L&D and sales training

Written by Debbie Carter on 20 April 2015

Good morning

I am interested to get a sense of what's happening in sales training in organisations today. Having recently attended a sales training conference where experts explored latest thinking and case studies I was struck by the lack of mention of L&D's involvement in some of these processes, especially when one of the main topics under discussion was learning agility, an area where one would expect L&D to play a major role. When I put this question to the audience some of the responses seemed to suggest that in many large organisations the sales training function has it's own specialist L&D people with the rest of the organisation having a separate L&D function to manage all other organisational L&D needs.

I am sure this is common in many large organisations but surely not in all, and given the importance of sales to an organisation's success, how are L&D departments rising to the challenge of keeping the sales people at the top of their game? How many L&D practitioners feel confident enough to design and deliver internal development programme for their sales teams? How many are outsourcing this function? Do any L&D practitioners feel that sales straining is too 'specialist' for their departments and why?

I would be very keen to  hear your views, either off-line or via the community.

Debbie Carter
Editor, TJ

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Submitted on 21 April, 2015 - 09:48

Hi Debbie

I am the L&D Manager in a sales led organisation - Motorpoint Ltd - the UKs No1 Car Supermarket.  Sales Training here is at the heart of L&D and I am activevly involved in it's delivery.  I would say that  probably the biggest challenge any L&D function has in keepiing sales people at the top of their game is the credibility of the person delivering any training.  I have found that sales people need to know and believe that the person in front of them can 'do it' as well as train it.  You really have to understand the world of a sales person, the challenges they face and the pressure they are under to achieve targets.  I am lucky in that I started out life as a sales person so understand and know how to use a sales process to gain a result and also the behaviours and communication skills needed.  Even given that - I will commission training rather than design it from scratch and deliver it myself.  However, I would say that commissioning sits very firmly in our L&D function.  Whenever I bring anyone in however, they do have to go in front of our Operations Director who is the founder of our sales process and they absolutely have to have credibility with him.

Our approach to sales training is a mix - constant round of training on process and products - this is done internally by our own sales trainer (from the motortrade and from sales)!  I will work with him however, on the skills of design, delivery and some content.  We also then invest in behaviour training and managing your personal state and also the psychology of sales and expert communication skills.  We have an external provider who is an expert in sales to deliver this - not from the Motortrade but she really does know her field.  I think it is seen as specialist and also sales led organisations will be very nervous about taking risks wtih training or wtih people delivering it who are not sales people themselves - this training has to deliver results.

When we first ran psychology and communication in our online team as a pilot  there was an almost instant 17% uplift in sales performance which has  continued.  That gets noticed and as a result we continue to invest in this programme.  It is also; as we know dependant on the managers of the team being skilled in following up the training - embedding the learning and giving feedback on their observations.


I hope this helps.




Submitted on 24 April, 2015 - 09:02

I think a sales plan needs to embrace social selling. Those who utilise social selling meet or exceed their sales quota. That outperformance will only accelerate as users get even more savvy with their tools, their messages and their approaches. If your sales team doesn’t have the expertise to open doors using social media, they will need to upgrade their skills and tactics to adapt. 


Submitted on 28 April, 2015 - 08:52

Hi Debbie,

My friend from across the pond wrote this: http://www.horn.com/horn-academy/article/2015-planning-4-major-trends-in...


Not sure how relevant it is over this side as I don't specialise in sales. Maybe Clare or others can help further?





Submitted on 28 April, 2015 - 12:42

Responding to the article that Thomas refers to....

1) Social Selling.  I guess this is a 'must' - even clients I work with who are engaged in very high value and complex selling environments can gain useful information via research conducted on Social Networks.  It's also important for professional salespeople to develop their own profile as prospects very often research potential suppliers and partners the same way as we research them.  My personal concern about using Social media to find and gain access to customers is that it can be used as an excuse to avoid some of the more traditional approaches (the classic 'creative avoidance'!).  That's not to say Social networks are not useful - they are.

2) Sales Leadership.  I simply make the comment / observation that a lot of the initiatives I'm engaged in currently are one part of culture change, which relies of course on the appropriate Leadership Behaviours being in place.

3) & 4) Effectiveness & ROI.  Very subjectively, it does feel that it's easier to convince companies that this is important!  It may sound strange to suggest that focusing organisations who invest in external support on ROI is not easy.  But it isn't!

From my perspective, the key trend at the moment is for (external support at least) in sales and sales managment/leadership related training & development to be a recognised component of cultural evolution.  And this is, in turn, recognised as being a sustained and long-term thing rather than just a training course - which I think is helping to open up the conversation about follow-up & embedding, and then an objective measurement of Return on Investment (rather than subjective feedback from happy sheets).




Submitted on 1 May, 2015 - 09:11

Hi Tim,

Social selling is definitely important but I think it's for everyone, not just salespeople. From a sales perspective, it is important for the reasons you've described above. I would, however, disagree with the notion that people use social media as an excuse to avoid traditional approaches. I think it just gives you multiple channels/options though I think you may be better placed than me to make that call!


Submitted on 18 May, 2015 - 20:48

The Sales function is a curious thing.  It will stand proudly forward to claim any victory when times are good.  It will find a myriad reasons to explain performance when times are bad.  The irony is that you need your best people on top performance when times are less than ideal.  Anyone can take an order.  It takes courage, perseverance, intelligence and skill to turn a sales curve upwards.


Reflecting on my work with Directors and Managers who sell, I propose the following guidance:

Ensure there is no major impediment - like a broken product, bad service reputation, uncommercial proposition or pricing - to get in the way.  You need to fix that at source and not just imagine that good selling skills will cajole prospectve customers into buying a product or service that is not right for them or not the best fit.

Make sure the management process is good.  Good tracking and accountability, motivational, good levels of on the job coaching, clear targets.  Even good sales people drift or flee from badly managed departments.

Ensure the process works.  Map the touchpoints and define how and when the sales person can have influence on the buying decision.

Selection is more than half the battle in most jobs.  In sales, it is critical.  You need a good model for professional sales practice that goes beyond rehearsal of the normal competencies.  Is this person credible, do they develop empathy and trust, can they help someone change their mind, are they resilient under competitive pressure, are they hungry for success?

Equip them.  Not just the company cufflinks or brooch and a petrol card.  Give them all the materials they need to work in most given situations.  Proofs, case studies, testimonials, customer satisfaction survey results, information and data, slide decks, proposal formats.  Make the materials great.  Set the bar high.

Provide a process.  I've recorded dozens of sales interactionsa and generally many miss the opportunities because they are not listening and not asking questions in a structured, sequenced way.  It's not a script but it is a recipe.

Induction training should be comprehensive and systematic. 

Ongoing training needs to focus on reflection, evaluation and rehearsal.  Some theory but lots of practice.  

Action Learning approaches provide an excellent connection between training and results.  For instance, A Major Accounts Sales Programme over 6 months might start with target identification and progress through rounds of contact, meeting-making, sales meetings, proposals and negotiations.  All of these providing highly credible and useful opportunities for not just rehearsal but real strengthening of the business' prospects.

This is one area where L&D professionals can play a high-impact role in moving the business forward.  It requires them to partner with sales manager colleagues to provide practically-grounded, inspirational training that delivers results.


Submitted on 3 September, 2018 - 16:14

Great debate Debbie. At O2, I am the Learning Partner for Sales. I do two things (1) I look for opportunities where I can use L&D expertise to solve real sales challenges (2) I help sales leaders take people capability and performance seriously as part of their business planning process. I mainly play the role of a people advisor and I work with my colleagues to help design and develop the right kind of interventions. I do sit in HR, but very tightly integrated into sales business. 

The stuff we do internally: sales coaching conversation;  how to lead teams; communication style, product training, onboarding, etc..

The stuff we outsource/co-create - true selling skills such as selling to C-suite,  finance for non-finance, how to sell past procurement. We do not deliver this internally, because there are people in the marketplace, who can do this far better than we can. If you take selling to c-suite as an example, unless you have personally sold to c-suite or a c-suite member who bought technology solution, it is hard to relate to salespeople and be credible. 

However, most of my friends in a big corporate organization live in Sales under the job title of Sales Enablement. 

Debbie - give me a call, I can share more of my observations. 

Hope this helps. 

Thanks, Jay