Do Sales People Really Know What Training They Need Most?

Many companies rely on asking salespeople what training they think they most need and want when planning their skills training program. Is it possible, however, that salespeople may not actually know what training is best for them? And, asking this question may actually lead your training plans astray?

I’ve talked before about the concept of “declared preferences” (what they say or feel) versus “revealed” preferences (what they actually do). It’s a concept most often referred to by behavioral economists to explain the discrepancies between opinion polls and actual behaviors.

Well, the same can possibly be said for salespeople’s ability to judge their needs training versus what the results of a behavioral outcomes-based assessment says they actually need most.

First a quick backstory: Last year, when we published our latest book, The Three Value Conversations (McGraw-Hill), we launched a parallel self-assessment tool aligned to the key skills and concepts detailed in the book.

Specifically, the assessment measures sales reps’ proficiency in three critical areas: creating value (differentiation skills), elevating value (executive conversation skills), and capturing value (negotiation skills). Since that time, nearly 300 sales professionals have taken the online behavioral assessment.

In each of the three value scenarios, we asked reps what selling challenge they felt was their biggest selling hurdle (from a list of six). And, then we compared their feelings with what their actual answers to the behavioral outcome survey indicated.

In each case, we found a discrepancy. The challenge reps believed was their biggest problem area did not correspond to the one that was indicated by their answers to the questions:

Create Value™ (Objective: Defeat the status quo and differentiate your solutions)

  • Participants declared: Illustrating a sharp contrast between a customer’s current state and a desired future state was their top challenge.
  • The data revealed, however: Creating and confirming urgency by stirring emotions is their actual top challenge.

Elevate Value™ (Objective: Make a business case that passes muster with executive buyers)

  • Participants declared: Winning access to executive buyers rather than being delegated down was their top challenge.
  • The data revealed, however: Identifying specific financial metrics that their solution will impact is their actual top challenge. 

Capture Value™ (Objective: Protect pricing and expand deal size during tense negotiations)

  • Participants declared: Getting customers to reveal underlying motivations was their top challenge.
  • The data revealed, however: Gaining agreement to mutually beneficial terms in response to your concession plan is their actual top challenge.

These findings hint at a natural contradiction between the results of personal opinion-based questions (declared preference) and behavioral outcomes-based questions (revealed preference).

In light of these results, you may be wondering: Is my team underperforming where I think (or they believe) they’re underperforming, or does my team have skills gaps I’ve either underestimated or haven’t even considered?

Only one way to find out: Have them take this short self-assessment to see where your team is performing well and where there may be room for improvement.

Tim Riesterer

Tim Riesterer

Chief Strategy Officer

Tim Riesterer has dedicated his career to improving the conversations marketers and salespeople have with prospects and customers. His books, “Customer Message Management”, “Conversations that Win the Complex Sale”, “Three Value Conversations”, and "The Expansion Sale", focus on improving market-ready messages and tools that marketers and salespeople can use to win more deals. As chief strategy and research officer for Corporate Visions, he sets the direction and develops products for this leading marketing and sales messaging, content and training company.

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