When it comes to improving sales performance, investing in sales training tends to be the first port of call – but it should actually be one of the last stops on your journey. Sales training is only effective if you have the right strategic framework in place before you start the course.

If your staff undertake training without undergoing proper preparation, they will be less likely to retain what they learn – or even worse, the course might be completely irrelevant to their situation. It’s much better to take some time to identify what your staff truly need to learn, than to rush into a sales training programme that might or might not be suitable.

Fortunately, with a bit of forward thinking you can stop taking a gamble on sales training and instead invest in courses that are right for your team. Here are six things you need to do before you commit to a sales training programme.

1. Pre-training evaluation/audit

If there’s one giant mistake that most companies make when it comes to sales training, it’s skipping the pre-training evaluation/audit. There’s no use going into sales training based on ‘gut feeling’ – in order to get good results, you need to know exactly what problems need to be fixed. How can you improve on your current situation if you do not have a robust understanding of your current weaknesses? A pre-training evaluation is an opportunity to audit the capabilities of your team and identify areas for improvement. The information you learn throughout this process will drive your long-term sales training strategy.

2. Individual assessments

Generic training courses are inherently flawed because they teach the same information to wildly different salespeople, all of whom have different strengths and weaknesses. By assessing each individual on your team, you can find out what they really need help with and, from there, decide which training course would be of the most benefit. Not only will this make your staff feel valued, it will also ensure the time and money you’re investing in them is well spent.

3. Sales manager assessments

Another common mistake is to presume that sales managers are “beyond training” or that they already have all the skills they need. In reality, managers are often the most important people to train. Research by Dave Kurlan suggests that 4 out of 5 managers are ineffective. If your manager isn’t performing as well as they could be, imagine the impact this could be having on the rest of your team. Good sales training starts at the top.

4. Adhere to the 70:20:10 rule

Developed in the 1980s by three leading researchers, the 70:20:10 model for learning and development is widely considered to be an excellent authority on anything related to training. It’s based around the three main types of learning – experiential, social and formal – and is a useful guide to follow when forming a sales training strategy. According to the rule, 70 per cent of learning takes place through experiential/experience (day-to-day tasks, practice), 20 per cent through social/exposure (coaching, networking) and 10 per cent through formal education (structured courses and programmes). Many businesses are investing disproportionately in the 10 per cent and neglecting the other areas of the 70:20:10 model. Could your training money be better spent elsewhere?

5. Ensure sales training aligns with your sales process

Sales training will be ineffective if it comes into conflict with your sales process. It’s therefore essential to make sure the training will align with your process, not challenge it. Of course this advice only makes sense if you already have a clear process in place – many businesses do not, and as a result, adding training to the mix can only cause further chaos. Before you push ahead with training, it’s important to determine your sales process, and then find a provider that can support it.

6. Put a long-term strategy in place

Investing in generic one-off training sessions without an eye to the future is an ineffective use of your training budget. Sales training is about continual development. It’s best administered as part of a long-term sales strategy – it’s just one piece of a complex puzzle. Strategise for the future and see how training fits into this picture. The strategy should always come first, and training should be assessed by its relevance to the strategy and how it will help your organisation achieve its goals. Without this long-term outlook, you could risk wasting thousands of dollars on short-term solutions that make very little impact.

This article was originally posted on SalesStar.com. Ventas Sales is a Certified SalesStar Partner. For more information click here.