true ‘on-the-floor’ training. It’s not even training, although I have encountered many sales managers who believe their ‘seagull management’ approach is sales training. It’s not.
Just like children learning to swim, salespeople should be carefully monitored and encouraged, and training should be flexible to address their particular needs.
Occasionally there is merit, or logistic necessity for training to be held off-site, but I have consistently found that in most cases, sales training conducted on the sales floor gets the best and fastest results.