5 Reasons District Managers Think Your Sales Training Sucks

And what you can do about it

The Hatfields and McCoys.  The Red Sox and Yankees.  My kids and cleanliness.

The Sales Training Department and District Sales Managers.

A bit of a stretch?

Maybe…but while the DM team might not start a “Training Sucks” chant at the National Sales Meeting, there’s no question that a gap, or even some tension, exists between the work of L&D and the managers leading sales teams in the field.

And yet the two really do have the same goal: sales success.  Being on the same page – not at odds – is critical to making this happen.

So, consider this the first appointment in a two-part therapy session to help bring these two important teams together. Today we’ll let the DM audience vent a bit and then Sales Training will take a turn next week.

Get comfy on the couch and listen up. Here are 5 reasons why District Managers think your sales training sucks:

They’re Not Sales Trainers

While your ears might perk up in discussions about how to get level 3 learning measurement data, the average DM probably thinks that Kirkpatrick is a low decile doctor in Springfield. Great DMs don’t give a hoot about knowledge transfer – they care about coaching the skills that drive performance in their district. They want to finally whip that other manager that keeps winning President’s Club. They want to win.

TIP: When considering how to communicate with or involve your field leadership team in sales training efforts, stop thinking about them as trainers and remember they are business owners. Make sure they know that a training initiative is about growing the business (…and first, make sure it actually IS) – and not just learning stuff. While I love TED Talks, this parody is a great example of what learning can look like to non-trainers. You’re welcome 🙂

sales leadership success

Not Really Necessary

Every DM has been through a training program with their reps and sent this exact text message to their buddy across the room:  OMG.  Seriously?  WTF are we doing here?  You going out tonight?  Sometimes that’s just sour grapes over travel or timing – and in other cases, it’s because their reps actually DON’T need to there. “A training” is often the default approach to a gap or business problem when something quite different might be more appropriate.

TIP: Before you rush to fire off an Articulate module or create a workshop, be certain that training is the actual need. Follow this cool mapping process created by Cathy Moore to make sure that training is really the answer (VIDEO).

Out of Context

Ever get feedback from a DM that lack of engagement with a training program is because it’s not “real world?” That’s not just because the activity scenarios you’re creating don’t match the current business environment (…although, let’s face it – that might be part of it.) It’s because you’re taking DM’s and reps literally out of the real world and putting them around a draped plywood table at hotel in Harrisburg.

TIP: Find ways to actually wrap learning opportunities around the DM’s and reps in the field – the real world. Help them construct meaning out of new material in their native environment.  Get managers involved in the planning process for training early to help inform how to do this!   Clark Quinn nails this idea in a recent blog post here.

sales training context

Lack of Access to Results

There’s a reason that every diet or exercise fad uses before/after pictures to sell their stuff. It works. I’m still waiting to look like Tony Horton from P90X.  If a DM knows that a learning approach or training event can drive a certain level of change (knowledge, behavioral, etc.) that might directly impact results – they’ll be all ears.

TIP: If you’re measuring the impact of your sales training efforts, make that available to your field leadership team. And make a big deal out of it! If you’re not measuring the impact of training…start. Now. This might be a decent place to begin – though I’m biased. 🙂

It’s Boring

On my last leadership team, the average pharmaceutical sales tenure was well over 10 years. Can you imagine how many times these people have sat in a poorly decorated hotel ballroom role-playing in triads? You probably glazed over just thinking about it. Here…I’ll throw you the virtual Koosh ball and you can share your experiences.  Yawn. DMs hate having reps out of the field for training, especially if it feels like the same old thing.

TIP: I get it, legal takes the fun out of everything…but stretch yourself to create unique learning experiences for your DMs and reps. The more fun, engaging and challenging the training is – the more buy-in you’ll get. Worthwhile read here on the topic and a video that shows how Volkswagen got 66% more people to take the stairs with a dose of fun.

So – what say you?

Have a take on this topic? If so – leave a comment below.

And be sure to check out the blog next week, which will give the floor to the training department for discussion around why DMs suck at pulling learning through.

Should be fun 🙂

Until then,





Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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