Great Sales Performers Are Made Not Born - Part 3

In Part 2 we took a look at the first of four key steps sales leaders can take to change the game and improve sales results. In Part 3 we continue the journey by exploring the second step.

Step 2: Use training as part of a process and not a standalone event.

By far the most common method of installing a sales success system is a training event that lasts somewhere between one to five days at a time. And yet, we have not uncovered a single instance where an expert in a field became a great performer as a direct result of a one-­to five-­day training event, no matter how great the training. What happens is something more like the graph below:

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Assuming the training was well received, you get an immediate bump in improvement. Yet without continual repetition, reinforcement, reflection, and reward, there is an inevitable decline. This matches our direct experience on the roller coaster of training. On the upside is the rush of positive feedback and enthusiasm from participants. Many people will say it was the best training they have ever had and it changed their lives. There will be strong anecdotal evidence of new sales made as a direct result of the training. If measured, the training investment will likely be paid back many times.

We worked with a large consulting company who had experts measure the success of the sales training. In the investment, they included every possible expense they could come up with. For the results, they factored out as many variables as possible and then diluted the results, even more, to be conservative. Over a six-­month period with several hundred people, they achieved a 40-­times investment return on sales and a seven-­times return on profits. Projected over a year those would be 80 times and 14 times respectively.

Yet, on the downside of the roller coaster, if you get a chance to return to the same company many months later, three things will be immediately obvious:

  1. People retain only a portion of what they learned during training.

  2. People apply only a portion of what they know (the knowing/doing gap).

  3. The level of execution of what is known and applied is a fraction of the potential.

Here is the good news and bad news of quality training: If 20% of the participants capably apply 20% of the training, it will pay for the entire training investment; however, it will not create a sustained superior sales performance for the company. Paying for the investment in training is a good thing - it’s just not the real objective. What we’re really after is a sustained increase in profitable sales.

Getting partial results from training is like having a couple of salespeople who are OK instead of having one who is really good. It’s better than having underperformers yet so much less than what is possible.

I believe the time is well overdue for companies and everyone involved in the sales process - whether it’s the CEO, sales manager, or salesperson - to break through dysfunctional selling and buying habits and adopt an entirely new paradigm and framework that will take sales to a higher level.
— Stephen R. Covey

There are several good reasons this scenario is common. First, many participants endure training rather than actively absorbing as much as they can.

Second, a good sales success system covers an extensive range of what to and how to. Sales trainers often try to include as much value - interpreted as training content - as is possible in the time available. They keep pouring the water of learning long after the cup of retention is overflowing. To mix metaphors, people learn more by drip irrigation than by a fire hose.

Third, sales trainers are experts (or should be): they make things look, sound, and feel easy; yet when participants try the same skills with clients, it’s not always so easy. When new behaviors don’t work quickly, they are often rejected without reflection or feedback.

Fourth, participants get trained in new ways to do business yet go back to environments that haven't changed and that often resist or counteract the new approaches. They are subjected to the powerful gravitational force of “the way we do things now” (we'll explore this further in Step 4).

Of course, sales training companies aren’t dumb. It is in their best interest to get better results for their clients. They often employ one or several tactics to improve results over time. Each is helpful and usually insufficient. You will see things such as:

Great Sales Performers Are Made Not Born - Part 3.1.png

An ideal approach would combine many of the strengths of the above tactics while mitigating the weaknesses - particularly the cost factor. Even then, results would be far less than what is possible, when including Steps 3 and 4, which we'll be exploring in detail in this ongoing series.

In our next post - Step 3: Engage in an ongoing process of deliberate practice (SPACE) designed and implemented by experts. - we'll discuss why you have a major opportunity to make steady advances that most others do not make and move substantially past what others achieve.


Throughout his long and distinguished career, Mahan Khalsa has been dedicated to helping people get significantly better at sales, and he continues to be instrumental in pushing the envelope on the mindsets, skillsets, and toolsets that make getting better both real and never-ending, both for individuals and for organisations.

Mahan is co-­author of Let's Get Real or Let's Not Play: Transforming the Buyer/Seller Relationship. He is the founder of the Sales Performance Practice at FranklinCovey and the originator of the Helping Clients Succeed body of work, employed by many of the world's top companies and taught in more than 40 countries and 10 languages. Mahan has worked directly with clients to help create and capture billions of dollars of value - and to do so in ways that lead to greater trust, better relationships, and increased future value.

Mahan has three key beliefs that drive his passion - personally, and with colleagues and clients. The first, garnered from his extensive research in the science of expert performance, is that everything you need to know to be great at sales is learnable - you just have to be willing. Second, the amount you can learn and the degree to which you can improve is infinite. Third, what you learn to be great at sales contributes immensely to who you want to be as a human being.

Follow this link to learn more about FranklinCovey Sales Performance Solutions or contact Ian J Lowe via

Credits: Neil Rackham, Managing Major Sales (New York: Collins Business, 1991),

Image Credit: Star Wars: Episode 5 - The Empire Strikes Back Movie, 1980, Lucasfilm