people in sales training reviewing data

Sales Training ROI: It’s Not Just About the Dollars

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Let’s think like a salesperson for a minute. To close a deal, often they have to articulate an ROI. Historically, it’s a financial return on an investment: the buyer will pay $1,000 and next year can expect a 15 percent increase in sales. It’s a common analytical tool to communicate value.

But when it comes to sales training, it’s a little trickier. Good training is critical to a high-performing sales team, but it can be difficult to measure the direct financial impact. You can hardly say with certainty, “This training guarantees a 15 percent increase in sales revenue next year.” That may be a goal, but there are too many factors in between the training and the end-of-year sales results that are outside the control of the training leaders.

Luckily, there’s more than one way to define that “R” in ROI. The idea is to convey value through analytics—not necessarily financial but some form of data—to define the benefit of your training.

Let’s take a look at what sales enablement can control that communicates a valuable return.

Look at the Layer of Impact.

At the highest layer, companies measure value in terms of revenue growth, cost savings, and risk mitigation. Whether you’re proposing an idea, product, or solution, if it’s a good one, it should help a company grow revenue, save money, or mitigate risk. But underneath those three categories is another layer of impact that delivers your ultimate objectives. For example: How do salespeople achieve revenue growth? Well, you could train them to increase their win rates or increase their average deal size. Ultimately, either would lead to revenue growth. If we’re communicating the business case for training, then we don’t have to make the complete jump to revenue growth. We can stay at that second level and say, “This training is going to increase win rates.” It’s trackable, it's measurable, and it does impact revenue growth.


Tell the Story.

For the layer of impact approach to work, the sales leader has to believe the connection—in this case, between win rates and revenue growth. That’s an easy story to tell—it’s logical and something we already probably know. But other training may not be so clearly connected.

For example, if you have a widely dispersed sales organization, employee engagement might be a problem, so you could measure the impact of your training on employee engagement. Employee engagement is connected to revenue growth, but it’s a couple levels down. You have to make the case that high employee engagement is beneficial and desirable. You have to build the logic to say, "Highly engaged employees retain information better, perform better, and create better results. This training will lead to better engagement, which ultimately leads to revenue growth.” Communicate the value of what you're doing in a business-case story and include trackable data.

Adapt the Story to the Stakeholder.

We’re all wired differently; take any Myers-Briggs, HBDI, or emotional-intelligence personality assessment, and it’s easy to see we come with predisposed preferences. Essentially, the spectrum ranges from highly analytical to exceedingly gregarious, with creative types and hard drivers tossed in there too.


It’s usually pretty easy to judge the personality types of the people you work with, so use this information to build your business case. If the sales leader loves their salespeople above all else, discuss the benefits of your training around increased morale and employee retention (using measurable data where possible). If your sales leader is a hard driver, discuss the increased productivity the sales teams will see—or, on the flip side, the reduction of time-sinks like admin work.

The metric for ROI may be different for each stakeholder too, according to their role (rather than personality). Be ready to adapt the ROI according to the business objectives of that person. For example, the CFO’s measures (probably financial) will be different than the head of HR’s (more likely something such as increased employee engagement). Identify the objectives of the buyer; what’s important to them? Then use logic and data to demonstrate how you're going to help achieve those objectives.

The point is to answer hard questions about the return of the training investment ("How is this going to impact our business?"). Be prepared to confidently talk about the benefits to the rest of the organization.

It’s not always about the financial data. And while a broader business case has not traditionally been the model in a lot of organizations—they’ve either tried to stick with proving a financial return, even when it doesn’t make sense, or they’ve ignored the rationale of a business case altogether—creating a logical, measurable business case offers sales enablement a strategic seat at the table.

About the Author

Brian Williams, a partner with The Brevet Group, is a researcher, consultant, and sales leader. He uses a data-driven approach to drive sales effectiveness in leading companies across industries. Using insight from academics and management consulting, Brian helps senior leaders and sales enablement teams understand and succeed in today’s more demanding market. His sales research has been published in Harvard Business Review and other outlets.

1 Comment
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Valuable insight! Using data to drive decisions is key. I too suggest you go two layers deeper when articulating value to a client, a team I’m training, or anyone so that it can show more meaning to the end user. These are some of the things that I like to train on:
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