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Insights

Five Ways to Improve the ROI of Your Sales Training Program

Wednesday, March 5, 2014
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In our previous blog post we discussed a research report from CSO Insights, The Business Case for Sales Training, which demonstrated how high-quality sales training programs produce significant benefits for sales organizations. In this post we discuss five factors that contribute to a highly effective sales training program.

According to ASTD, U.S.-based companies spend approximately $20 billion a year on sales training. Yet many sales organizations get low ROIs from their sales training initiatives. Why is this?

One common problem is that sales organizations often have unrealistic expectations of sales training. Ask any sales manager about her goals for sales training and she will most likely say increased sales. But sales training can’t directly increase sales; it can only change certain behaviors that, if consistently applied, will lead to increased sales. And that’s a key challenge: getting sales professionals to change their on-the-job behaviors.

Another contributing factor to low ROIs from training initiatives is an over-reliance on “event-based” training without sufficient post-training reinforcement. We have all gone through this type of training before:

  • Fly the team in for a national sales meeting.
  • Overload the team with content in 1 or 2 days of training.
  • Throw in a “team-building” dinner, and, finally…
  • Repeat next year (maybe).

    Unfortunately, research has consistently demonstrated that unless it is followed by post-training reinforcement, this type of event-based sales training produces limited results. That’s because successfully changing behaviors is a process, not a one-time event. Behaviors can’t realistically be changed in one or two days, especially because sales professionals routinely forget most of what they have learned within 30 days of the training event. Sales professionals need time to learn and apply new knowledge and skills, which later need to be reinforced through coaching for sustainability.

    Another root cause of ineffective sales training is failing to enable frontline sales managers to affect the desired change. Sales managers’ support of the training goal and objectives is crucial, as they are uniquely positioned to ensure that new knowledge and skills are applied on the job.  Setting expectations, coaching, and monitoring performance metrics is the work of sales managers. Providing them with the knowledge, skills, and tools to do this effectively is necessary to maximize sales training ROI.

    Awareness of these barriers is the first step to improving your sales training offerings. Now let’s look at five action areas for successful training sales professionals.

    1. Motivation: Without motivation sales professionals won’t make the effort to change their behaviors. There are many ways an organization can motivate sales professionals to learn new sales skills, including conducting pre-training skills assessments and establishing professional skill development plans, or coupling the training with some form of post-training certification and recognition program. Perhaps the most powerful motivator is having managers at all levels within the organization lend their presence and authority to the training program.

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    2. Customization: Another common characteristic of unsuccessful sales training programs is using an off-the-shelf curriculum that does not address the specific needs of the sales organization. The training must be linked to the goals and objectives of the organization, aligned with the sales professionals’ development needs, and customized for company and industry-specific needs.

    3. Spaced Learning: The most effective sales training occurs when it is spaced over a period of time rather than delivered in a single event. Training participants learn, apply, and retain new skills more effectively when training is divided into manageable chunks of content that are delivered over time. Many sales organizations have adopted virtual instructor-led training (VILT) as their primary method of training delivery and rely on a combination of VILT and e-learning for reinforcement. Both of these delivery methods are generally more effective, both from a learning and cost perspective, than traditional event-based training.

    4. Reinforcement: According to one study, approximately 50% of learning content is not retained after five weeks, and after 90 days, 84% of what was initially learned is lost. A fully integrated reinforcement program includes one or more of the following: ongoing reinforcement sessions, sales coaching by the frontline managers, on-demand reinforcement using e-learning tools, and sales tools and job aides.

    5. Measurement: Measurement ultimately means holding participants accountable for changing their behaviors and adopting new skills that drive sales results. Such measurement can be done through a combination of assessments, skill simulations, and field observations. Ultimately, frontline sales managers are in the best position to assess skills adoption and, based on their observations, determine if change has taken place, if it contributes to the desired outcomes, and if it is sustained.

    Developing an effective sales training program doesn’t have to be challenging. Our experience in working with many sales organizations is that incorporating these five factors into your sales training will sustain adoption of new skills and behaviors, and ultimately, increase sales.

    If you would like more information on this topic, please download our whitepaper, Maximizing the Effectiveness of Sales Training.

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About the Author

Norman Behar is chairman and managing director of the Sales Readiness Group (SRG). He has over 25 years of senior sales management experience and is recognized as a thought leader in the sales training industry. His blog posts and whitepapers are frequently featured in leading sales enablement publications including ATD, TrainingIndustry.com, and Selling Power.

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