American corporations invest heavily in sales training, spending approximately $7.2 billion each year, according to the Journal of Personal Selling. However, most organizations don’t know if that significant investment is actually paying off.
“You have to think of sales training differently because it has a different impact on your company,” said Brian Dietmeyer, president and CEO of Think! Inc., a global negotiation strategy consultancy. “You should expect a return on investment [because] sales is the growth engine of any company.”
To determine what makes a sales training initiative successful, 150 best-in-class organizations were surveyed and studied, and the findings were reported in a white paper by Think! Inc., SellingPower and the Professional Society for Sales & Marketing Training. According to the white paper, 56.5 percent of the respondents considered a successful sales training initiative to be one in which the “use of the methodology is strongly encouraged, measured and rewarded, and in which there are consequences for noncompliance.”
So if the success of a training initiative is determined by adoption, then what drives adoption? The answer: The sales training is directly linked to a larger growth strategy, has executive sponsorship and is supported by a coaching network.
After connecting the training to a larger goal and getting senior management’s attention, those in the training function must set up a coaching network, in which individuals are coaching to the competencies.
“The fact is that if you’re going to train someone in a key sales technique, whether it’s account management, opportunity management or negotiation, you’ve got to set expectation metrics for the coaches,” Dietmeyer said. “You’ve got to set the same expectations for the field sales force to say, ‘If you go on a sales call, it’s required that you do this work. We’re going to audit it, we’re going to coach against it, and if you don’t do this work, there are costs for noncompliance.’”
To ensure success, the training function must only push the adoption of one initiative or process at a time.
“If you’re rolling out three things to your sales team over the year, you need to determine which of those is most critical for your success, and that’s the one that you want to implement,” Dietmeyer said. “It’s difficult to implement two or three different processes simultaneously into a sales force. They just don’t have that much bandwidth.”
Once there is adoption, organizations can measure return on investment. However, only 36 percent of the respondents were measuring an initiative’s success. To determine true return on investment, organizations must choose some key leading and lagging indicators and measure those before and after the implementation of the initiative.
“Before the sales training, you want to decide where you’re going, which is a lagging indicator, and how you’re going to get there, which is a leading indicator,” Dietmeyer said. “This is why adoption is so key because [it] is the workhorse that does all the work.”