There is an old saying in business that “what gets measured gets done.” Well, according to new research into the effectiveness of sales management training, we would like to offer a new corollary for the learning and development (L&D) profession: “What gets measured gets done well… and makes an impact!”
Early in 2016, Vantage Point and the Sales Management Association surveyed L&D professionals in 213 companies that collectively employ more than 200,000 salespeople and 25,000 sales managers. Very specific questions were asked to learn when, why, what, where, and how the companies’ sales management training was delivered. The goal of the research was not only to understand the current state of sales management training practices, but also to assess its impact on actual sales performance.
Are We Measuring Sales Training Effectiveness?
This research yielded many insights—good and bad. One of the most distressing facts uncovered was that only 51 percent of these companies (large companies, we might add) even bother to measure the effectiveness of their sales management training. Stated conversely, a frightening 49 percent of the respondents claim that they do not measure the quality of their training efforts targeted at this critical population. Simply stated, nearly half of companies are simply conducting sales management training and hoping for the best.
On the surface, that looks bad. But it gets even worse, because the failure to measure the training’s effectiveness correlated closely with poor company performance. The companies that did measure the effectiveness of their sales management training substantially outperformed their non-measuring peers in measures of overall revenue and profit achievement. More specifically, the “measuring” respondents realized 13 percent greater achievement of their companies’ revenue targets and 19 percent greater achievement of their profit goals. That’s real money. And from L&D’s perspective, a real return on their training investment.
What Do These Findings Really Tell Us?
Simply measuring something like sales management training will necessarily improve its quality? No. What it tells us, though, is holding ourselves accountable for delivering high-quality training does make a difference. Measuring sales training effectiveness enables a continuous improvement loop, in which each successive training program gets better and better. Over time, those incremental improvements in identifying, developing, and deploying high-quality training programs add up to big improvements in performance. In other words, what gets measured gets done well… and makes an impact.
One shortcoming of this research is that it did not capture how the enlightened 51 percent measures the “effectiveness” of their sales management training. We all know Kirkpatrick’s classic four-level hierarchy for evaluating training’s effectiveness: Reactions, Learning, Transfer, and Results. We assume that their measures fall across the spectrum of this hierarchy, from delivering good training to delivering good results. We also suspect that if we could pull out the subset of companies that actually measure the results of their training, the difference in performance would be even more accentuated.
Looking to the Future
This of course begs the fundamental question: How should we measure the effectiveness of sales training? Kirkpatrick’s framework has served as a guide for the L&D industry for decades, and it has no doubt pushed us to focus on the outcomes of training, not just the execution of it. But research suggests that there is a more sophisticated way to think about sales training and its impact on performance—an approach that not only enables credible measurement of impact, but also helps to identify the training that will provide the biggest boost.
To learn more about this research-based methodology for measuring the impact of sales training, join me at ATD 2016 for the session A Credible Way to Measure the ROI of Sales Training. I will share a new metrics framework, along with several case studies that demonstrate finding the right metrics yielded better training—and better sales performance.