Sales Training: Whose Job Is It?

Enterprise Sales Coaching

“Most managers seem to feel that training employees is a job that should be left to others.  I, on the other hand, strongly believe that the manager should do it himself.”
Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel


In the high-tech industry, ownership of sales training by sales operations is on the decrease and the more specialized field of sales enablement is increasing. Ownership may be down, but involvement is well over 60% according to ESO Research. For too many sales organizations, sales training and enablement is ad hoc with no clear owner. We schedule the occasional Power Point presentation from product management and declare it “enablement” – which is a disservice to both the product manager and the sales team. This approach misses the mark on essential aspects of coaching sales people – situation and context.

Experiential Learning

Behavior change and performance improvement do not develop via death-by-PowerPoint, although I suspect the dial-in audience appreciates the time to clear out their email inbox, check sports scores or indulge the latest Gilt Groupe flash sale. Coaching sales people when they are immersed in doing their job – developing, advancing and closing real opportunities is how learning takes place. We should focus on genuine business context and meaningful interaction with our sales team to deliver coaching that improves results. Rather than a training “reinforcement” program, we need more discipline, consistency and ongoing improvement in the coaching opportunities that already take place.

  • Field sales calls
  • Opportunity strategy review
  • Weekly forecast call
  • Quarterly business review


Sales VP

The Sales VP must ‘own’ the concepts.  They must be present at every event or activity.  Training them as trainers is critical. Supporting the entire training program will communicate an important message. This training is important and will be here long term.  This is not a temporary program.  Without this message, forget the whole thing.   Sales Benchmark Index

Begin with a clear vision for how the sales team will compete and win. Create a sales process that lays out the path to success for sales reps and aligns all of the people and content they need to engage along the way. Effective Sales VPs connect current tactics and strategies to big picture company objectives and generate competitive advantage through the emphasis and personal leadership they demonstrate in ongoing learning and training. This is the foundation for what eventually becomes the ability to execute.

Sales Manager

Lead by example. Repeat after me…

“I would never ask you to do something I wouldn’t do myself…and I’ll go first.”

Coach each individual consistent with their unique personality and standing in the organization but everyone must be accountable for running “the play” as designed. With new hires, resist “grabbing the wheel” and allow sales people to learn the way that matters most – through experience.

Product Manager

The appeal of pinch-hitting product managers or product marketing as trainers is easy to understand. Often, they are deep subject matter experts, entertaining presenters and highly motivated to engage the field. You should absolutely encourage their active participation, but do not mistake product information for effective sales training.  Invest the time to prioritize and align product knowledge and tools with sales process to stoke demand and enable the sales team “pull” the right content at the right time.

Sales Operations

The downside of having sales leaders play a major role in training is pursuing the company’s revenue target each quarter can make for a chaotic schedule. Sales Operations keeps the program focused and running on schedule – calendar, logistics, field communication and coordinating with content producers. In this role, you’ll assess the organization’s needs – strengths and weaknesses to ensure the team stays ahead of the curve.

Think of sales process and sales skills as software programs. They need bug fixes and upgrades. What worked 12 months ago doesn’t necessarily work today. Your company training program must provide the upgrades you need to be successful.   Sales Benchmark Index

External Sales Trainers

This 2 day training event will produce real results: You hire the expert from a fancy Sales Enablement firm.  They bring binders, sales tools, and laminated glossy sheets.  Every Rep talks about how engaging the session was.  They use the tools for the first week, then stop.   Sales Benchmark Index

Spend 5 minutes researching sales training and you’ll see how widely views vary on the topic of outside sales training. It all depends on your perspective and the quality of the training company. My personal view aligns with the Andy Grove quote above – sales management must be hands-on and lead the way. As collaborators, external trainers and consultants can help you widen the frame so you can more clearly see the big picture. They bring intellectual property such as methodology, best practices and training techniques to the table. Just be realistic about the practical limits of customization. You can buy an entirely custom training program but it will be cost-prohibitive unless “train-the-trainer” is a central concept.

I often recommend external training for teaching very specific skills such as negotiation, presentation, objection-handling or whiteboard selling, but it’s in addition to a core sales enablement plan that you own and are self-sufficient in delivering. Skills training is a great reward for individual achievement. Professional development is a major factor in retaining top talent and a wise investment in productive employees. It’s unlikely to turn around poor performers.

Sales Reps

One of the top decision criteria for hiring a sales person is, “Are they coachable?” Make a committed effort to run the company’s sales playbook and provide honest feedback based on customer interaction and results. It’s OK to adapt sales tactics to your selling style, but understand the importance of being “on message”. If the play is poorly designed, help make it better for everyone as opposed to freelancing. Challenger hype not withstanding, your reputation as a team player will result in more opportunities, less job-hopping and higher career earnings.

Like most half-steps, avoid the player coach role. It’s often used to “throw a bone” to someone who has outgrown their job but has no career path at the moment – with no change to compensation. A better alternative is executive exposure and participation in strategy through a leadership council. Individual contributors can provide ideas, feedback and input without the productivity draining action items and unpaid responsibilities.

No Excuses

This quote from Ben Horowitz of the venture capital firm Andreesen-Horowitz really captures how I feel about the role of sales leadership and training.

Ironically, the biggest inhibitor to putting a training program in place is the perception that it will take too much time. Keep in mind, that there is no investment that you can make that will do more to improve productivity in your company. Therefore, being too busy to train is the moral equivalent of being too hungry to eat. Furthermore, it’s not that hard to create basic training courses.

Ben Horowitz



2015 High-Tech Industry Report on Sales Enablement

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About Neal Murphy

Neal Murphy is the publisher of Enterprise Sales Operations and former VP of Worldwide Sales & Operations with 20 years experience in enterprise technology.

+Neal Murphy +ESO