Recently, there have been increasing discussions in the sales enablement community and among senior sales leaders and other executives (especially CFOs) about deriving a bottom-line business impact from sales training and sales effectiveness investments.
The failure of training to produce an ROI is almost legendary. And yet, it is entirely possible. Much like John Kotter’s quote about change management, “70 percent of change initiatives fail to produce the intended result,” the flip side is that 30 percent of change projects deliver value. (Sidebar: for clarity, the accuracy of that oft-cited statistic has also been called into question.)
Want better results from your sales training? Then, whether or not the 70/30 split is exactly right, learn from the mistakes of those who fail and emulate the group that succeeds.
In this post, I’ll share methods used by those who succeed. I’ll set the stage first, with some prerequisites, but will focus on what happens after the training is completed.
Set the Stage with The Sales Training System
If you follow my work, you have likely seen this Sales Training System before.
The components of this system will help you maximize the impact of your sales training. Read through the bullets in the above image to get a quick sense of the system.
We often focus on the ten components circling Training Content, especially The 5 Stages of Sales Mastery & Behavior Change. Today, however, we will focus on the hexagon-shaped box in the upper left that ties the system together: Change Management.
Change management is critical to the success of training beyond the learning experience itself. The key is to remain diligent with the elements of the system until the new behaviors are adopted, mastered, and become “the way we do things around here.” Beyond the obvious, there’s a very valid, data-driven reason for this:
“Only sales process and sales methodology adoption rates above 75 percent resulted in above average results for revenue plan attainment, quota attainment, and win rates.”
CSO Insights, 5th Annual Sales Enablement Study
So, if you want results, you need the above system (with the effectiveness of your training content being a prerequisite to success), and you need effective change management to foster the adoption and mastery needed, to move the needle.
Even if you’ve used the above system to implement well, what you do after the training is completed, will ensure or derail your success.
After the Training is Completed
Here are some things that successful leaders have done to get the training to stick, long term. Some of these recommendations are contextual, of course, so simply adjust for your situation.
Integrate Into Your CRM System
Suppose you use a CRM system, alone or combined with other sales enablement, sales engagement, or revenue operations software. In that case, you can weave what you taught into the reps’ daily workflow.
- Customize field names to reflect the language taught.
- Insert the training concepts and skills into the system, such as adding a scoring system for the qualification methodology.
- Insert any forms or job aids into the reps’ process and workflow, such as a pop-up screen to remind reps of key questions to ask during discovery, or a form to document the buyer landscape for an account or an opportunity.
This is contextual, based on what was taught and the system you use, but look for any opportunities to keep the concepts and skills top-of-mind and make it easy for reps to use them.
Embed Into Manager-led Activities and Meetings
Front-line sales managers are a force multiplier and a key performance lever for fostering change. For best results, you should engage, enable, and empower them to embed whatever you teach into their daily workflow, so that they can embed it into their reps’ workflow.
Wherever you can, weave the concepts, language, and/or skills from the training into your front-line sales managers’ activities:
- Account assignments
- Territory optimization
- Quota and goal setting
- Lead management
- Qualification management
- Opportunity management
- Account management
At a minimum, you can also embed concepts, language, and/or skills into the various manager-led meetings, such as:
- Team meetings
- Individual meetings
- Observation and coaching sessions
- Pipeline meetings
- Forecast meetings
- Learning huddles and best practice sharing
As mentioned, what gets measured gets done; what gets asked and discussed gets focused on. Suppose you’ve taught a new discovery model, or a qualification method, introduced an opportunity/account relationship map, or implemented an entirely new sales process or sales methodology. In that case, there will be plentiful opportunities to embed the language, acronyms, forms, skills, or job aids into meetings and workflow.
Make It Part of your Ongoing Coaching Process
The same applies to weaving what you teach into the coaching process you support. Here is an example of the sales coaching framework and process from our Sales Coaching Excellence course.
- Help front-line sales managers engage their reps to jointly diagnose the use of the new methods and skills (especially how and how well they are being used). Then, managers can coach to close any identified competency gaps.
- Use the trained skills or the sales process and sales methodology you’ve implemented as the best practices to diagnose against, and the solution to field train and coach, to improve adoption, mastery, and performance.
- Get managers into a cadence of coaching and continuous improvement (an endless loop, as you see in the above sales coaching framework).
- Guide managers to coach the skills opportunistically and purposefully (see this post to learn the difference between opportunistic and developmental coaching).
Conduct a Formal Training Evaluation
Sales training evaluation is both science and art, because of the difficulty in some cases of attribution. A simple, transactional sale with a short sales cycle will be easier to evaluate than a complex, consultative sale with an 18-month sales cycle, where many other factors influence performance.
I often joke that, “All training evaluation is a lie, but you can get together and agree on which lies you’ll believe.” Evaluation requires engagement with the executive team, senior sales leader, and cross-functional collaborators (such as marketing, compensation, HR, product marketing, and sales operations). It also requires you to create a reasonable evaluation methodology, usually involving trend-line analysis or multivariate regression analysis, with input and sign-off on the metrics and measurement plan by all, especially the executives to whom you’ll be reporting the results.
Training evaluation methodologies that you can explore include:
- Kirkpatrick’s 4 Levels of Evaluation
- Kaufman’s 5 Levels of Evaluation
- Brinkerhoff Success Case Method
- Anderson’s Value of Learning
- Thalheimer’s LTEM Model
- Phillips’ ROI Model
The most widely known and used methods in the training profession are Kirkpatrick, Phillips (ROI Institute), and more recently (and growing in popularity), Thalheimer’s LTEM Model.
These models are as valuable for the diagnostics and insights they provide, as much as the focus on results or ROI. With most of these models, the process of evaluating the levels serves as a diagnostic tool for where breakdowns have occurred that are preventing adoption, mastery, and results.
Using Kirkpatrick’s four levels of Reaction, Learning, Application, and Results as an example:
- You can’t attribute the success of the training at Level 4: Results, if the analysis shows reps are not applying what they learned on the job, at Level 3: Application.
- Similarly, if students can’t demonstrate recall of what they were taught at Level 2: Learning, there’s no chance you’ll see widespread adoption in Level 3: Application.
The analysis provides insight into where to focus or how to pivot, to get the adoption you need, to have any hope of reaching higher levels of mastery, and moving the needle on the metrics that matter most.
Continue with Ongoing Measurement
This is a continuation of the thought process behind evaluation. We know that what gets measured gets done; and what gets asked about, gets attention. Ongoing measurement and the analysis of what you learn, brings many benefits:
- It tells you where to focus to adjust and make better progress.
- It points out transparently to leaders where the adoption breakdowns are occurring, to garner their support for any changes you recommend.
- It allows those leaders to hold managers and sellers accountable for using and coaching what was taught, to maximize the value of their investment.
- It can even help earn you a coveted “seat at the table” with senior business leaders, who will view you as someone who is concerned about making a business impact and working hard to ensure there is one.
Ensure Cross-functional Collaboration
Sales enablement and the process of transforming sales results are a team sport, with many cross-functional intersections. Each collaborative function will likely be able to support your training or methodology adoption in some way. Some of the above examples, such as integrating into your CRM, are a part of this (although CRM is important enough to deserve its own mention.) Look for intersections with:
Marketing (especially the content team):
Buyer-facing content should reflect skills and concept from training, wherever possible.
- Example: If the methodology uses a buyer-centric model that leads with problems (vs. product features), marketing materials should do the same.
Product Marketing (especially for product training):
Products should be taught in ways that will help sellers speak about them in ways that align with the training.
- Example: If the methodology teaches to personalize message based on how the intended recipient defines value, the multiple ways that the product delivers value should be documented.
Product-Market Fit can consider what the training includes.
- Example: If the training teaches a model to uncover what truly matters to the buyers during discovery, product management can align with the terms or use the same model.
Systems, tools, and processes should be aligned to support the training.
- Example: If the methodology teaches to uncover each buyer’s buying process exit criteria, exit criteria management should be incorporated into the sales process.
Training & Development (if a separate group):
Job aids or sales support should incorporate what was taught.
- Example: If the training taught a method to rank account potential to set a logical account objective, job aids should be designed to support reps in doing that work.
Ensure Cross-functional Collaboration
While this integration work – and the tasks of fostering adoption, mastery, and lifting results – is always context-sensitive, I hope these ideas will be thought-provoking and helpful as you strive to make an impact with your sales training initiatives.
In summary, the suggestions in this post are designed to answer these four questions:
- What happens after the last module is completed?
- How can what the team learned be built into everyday activities, facilitated, and prompted by the company and managers?
- What are the systems/processes that need to be tweaked to align with the language and methodology covered in the program(s)?
- And, how should managers and reps revisit the training content in the context of ongoing coaching and support?
Answer these questions for your specific circumstances and you will be well on your way to fostering adoption, achieving mastery, and enjoying the corresponding lift in sales performance.