In the past few months, I have had the privilege of attending two of our industry’s leading professional conferences: American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) and the Society for Pharmaceutical and Biotech Trainers (SPBT).
I call this a privilege because it gave me the opportunity to meet and greet over 150 industry leaders, including VPs of organizational development, training directors, senior facilitators, and a wide range of industry consultants. I had in-depth conversations with at least 50 of these industry leaders regarding the business challenges their companies are facing. I left these two conferences with a great deal of fresh, up-to-the-minute information on the rapidly changing market conditions, recent competitive threats, latest economic challenges, and additional skills needed to succeed in the new economy that seems to be emerging following the recession.
The most interesting take-aways I gathered from these conversations were comments that revealed a lot about the new kinds of customers salespeople are trying to access and the new business climate in which leaders are trying to inspire higher levels of performance. A representative sample of these comments are shared below, most of them in response to my question, “What is your top training and development priority between now and the end of the year?”
- “Given the new economic pressures, tighter client budgets, and additional layers and levels of approval needed for signature, our sales training needs to prepare salespeople to add value at the customer interface, differentiate beyond our product features, and sell customized solutions that include a mix of offerings and services rather than individual products. This new kind of customer and more challenging sales environment requires a new set of skills in our salesforce, and we are not quite sure what that will look like.”
- “Due to budget cuts, and higher expectations on the part of shareholders, my boss and the executive team are demanding measurable results and specific business impact from all of our leadership development initiatives. It is not enough to merely offer high-quality training courses; we must strategically rethink what courses we offer to be sure we have the right curriculum over different levels of leadership, to be sure we are preparing leaders to execute our company’s strategy—and in a way that is consistent with our values.”
- “Because our revenue has declined and customers are more cautious with their spending, we need more help from our sales support staff and subject matter experts to develop skills with building trust with customers, uncovering their underlying business issues, and overcoming objections with the right kind of technical information directly linked with their concerns and sources of pain. So I guess what I am saying is that I need sales training for people who don’t consider themselves salespeople. How can we do that with our engineers, scientists, and top experts in our company? They would certainly reject the notion of sending them to traditional sales training since their professional education prepared them to make technical decisions, not influence customers.”
- “My problem is that managers are too busy to coach around the skills that their direct reports are learning during training. In some cases, they are too busy to attend the training, and therefore aren’t even familiar with what is covered in training. How can we find a cost-effective way to engage managers in supporting training, and encouraging their people to apply skills on the job?”
- “Our budget is temporarily frozen due to an upcoming merger. What are some no-cost or low-cost ways we can provide on-the-job learning experiences for our leaders?”
- “For the past 18 months, we have been able to do very little training due to budget cuts. Now that things are starting to turn around, we have more than a year of overdue training requests. What do you recommend for prioritizing training needs since we can’t take all of this on at the same time?”
How would you answer the question, “What are your top training and development priorities between now and the end of the year?” How is your situation the same as or different from the comments I heard at recent conferences? We want to hear from you.