Chapter 6: How to Source and Select the Perfect Sales Training Provider
Regardless of the scope or scale of your sales training initiative, you want to find and work with a provider that meets your needs well and who will give you the time and attention you need to succeed. When all’s said and done, you need to choose the provider you judge to be the best for you and your company.
If you’re like most people reading this guide, you’ve been tasked by your sales leader to find a sales training provider. If you’re lucky, you already know what you need; but don’t worry if you don’t, because you can use the sourcing process to gain more clarity. During the sourcing process, you will probably investigate a large number of possible providers, narrow your list down to a more manageable number that you can invite to submit proposals, and then narrow that list down to an even smaller number of finalists who you can ask to make a formal presentation.
Most people in your position start by asking sales leaders and managers in their organization who they have used before and if they would consider using them again. If someone in your company has a lot of influence and is loyal to a certain provider, then you want to know as soon as possible so you can include that provider in the mix. It can be very frustrating to go through a rigorous sourcing process and then, at the eleventh hour, have someone important tell you to include a provider who you missed or disqualified.
There are some on-line resources that can help you narrow your choices. For example, both Trainingindustry.com and SellingPower Magazine publish a list of their “Top 20 Sales Training Companies.” There’s some overlap. Trainingindustry.com also publishes a “Watch List” of up-and-coming sales training companies. Another resource worth examining is Brandon Hall’s Excellence in Sales and Marketing awards.
When you land on a provider’s website, look for awards achieved and the clients they serve. Then look at the depth, breadth and quality of case studies. Companies that offer higher-quality case studies that describe how they helped companies similar to yours solve similar challenges and achieve positive, quantifiable results should give you some confidence in their ability to help you. That’s the first screen.
Here are some general criteria to help you further screen providers and make your sourcing task a bit more manageable.
Say you have a specific need, such as negotiations skills training. Does a provider offer this training or don’t they? On the surface, this seems like a no-brainer, but in reality it could be a bit more complicated. Some providers may have a program that they call “Negotiations,” but the program is focused on some different thing than what you are looking for, such as negotiations for attorneys as opposed to sales negotiations. There could be a big difference. Dig a bit deeper and ask about the appropriateness of a program for your situation.
Nearly every industry has subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, nuances that make a big difference for sales training. For example, selling financial and professional services is very different than selling retail or healthcare products. Putting a trainer without sufficient industry knowledge in front of a group of restless salespeople is asking for trouble. Also, recognize nuances within industries. For example, financial services is a big category. Institutional asset management is very different from retail banking. Make sure your provider will be credible with participants.
Many sales training companies work with both mid-market and Fortune 500-type clients. But you want to know where the provider does their most work. It may be tempting to choose the provider that works with the largest, best-known companies in your industry, but you might be too small for them to give you the attention you need. Conversely, if you are sourcing sales training for a Fortune 500 company, then you need to be concerned about the training provider’s ability to scale across your business. Good trainers get booked by other clients, and if the training provider doesn’t have sufficient depth, they may not have trainers available who will be suitable for you.
This pertains more to large global companies that want to train their people consistently across the globe. Obviously, you need a training partner who has global reach and can deliver in multiple languages. It is also very helpful if their trainers are deeply familiar with the local business culture in countries where you will train. For example, a French Canadian trainer may not be suitable for a Parisian audience.
Some companies have strong cultures that require an outside provider of sales training, or any other service, to conform to the client’s way and language. This requires a sales training provider to have the willingness and ability to customize their program materials and delivery to work within in the client organization’s culture. Not every provider is willing to do this. Some can bend, but maybe not far enough. It is important to understand your culture and pick the partner who can give you what you need. Keep in mind that this flexibility usually comes with a price, but if that’s how your company rolls, then it’s a necessary investment.
If you have a large, complex need—such as training for a merger integration—then you want a partner that has been there and done that successfully before. You have too much at risk personally to compromise. Look for and ask for proof.
What happens before and after training is as important as what happens in the classroom. You want to sustain the impact of training to maximize the return on your investment, but this is easier said than done. When you can embed the behavior into your salespeople’s day-to-day workflow, you stand a much higher chance of successful adoption and an enduring change of behavior. Look carefully at the tools a provider offers to see how they can help you.
Every sales training provider has a few core capabilities that they do exceedingly well. Learn what these are. If a provider’s strength areas align with your needs, then you should consider them.
Once you’ve narrowed down your list to a manageable number of qualified providers, ask your procurement department to help you craft a “Request for Proposal” (RFP). Keep your RFP focused around your challenges and expected outcomes. Even if you have a preferred provider, don’t make your RFP overly prescriptive.
Also, give the providers you invite reasonable access to your people. The provider needs this access to learn more about your business and your challenges in order to submit the best proposal possible. This is a great learning opportunity, and it will give you a better sense of who really wants your business. Set a reasonable deadline and give the provider enough time to give the proposal their best effort.
Before sending out RFP invitations, check with sales leadership to make sure that they are onboard with your choices. At this time, you should also have dates scheduled to hear and review the final presentations, and the persons on your team who will be part of the evaluation committee should be informed.
When you receive proposals from providers, it is usually obvious who is serious about earning your business and who isn’t. At this stage, if you’ve done your sourcing well, most providers will be qualified to help you. The question then becomes who really wants the business and who’s the best fit.
Budget may also be an issue, but there’s always the opportunity to refine your scope and negotiate to get down to your number. Don’t let price overly influence your decision. Sales training companies compete against each other every day. If a company’s price is significantly higher than the others it could mean that they are not interested in your business, or the scope of their proposal is different than others. Learn why before disqualifying a potential provider.
Take your time and review each proposal carefully. View this as a learning opportunity to consider new ways to solve your problem and identify challenges and opportunities that you may have overlooked. If you have any questions, get on the phone and speak with the provider.
Based on what you learn from evaluating the proposals you receive, revise your project scope and requirements as needed. Summarize your changes, the reasons for each change, and your recommended three or four firms to invite back for final presentations. Then give your sales leadership copies of all RFPs received along with your recommendations.
Help leadership help you by digesting the details for them so they can focus on evaluating proposals from the most suitable candidates.
This is when you see who really brings their A-game. The finalist presentation is an opportunity for your provider to explain exactly what they will do and why they believe they are best qualified to work with you. You should have present all key stakeholders from your team who have a say in the final decision. Otherwise, you risk people not being fully bought in and possibly delaying the decision.
Since providers have already submitted an initial proposal and probably one revision, there should be no huge differences between what you asked for and what they propose. This is your opportunity to drill into the nuances of their approach, and for your team to determine who is best suited to work with you.
Schedule at least 90 minutes for each team to present, and incorporate enough time in the day for breaks so that your team can debrief and decompress. It will be an intense day. Ask your provider to use 45 minutes for a formal presentation, knowing they will need 60 minutes. Then use the remaining 30 minutes for questions and answers. It is very important that your team be comfortable with the provider you choose.
Once everyone has presented and before your people leave, debrief and establish a rank order for all of the finalists. Also, make one last check to ensure that everyone is onboard with the scope and timing of the roll-out.
You will probably enter into negotiations with the front runner, but you want to have at least one back-up in case you and the most likely candidate can’t come to terms. Inform your procurement team that you would like to enter formal negotiations and together revise the scope of work. Notify your front runner, and then get out of the way and let your procurement people do their job. If there’s a tough message to deliver, it is best to let procurement deliver it so your relationship with the provider doesn’t get strained. You will need a great relationship with them as you partner on the training roll-out. It’s okay for procurement to play the “bad cop.”
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