IIBMS – Enhancing the Credibility of the Training Function: Involving Line Managers in Sales Traiing

CASE – 3   Enhancing the Credibility of the Training Function: Involving Line Managers in Sales Traiing “Rakesh let me make it clear to you that I can’t allocate any more money for training. I can understand why you want to conduct a training program on coaching skills for the line managers, but I can’t help you in this regard. Not for another year at the very least. In fact, I may have to curtail your training budget for next year as we are going through a lean phase,” said Sanjay Shah (Shah), the CEO of Dirc2U, a direct sales company that dealt in a range of consumer appliances. From his tone, it was clear that he would not entertain any further discussion on this topic. Rakesh Sharma (Sharma) had been working as the training manager (TM) in Dirc2U for the past three years. During this period he had single-handedly taken care of all the training and development (T&D) activities of the company. Of late, he felt that despite a contemporary training program, the sales force was unable to internalize the training due to lack of support from the line managers in the field. Sharma, who had ample experience in sales and sales force management before getting into the training function, understood the significance of the role of line managers in reinforcing the class room training. His repeated proposals to conduct a training program on coaching for the line managers had fallen on deaf ears. But Sharma knew that he could not let the situation drift any longer. The company had failed to achieve its revenue targets in the previous year. This year too, it was struggling to reach 75 percent of the projections. Since it was difficult to measure the return on investment (ROI) of training, the training budget tended to get the chop during tough times. In such a situation, Sharma could expect some cuts in his budget for the next year. Yet he knew that in tough times there was a greater need for T&D interventions. He also knew that if things got even tougher, and the company decided to cut costs even more, the job of the TM would be one of the first to go. Sharma was almost certain that he would convince Shah regarding the importance of this specific T&D plan for the line managers. But no amount of persuasion could budge Shah. Sharma’s hope of involving the line managers in making sales training more effective seemed unlikely, at least in the short term. Now he had to find dome other way to make the sales training more effective. He also decided to look at ways to project the importance of training to the top management. Before joining as the TM in Dirc2U, Sharma had worked in another direct sales company for ten years in various capacities – sales representative (SR), area manager (AM), and then regional manager (RM). During his tenure there, he had developed an interest in T&D. Three years ago, when he saw the advertisement for the post of training manager in Dirc2U, he immediately applied for the post. Though he did not have any formal qualifications for the job, his ten years of experience in the sales function saw him through the interview process. Sharma was in the habit of regularly updating himself on issues related to this job and his other interests. In addition to his experience of providing on-the-job training (OJT), the interview panel headed by Shah was impressed by his understanding of different issues related to the training function. A lot had changed since then. Sharma had conducted about 50 training programs in three years. He had conducted basic sales training courses for new entrants as well as refresher courses for all sales people on an annual basis. His long stint in the industry helped him to design very contemporary and, at times, innovating training courses. During implementation of the training programs, Sharma generally avoided the over-used lecture method as much as he could. His training programs had lots of scope for interaction, experience-sharing, feedback and practice. He facilitated understanding of key issues through the use of real life stories and anecdotes. This made his sessions informative as well as interesting. Many of the trainees were attracted towards his personality due to his cheerful countenance and as he was very approachable. He used a lot of role-plays to reinforce the learning points and skills, and assess the transfer of learning/skills. He also made it a point to visit key customers with the SRs whenever there were no training programs. This helped him to understand important operational issues and be in sync with the changing requirements of the industry, and uncover training needs. Sharma believed that the training programs were quite contemporary and the quality was better than the industry average. But despite this, Sharma was left with the feeling that the organization was not getting the best results out of the training programs. During his field visits with some of the SRs he had trained, Sharma observed that the SRs were not practicing what they were taught in the classroom. One of the SRs who had done very well in the training program explained, “The training was very informative and I learnt a lot from the program. However, real world situation require us to adapt our knowledge according to the situation. My boss told me that we have to be more practical in our dealings with the customers.” Sharma was aware that most line managers had this attitude. He knew how important line managers were for reinforcing initial training, but it was often these people who could also unknowingly do a lot of harm. It was not uncommon for a line manager to comment, “Congratulation! You have done exceptionally well in the training program. Now, let me show you how things are done in the real world.” Comments like this could prevent the trainees from obtaining the optimal benefits from the training program. Sharma made a mental

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