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An Examination of Sales Training in Sports

Our Difference.

Sales Training in SportsAn Examination

Whenever I meet with a Head of Sales or a VP of Sales, regardless if they are overseeing sponsorship, suites, premium seating or season tickets I always ask them: What results are you expecting from the training your salespeople get?

Some want to improve skills. Some seek to educate. Some simply feel an obligation to provide training. Some leaders hope to improve morale. Others just wish to feel good about making training available. But most provide sales training in the hope that it will improve top line results.

I regularly survey senior sales managers in major league sports both within the UK and North America about sales training that they have had in the past and the following comments are, unfortunately, very common.

  • They seemed to enjoy themselves, but two weeks later we saw very little change.
  • Overall the training was good, but the problem is in getting the guys to implement the new skills. Nothing really seems to have changed much.

Is it the fault of the training itself? Probably not. More of the blame rests with the structure of the sales training development. These training programs end up as “enter-train-ment”, creatively executed, enjoyable, and entertaining sessions that temporarily captivate interest and generate excitementBut a few weeks later, no one is practicing the skills taught.

At best, training seminars typically have a short-term effect. In essence, they become motivational activities with a very limited lifespan, when what is really needed (& paid for!) are measurable and sustainable improvements in sales performance.

One of the main problems is that most training being taught today is information based. That is, it is presented from an intellectual or factual point of view. The shortcoming of this type of learning methodology is that the brain forgets most new information that it is exposed to rather quickly.

In fact, psychologists tell us that we unconsciously forget 95% of what we hear at a seminar within twenty one days of hearing it. Yes, sales executives heard it and intellectually understood it but they didn’t retain it and certainly can’t execute or implement it a week later. The flaw is in the learning model not in the training content.

Developing sales executives in sports today is a difficult task. Resistance is expected as for most sales executives; whether they have been in sports sales ten minutes or ten years, dont want to be trained. Its true

Sales executives, like everyone else are resistant to change, some because they are already set in their ways and do not want to hear that their current approach is not working. Others, feel they have either heard it all before or are now starting to realize that Scripts, Benefit Statements and clever Closing techniques that are shown within a classroom seminar do not actually work in the real world and that the old school ticket sales methods are not necessarily the most productive approach in todays world.

The reality of it is, is that there is no right or wrong way to sell.

Characterizing the sales process in terms of right and wrong as most sales trainers do overlook the fact that everyone (sales executives & prospects) and every sales situation is unique. This is especially so in todays new corporate environment. People you call on all have different needs, values, biases, and experiences; what might be right for one person or company may not be right for another. Furthermore, even if you are dealing with a specific individual or company over a period of time, their situation will also change; what seems right today might be wrong tomorrow.

The overwhelming conclusion from this is that it is not so much the sales training that needs changing it is the understanding that sales executives need to be constantly developing. Sales executives need to be their own agent of change; they need to be active in their own development.

To secure change in a sales executive within sports today, a trainer must be able to do much more than recite a script, teach curriculum’s, formulate Steps, demonstrate tactics and perform role plays. Effective sales trainers must possess competencies far beyond classroom training.

Training programs are more relevant to real-life situations and sales executives would be more committed to adapt and develop when sales trainers understand one-to-one coaching. Participation in personal development and follow-up support is critical.

Whilst the right sales training room course is a key ingredient in changing behavior, the sales training event on its own can never be the magic bullet. Change is a process, its not an event.

Given the day-to-day reality of sales executives within the sports industry, many training initiatives fail because the real world on the job coaching by the sales trainer is neglected. This is like a head coach spending a ton of time and money on great players, great coaching staff and months of training time to implement killer plays and then when its actually game time saying, its all right guys, you just do what you think is best!

The secret to sales training that makes a real difference today has less to do with what goes on in the training room and more to do with what the sales executives do before and after the training seminar is delivered.

Historically, very little thought or effort was made in terms of preparing the sales executive to get ready to learn prior to the training event taking place. And in most cases, when the sales executive returned to work, only lip service was given to the follow up process to make sure they integrated the things they learned during their time in the training room.

An important distinction is the ability of the trainer to coach knowledge, skill and process not just focus on the technique. The trainer must show as well as critique; this means the sales trainer must pick up the phone and make calls as well as actually go out and meet with prospects alongside the sales executives. Real world coaching leads to sales executive growth and development which leads to increase in sales numbers and so revenue for both the sales executive and the sports organization.

The sales trainer must bring real world experience that is relevant today and always adapting to the continually changing buying environment. They obviously need to infuse their own coaching style but whatever the approach, whatever the style, continuous on the job coaching is the key.

For most sales executives, leaning to do something differently is an interactive process. They need to do it, get some real world experience of it, get feedback and apply it again. This is almost impossible to do in isolation.

Sales trainers have to take an active and regular role in coaching new skills and processes. In other words, create the learn, then do opportunities needed to develop new behaviors.

Full participation and involvement by the sales executive is what makes the whole sales training experience meaningful, helpful and profitable. This means that just as important as the follow-up coaching is what happens prior to the training room session.

Before the training seminar takes place sales executives must take inventory of their personal selling strengths and areas for improvement. Then they should meet with the sales trainer to review these and discuss strategic opportunities for growth.

The sales trainer should always work with the sales executive before any training; making calls alongside the sales executives and giving real world, up-to date examples of his or her experience at the same time reviewing, in action, the strengths and areas of improvement previously identified by the sales executive.

This allows the sales trainer to adapt the training session specifically for the needs of the club, sales team, sport, local conditions and the individualswhich leads to sales executives approaching the training room with an open mind and more willing to embrace change.

In Summary

To get sales executives in sports today to measurably improve and begin to do things differently requires a different training approach. If we want to see real behavioral change and get a return on training investment, we need to use proven adult learning strategies and behavioral change tactics to boost sales executives knowledge and enhance their capabilities. This means making a departure from the traditional way we approach sales training within professional sports.

Training room work has its place but it is simply a catalyst for development not an end in itself.

Inertia is an incredible force. If a sales development initiative fails to create changes, fails to get sales executives to actually do things differently, then nothing changes. In order to increase sales results, there needs to be change, after all we know that if you continue doing exactly the same things, you should expect exactly the same results.

Delivering sales training is the easy part. Changing selling behaviors is tough. But updating our sales training approach is essential if we want to achieve change and get the results we want from sales training in todays highly-competitive world.