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Structuring a Sales Training Dept. for Success

In my consulting work with pharmaceutical sales training departments, I have the privilege of working with many quality companies (and quality individuals) – and my goal is to help them succeed.

However, I see a serious “structural deficiency” in many groups that almost guarantees waste, inefficiency, and higher probabilities of failure. Some departments have put the right people in place to make the cogs turn much more smoothly, and others can learn from these examples. I’ll describe a structure I strongly recommend.

For many sales training departments, training managers are coming through on a rotational basis. That is, this is a stop along the way to higher sales/management positions. Yet, these folks are expected to function as quasi- project managers, vendor managers, and instructional designers – that is, they are given operational responsibilities for which they are rarely trained and equipped. “Here’s the deep end of the pool!” <push>

One of the less-publicized but sad truths that grow out of this is that many vendors take full advantage of this situation by over-pricing and under-delivering, based on the inexperience of those who are making project decisions. Also, many training projects are developed and deployed outside of an overall training blueprint because no-one is minding the “big-picture” store on the technology, instructional, and strategic fronts.

So, departments end up with a patchwork quilt of training programs that sometimes have very little coherence. Sound familiar?

Once a company/department reaches a certain size, it makes sense to have head count that is more or less permanent – these are not rotational positions, probably not occupied by people with a sales background or career track (different skill sets), and these individuals are charged with the operational roles of saving a bunch of money and inefficiency by bring discipline and design to the training development process.

In short, there are at least three roles (in a larger department, these may be three groups) that need to evolve in order to get the training house in order:

1. A Manager of Instructional Design – this person is charged with ensuring that training programs are put together to fit into an overall strategic blueprint, and he/she interacts closely with all vendors and other developers to ensure program quality.

2. An overall Project Manager – this individual is responsible for helping to craft RFPs, is the leader in all vendor interactions and negotiations, and maintains the fiscal and operational discipline as projects move forward. In larger departments, there will be multiple PMs.

3. A Manager of Instructional Technology – this specialized role focuses on the deployment and use of systems such as LMSs, webcasting, on-line assessments, DVDs, etc. He/she interfaces closely with Training Managers, Instructional Design folks, and IT stakeholders.

Each of these roles involves specialized skills and a different mentality than that possessed by most typical salespeople. And the depth and intricacy of each of these responsibilities demands a long-term commitment – someone in the department for 18-30 months cannot possibly master these roles.

When the right people and structure is in place, these roles more than pay for themselves – hundreds of thousands of dollars can be saved annually by putting systematic design and development discipline in place. And in the end, you’ll improve vendor relationships as well (though they won’t be able to take as much financial advantage of you!) because each project will have a far better chance to succeed.

As I’ve said ad nauseum to my kids, “You can do it right – or you can do it twice!” No-one wants to throw away or re-do a costly project. Having the right people on board will help you do it right – the first time.

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