Measure salespeople’s learning to prove the merit of your training programs.
If you work with a sales team, you’re familiar with the adage: What’s measured gets managed. Sales enablement training initiatives are especially susceptible to scrutiny, because time spent away from selling has financial implications for the entire organization. That time is potentially wasted, with income not generated.
According to the Association for Talent Development’s 2019 State of Sales Training report, companies spend an average of $2,326 per salesperson on training annually. While there’s no exact science to defining the direct correlation between sales performance and training, there are ways to evaluate learning to ensure your investment is sound.
Strategic business partnership
What is L&D’s role in sales enablement? Why are you there?
If the answer isn’t clear, stop and clarify that mission. Align with the sales strategy and use it as the lens through which you decide and prioritize all sales learning efforts. Each output your department creates should have a direct tie to that mission.
Build to measure
From the very beginning, account for the results you want to see. Remember that what you can measure is what you manage.
Ensure that you clearly define and can measure your training solution’s outcomes and objectives. Determine the levels at which your employees should be able to complete the expected tasks once the learning event has concluded and how they and their managers can confirm that.
Consider a sales business planning course, for example. When designing the course, use objectives as a guardrail and share them with participants. Align business stakeholders with those objectives as well and use them as a reference when you evaluate following the session.
Define your expectations, such as:
- The purpose for making the change, including defined benefits
- The frequency with which their team should be using the process
- Elements within the process that require reporting (such as call details, dates, decisions, etc.)
Use Bloom’s taxonomy to clearly define learning objectives and outcomes, and validate them with your leaders. Align on realistic, observable key performance indicators as you build your learning solutions.
Further, consider Donald Kirkpatrick’s four levels of evaluation:
Reaction. Are your learners fulfilled immediately after the training program? They should come out of their experience more confident and satisfied that they spent the time in the course or with the content. They should be willing to share the experience with their manager or peers.
Learning. Did participants learn the key factors you taught? They should leave the course prepared with the skills, knowledge, and attitudes necessary to make the behavior changes you have asked of them.
Behavior. Have learners moved into a new way of doing? They should apply the lessons back on the job.
Results. Are learners accomplishing the expected results? Going back to the rationale for conducting the learning event, has that change taken place?
As a learning leader, it’s critical to collect and use that data not only to report results to the organization but to adjust your programming for continuous improvement.
Consider conducting a survey prior to the training session to benchmark participants’ current skill comfort and confidence levels. Skills could include:
- Defining various financial documents
- Demonstrating how their business decisions affect the company’s bottom line
- Taking and documenting actions against various points along the sales process
- Diagnosing a buyer’s communication style and conforming message delivery
You can measure those skills in ability and confidence, providing leaders a baseline for further measurement and highlighting areas the training should address.
While developing a Finance for Sales course, our learning team ran a pre-course self-evaluation that asked questions surrounding skills such as common financial documentation and calculations and where certain sales decisions fell within the profit and loss statement. We asked learners to rate the confidence of their answers on a Likert scale.
We discovered where people fell on a matrix of accuracy and confidence, so we modified the training delivery appropriately (see figure).
For accurate and unconfident, we developed repetition in the exercise to boost confidence. For inaccurate and unconfident, we spent time on this area. For accurate and confident, we had a light touch in the learning event. For inaccurate and confident, we corrected the behavior and right-sized the confidence level.
In your post-session evaluation, use the baseline pre-assessment to see how salespeople’s accuracy and confidence have changed after the training course. Confidence metrics provide a strong indicator of how learners will adopt and execute the new concepts after the event, and you can adjust your post-session engagement accordingly.
The most basic measurement for participation in a training program is attendance. But go beyond that.
During live sessions, ensure the facilitator is engaging with all the salespeople and identifying resistors. Note what topics elicit responses and which don’t.
Consider the benchmarking survey you implemented prior to the learning event. Use questioning techniques to determine the topics you need to focus on in the accuracy and confidence matrix.
When creating the Level 1 evaluation, make sure you’re asking questions for which participants can assign a numeric measurement against with a Likert scale that is based in action. Use “I can” statements to reinforce salespeople’s learning.
Use other reactionary questioning as well. One of my favorite questions to ask in a Level 1 evaluation is: In a word, describe this session’s effectiveness. Themes will reveal themselves that can validate or challenge the program’s efficacy.
You can, of course, measure knowledge retention and utilization after the sales training event via assessments, but consider other ways to determine post-session engagement. For example, tap electronic resources, such as wikis, or social learning channels' analytics to see how learners are accessing or discussing resources. Determine high-impact topics and frequently asked questions through such channels.
Social learning platforms, such as Microsoft Teams or Slack, enable you to centralize resources. Salespeople shouldn’t be spending time hunting for information such as performance metrics, customer analytics, and data sources. Sharing links via a wiki quickly points teams to those resources and answers, regardless of where the information lives.
Sales enablement professionals can monitor posts to discover what their sales team is frequently asking or searching for and can address them by including commonly sought-after information, links, explanations, and other resources in wikis.
Microsoft offers usage analytics, which is helpful to administrators, that demonstrate when and how individuals are accessing information. You can track when usage peaks throughout the week and time information appropriately. My team accesses Microsoft Teams most on Monday, so I plan my communications accordingly.
Physical resources such as playbooks, workbooks, or checklists are another way to establish a shared language for interviewing participants and their managers on how the sellers have retained knowledge.
Measure behavior and application
Go back to the analysis work you performed prior to developing the learning solution. What behaviors are the sales leaders expecting to see?
If a program objective is to establish a new sales process, is the sales force using the process as frequently as you prescribed? If not, why?
Determine where the sales team members are spending their time and how much time they have saved because of applying the knowledge they learned during the training event. It’s cliché, but time is money, and sales teams will tell you when they’re wasting their time.
You can uncover this information in several ways:
- Interview participants and ask whether they have made gains because of their new skills. For example, did the negotiation session lead to more lucrative partnerships, higher-quality collaboration, or incremental business?
- Survey their time spent on particular tasks. Prior to the session, where did they spend their time? Was it searching for information? Now that they’ve taken the training course, are they routed to the right places with the right information?
- In the example of a new sales process, if you have a customer relationship management system, spot-check recaps or notes to see whether learners are recording the appropriate information.
- Connect with participants’ managers. Are they seeing behavior changes in the learners? If a new sales process was established to better inform managers when individuals are on sales calls, for example, how has that improved?
Communicate results to sales leaders using the same consideration as you did for creating learning solutions. Provide them with implementation support such as coaching guides.
Be direct, honest, and concise in your recaps—think executive summaries. Remind them of the learning objectives and whether you have reached those objectives. Providing top-line information with supporting documentation in the appendix reinforces your understanding of the business, how it operates, and how sales leaders need to spend their time.
Be clear. Don’t give a jargon-riddled synopsis and expect sales leaders to interpret data they’re not used to seeing. Give them visuals.
Connect to objectives. Reground your stakeholders in what the original objectives were, and tie the data back to them. Tell them which objectives resonated with learners and which did not. Look at the behavioral information you gathered.
Support them. Tell sales leaders how to encourage participants’ adoption of the new information or behavioral changes through resources and upcoming learning events, workshops, or resources.
Be succinct. Sales leaders want the bottom line, with supporting facts—not an essay. If there’s information you think they will need or have questions about in your recap, put it in an appendix.
Measurement and evaluation is a thread that must run throughout all you do. By measuring and evaluating throughout your entire process and communicating results to sales leaders and stakeholders, you will establish yourself, your department, and your team as vital, strategic partners to the sales organization.
The perspective shared here is a result of the author’s experience and does not necessarily reflect her organization’s sales or training strategy.
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