I overheard training professionals at an industry networking event last week talking about how they needed to be better at telling their clients “no.” The premise of the discussion: stakeholders often come to trainers and ask for training to solve a problem when training isn't necessarily the answer. One example would be a VP of Sales requesting product training because she doesn't think her salespeople are knowledgeable enough about the products they're selling.
Unfortunately, one of the first things that occurs to a learning and development professional is, “This does not need training!” This thought is followed by the trainer expending a lot of energy trying to convince the VP of Sales that product training isn't necessary. Both parties end up frustrated and in many such cases, nothing gets done.
No wonder training professionals don't have a seat at the table. Imagine a similar scenario. You go to a car dealer to buy a car. You want a red car with AWD and a premium sound system. The car salesperson says, “No you don't. What you really want is…” Do you buy a car from this person? Heck no. Should the previously mentioned VP come back to you the next time she needs help? Heck no. The VP of Sales has a business to run and doesn't have time to haggle with you.
Think Like a Business Person: Give Your Customers What They Want
Here's how to avoid this scene. Listen to your customers, and give them what they want. Simple, right? If you think like a business person and understand what drives their business, it changes the way you handle all types of training requests.
For example, the next time the VP of Sales requests training and you believe there is a better solution, instead of arguing, find out what she really wants and give it to her. The VP wants product training, right? In actuality, what she really wants is something to help her people sell more. She asked for product training because she believes her people do not know the products well. Instead of replying “no,” ask questions like, “Why do you need product training? What's not happening for your team?” Or: “Why do you need product training? Are your people missing out on sales opportunities because of their product knowledge?”
If you can get the VP to state the underlying problem, she will be willing to hear about other solutions you can recommend. Remember, people care more about what they ask for and what they want than what you tell them. Don't tell them whether they need training or not. Don't argue with them. Ask your customer what his/her underlying problems are and get your customer to state those problems explicitly. Then, offer solutions.
Bill Cushard, Chief Learning Officer at The Knowland Group, is a learning leader with more than 12 years experience in training and performance improvement at companies such as E*TRADE Financial, Accenture, and Time Warner Cable.