Optimizing Sales Training Investments

A McKinsey Quarterly white paper entitled Getting More from Your Training Programs focused on optimizing the results from the $100 billion that worldwide companies spend every year on performance skill training in areas ranging from performance management to sales techniques.

At the time we noted there was more to be told about the McKinsey white paper. This blog completes the story.

By way of review the McKinsey authors made the following observation about how to get more out of training programs: “Although it could be improved, the content of the training is not where the improvement is most needed… The most significant improvements lie in rethinking the mind-sets that employees and leaders bring to the training, as well as, the environment they come back to. These are tasks that only senior leaders can take on.”

Let’s explore what could be done “before” the program to improve the results achieved by sales training programs. Let’s now turn to the “after” program issue. As the McKinsey authors point out – “Participants rarely leave any training program entirely prepared to put new skills into practice.” So a significant piece of the ultimate success of any training lies in creating an environment that is conducive and supportive for applying and practicing the new skill sets.

Let’s explore some ideas for getting that done when it comes to sales training.

  • Skill reinforcement. Regardless of the skill set taught, a basic requirement is having in place techniques for providing the participants post-program practice and feedback on the skills. These techniques can vary from audio/video tapes to e-learning modules. But if you could only pick one, focus on sales management coaching.
  • Leadership support. This is an underlying must-do if any of the other post-program efforts are to be sustained. Front-line sales management coaching is one area where leadership support is particularly critical. Most coaching efforts fail not because sales managers don’t think coaching is important or because the don’t know how to coach. The primary reason coaching doesn’t happen is that sales managers are “busy” doing other things – a problem that can be addressed only by sales leadership.
  • Measurement. It is difficult to put a value on the training if the impact is not track against the metrics the program was meant to improve. One is not going to carry out “cause and effect” evaluation of sales training. On the other hand, meaningful feedback can be obtained to judge the value of the program and to obtain data for improvement the next time around. As the McKinsey authors note – “A lack of measurement risks encouraging “edutainment” over substance.”
  • Recognition and celebration. Learning a new skill is hard work, time consuming, and a little bit scary. This is particularly true in sales since a lot of the skills are played out in front of the customer. Care needs to be taken to provide guidance as to how the learning can take place while minimizing the downside risks. Equally important recognition and celebration should be forthcoming when success is achieved.

Companies commit a significant amount of time and money to sales training efforts. Getting it right can have a huge payoff. Most sales training efforts would be 50% better – if 50% more time was devoted to what happens before and after the program.