What's the best way to sharpen your sales skills? Glossy ads and gushing testimonials for sales training programs make big promises, but are they really worth it?

Hopefully, your employer provides ample training opportunities and invests in your professional development. But what if you're interested in sales training and it's not in the budget? With price tags starting at well over $1,000 for many seminars, plus potential travel costs, it's important to evaluate courses carefully before you make a personal investment.

First, think about where you are in your career. What's your reason for registering for training? Spending your own hard-earned money on sales training could make sense if you want to change careers, build a specific skill set or try out a new sales approach. If you're new to sales, a basic course could help you lay a solid foundation for future success.

On the other hand, if you have been in your sales career for a few years, quotas are looming and your motivation is waning, a costly training course may not be worth the expense. Remember, no amount of training or inspirational speaking will guarantee a jump in sales.

Which Courses Could Work For You?

Universities cater more and more to busy executives. Look for short certificate courses taught by instructors with real-world experience. The University of St. Thomas Center for Business Excellence (www.stthomas.edu) offers courses in leadership, entrepreneurship, real estate marketing, sales and more.

Many private training consultancies offer "open enrollment" sessions for individuals. Learn the time-tested business principles of Dale Carnegie at courses offered by Norman & Associates (www.minnesota.dalecarnegie.com). Course topics span sales, leadership and effective communications.

For local, hands-on sales training, consider the Sandler System offered by licensees Professional Sales Concepts (salespro.sandler.com) and Professional Sales Strategies(mccarty.sandler.com). You can sample the sales strategies at a weekly lunchtime learning series available online.

Training On A Limited Budget

Some consulting firms and inspirational speakers offer free access to Web-based seminars and e-newsletters in exchange for contact information. Options include Huthwaite (www.huthwaite.com) and Sales Performance International (www.spisales.com).

Professional organizations offer workshops and events to members for free or at discounted prices. One local group, The Sales and Marketing Executives of Minnesota (www.smemn.org), offers morning workshops, luncheons, roundtable discussions and more.

Kelly Burkart is a Twin Cities-based freelance writer.