We surveyed 41 life science product and service companies regarding sales training and found that only 22% of these organizations have a formal sales training program, and only 12% have a dedicated full-time sales training position.
Our methodology was simple. We contacted 50 colleagues from 50 different life science supply companies by phone and email and asked them the following questions:
The response rate was strong; 82% (41 of the 50) replied, and although we can't share the names of the companies, we can say that the respondents represent the kind of companies SAMPS members have worked for, as shown on the SAMPS website. We recognize that the sample size is small, so these results should be considered directional.
A few respondents indicated that their company provides new sales people with training on products or services, and also provides training when new products or services are launched. One person asked if product or service training counted as a formal sales training program. Experts agree that product and service knowledge is an important component of sales training, but a formal program also includes other components such as time and territory management, personality profiling, negotiation skills, listening skills, forecasting, partnering, etc., as well as an ongoing program of study including new materials and refresher courses. According to Charles Futrell, author of Sales Management, "Sales training is the effort an employer puts forth to provide salespeople job-related culture, skills, knowledge, and attitudes that should result in improved performance in the selling environments." For life science product and service companies you can add scientists, operational employees, and others, who interact with clients during the sales process, to the list of employees in need of sales training.
So why is formal sales training rare? Perhaps one reason is that some people do not value sales training. According to an American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) survey, only 69 percent of respondents believe formal sales training is effective, which is a 30% failure rate.
In addition to finding that only 22% of the responding companies had a formal sales training program, it was clear that large companies (those with more than 50 salespeople) are more likely to have formal training programs than small companies (<10 salespeople). In fact, large companies were about twice as likely as small companies and medium sized companies (11-49 salespeople) to have a formal sales training program. Products and services companies have comparable levels of sales training; 25% of products companies and 19% of services companies have a formal sales training program, but only 5% of services companies have a dedicated sales training role. Compare this with the 20% of products companies that employ staff dedicated toward sales training.
Source: SAMPS primary research December 2012
Respondent attitudes fell into three main categories:
This is a real issue
“You must have ESP. The answer is no to both questions. That is a very hot topic right now as we are experiencing problems because we do not have either. We are resource limited. Not enough people or money to institute, but it is necessary as we run into trouble with post-sale support and with customer satisfaction. Not sure yet how we will conquer the problem.”
We don’t need it
“We have about 15 reps, all of whom have a lot of experience, so we do not need to have a formal program.
“While we do conduct some sales training activities, I do not think it meets the standard of qualifying as a “formal sales training program.” In fact, to compensate for that, we purposely only hire salespeople with at least 4 years (and generally 6-10 years) prior related sales experience, and we specifically target people from larger competitors and steer away from those with experience only with smaller companies.“
Based on the survey data, the comment about "being too small" is especially problematic. If so few companies in this space have adopted formalized sales training, it may be possible to find experienced reps, but can they find experienced reps that have strong sales skills? And are they even trying? After seeing this data about how few companies have a formal sales training program, one respondent, who initially commented that they only hire experienced people, went on to say, “if so few are doing sales training on a continuing basis, then perhaps this hiring strategy is flawed.”
So how long ago was it that the average salesperson in our industry last received sales training? Although this question wasn't asked during this quick survey, several respondents made comments very similar to: “We hire experienced reps so no need for a sales training program. But now you have me thinking… It’s been more than 10 years since I had any formal training. That’s got to be too long.”
If you agree with one of the key hypotheses form the book Challenger Sale, (Mathew Dixon and Brent Adamson), that there is a strong connection between customer loyalty and the selling experience for complex sales, then perhaps it’s time to take another look at your sales training program.
Chuck Drucker is a results-driven leader with over 20 years of experience in selling and marketing scientific products and services. In addition to his role as President of the Association of Commercial Professionals – Life Sciences (SAMPS), Mr. Drucker is Director of Client Facing Operations and Alliance Management for Quest Diagnostics Clinical Trials.