The True Outcome of Sales Training is Valuable Competency Transfer

The Gist:

  • One of the outcomes of training and development is knowledge transfer.
  • The true outcome of training is competency transfer.
  • Competency is something greater than knowledge, and it requires experience and repetition.

Imagine a single-day professional training session. Over the course of six hours, the trainer might provide four concepts, the strategy behind each, and the tactics needed to make the concept valuable to the participants. The responsibility of the trainer is to convey the content in such a way that every participant understands it, requiring clarity and good delivery. The people being trained would need perfect comprehension and perfect retention, so after encountering the content exactly once, they could use the content to improve their results.

There is no better way to transfer knowledge to a group of people than live training. Live training puts people in an environment conducive to learning, or knowledge transfer. It’s the perfect place to start transforming a group of people, but by itself, it is not enough to achieve something we’ll call “competency transfer,” the real, if often unacknowledged, goal of the training. The best we can do in a live training is demonstrate the competency and ask participants to role play scenarios.

A depiction of people graduation from law school graphic

What I Didn’t Learn in Law School

I spent three nights a week, for three years, attending law school. From six o’clock until nine o’clock on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I sat in a large classroom and discussed a series of cases that presented some principle, the rules, the exceptions to the rules, and the exceptions to the exceptions. It was second nature for me to read every assignment, and my grades were very good because I was able to create and memorize a large index of concepts and cases. Law school, like a lot of education, is an exercise in knowledge transfer.

While I can still tell you the elements of a tort (breach, causation, duty, and harm), I never took the bar exam, never clerked for an attorney, and have never seen the inside of a courtroom. My competency level in legal issues is very low, despite having spent three years studying. Those who gained more competency clerked for law firms while they were in law school, passed the bar exam, and took jobs in other law firms, transforming their knowledge into competency by practicing law.

The need to turn knowledge into competency is fairly well known and understood, even if it is honored more in the breach. Solid knowledge is the starting point of competency transfer, but it requires three additional outcomes.

Sales individuals acquire experience in the sales process

The Acquisition of Experience

When I was twenty-five years old, I had a serious brain surgery. When I asked my neurosurgeon how many operations he had done on patients with my exact condition, he answered “thousands,” something that provided me with greater confidence in allowing him to open my skull. Had he told me that he had only done a couple but had read a lot of articles on the topic, I would have immediately scheduled a meeting with another surgeon.

The only way to really know something is to acquire the experience over time. A very large part of competency transfer is taking the opportunity to practice and gain experience. Even though most sales organizations don’t spend time role playing the very scenarios their salespeople are certain to encounter in their work, role playing is an excellent start acquiring the competency without having to practice on live clients, where the stakes are much higher.

The only way you really know something is through your own experience. Gaining competency means acquiring the knowledge, practicing in a safe place, and then using that knowledge and practice to start using your new competency in the field. One of the reasons experience salespeople tend to pick up new concepts, strategies, and tactics is because they have enough experience to recognize the scenarios and how they might adjust their approach.

Reviewing and Sharing Experience

Sales managers who wonder how they can conduct valuable meetings for their team need look no further than a conversation built around reviewing and sharing the experience of using the knowledge in the field: making distinctions, exploring what works, discussing what is challenging, and rejecting what doesn’t seem to work.

There may be no better exercise for developing transfer competency than having people objectively share their experience, allowing them to remove themselves as the subject and make observations about what happened when they used the knowledge and why it produced good or bad results. Humans have long taught each other by discerning the differences in the way we do things, making distinctions that allow others to modify what they do and increasing their competency.

Any sales organization serious about training their sales force needs to incorporate the strategies of reviewing and sharing experiences as part of their long-term goal of building competency.

Salespeople practice sales conversations as a form of repetition overtime

Repetition Over Time

Many sales organizations announce a big theme at their kickoff meetings, promoting some initiative to gain a new competency, only to show up a year later with a new competency, no matter how well (or poorly) their team developed the first competency.

In any human endeavor where you find mastery, you will find individuals that repeat their performance over and over again, working towards mastery by continually doing the work. A single experience might teach you much, usually starting with how to fail, but it isn’t enough to create competency, let alone mastery. When training is only concerned with knowledge transfer, you will find a lack of repetition.

Do Good Work:

  • Recognize the difference between knowledge transfer and competency transfer.
  • Work towards mastery by gaining experience in a safe place first, and then in the field.
  • Meet in groups to better understand how best to improve your competency, dialing in your approach and improving over time.

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