Real-world pitfalls and how to avoid them

Sarah Hillas shares three tips from her 20 years’ experience with J&J.
Sarah Hillas shares three
tips from her 20 years’
experience with J&J.

It is disappointing when a skill acquired in training fails to blossom in the cut and thrust of the real world: when it fizzles out, runs into roadblocks or simply fails to live up to expectations about its effectiveness. In my experience, three main reasons can be identified for lack of success in the application of newly-acquired skills in the delicate period when people first try to activate them in the ‘live’, real-world commercial setting:

Lack of sufficient internal knowledge or support of the new approach

Marketing training is often geared to a middle-management level. In the real-world commercial setting, the people who have been trained in the new approach need to engage with colleagues both up and down the corporate ladder to ensure its effective application. Too often, those people either have scant knowledge of the new approach, or are insufficiently supportive of it. Exacerbating this is the tendency for the new approach, if qualitatively superior to the prior one, to be more time-demanding. This offers scope for colleagues at other levels to exert a continual pull back to the old ways.


This needs to be addressed at the very outset, with a multidisciplinary programme launch and positive engagement of colleagues at all levels. Even those who are not actively part of the programme need to be fully aware of it and fully supportive of its aims. Getting senior management on board with a condensed executive training summary and tips on how they can support and endorse the training with their teams is a great way to encourage change throughout the organisation.

The difficulties of judging the difference between ‘adequate’ and ‘great’

Understandably, people can start to apply newly-acquired skills tentatively at first, and can find themselves ‘going through the motions’ and not able to judge whether their outputs are truly world-leading. If this lack of judgement results in a merely ‘adequate’ or ‘good’ segmentation or insight going ahead, the commercial result is likely to be tepid. This can undermine confidence in the general ability of the new skill to preform up to initial expectations, and enthusiasm for its use can then ‘fizzle out’.


True judgement comes with experience but this can be fast-tracked and nurtured with the right training programme at the outset and continual coaching afterwards. Our group-learning workshop format takes care to help people not only practise the new skill (e.g. segmentation, insight creation) but gives them methods by which to judge the quality of outputs – with ‘world-leading excellence’ as the benchmark to aim for. The marketing experience of the trainers is clearly a vital factor in these workshops, as is our general recommendation to time workshops closely to actual need. Continual coaching, or clinics, after the workshop can give people a real-time sounding board for the application ideas they are coming up with.

Insufficient preparation for inevitable, but random, complications

The key concept here is resistance. It’s not the team themselves that are resistant to the new approach – they are usually only too eager to apply it; the headwinds are provided by the marketplace, by events, by the seething, ungoverned world. Random external factors – competitive activity, unexpected legislation, geopolitical turbulence – can combine with internal ones – new personnel, budget restriction, acquisitions – to make the application of the new approach seem altogether more complex than it did in training. Faced with multiple, and seemingly chaotic, marketplace dynamics, people can lose confidence in their ability to put learning in practice.


Prepare people for resistance at the workshop stages, to bolster their resourcefulness, and help them with continuous coaching in the real-world setting. Our marketing workshops embody a segment dedicated to randomising factors and encouraging people to work with them and even use them to their advantage in the application of the new skill. For more on this, see the ‘J&J dice game’.