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December 17, 2021

How to get the ROI from your sales training initiatives

To make your sales training initiatives stick, and to visibly see the positive impact on your top and bottom line, it requires a consistent commitment to adopting those desired behaviours.


To make your sales training initiatives stick, and to visibly see the positive impact on your top and bottom line, it requires a consistent commitment to adopting those desired behaviours. For those about to embark on such a journey, I hope this post helps, because it will turn your training dollar cost into a training dollar investment.

A few weeks ago, I was sat in my 7-year old son’s classroom, discussing with his teacher, the challenge he is having raising his handwriting capabilities to meet his age-related standard. It’s the unusual way he grips his pencil, my Wife remarks and gestures. The teacher then tells us, that she has observed him griping the pencil the correct way when she was looking, but when no one was around, quickly reverting to his preferred, development inhibiting grip. 

As I left the classroom, it occurred to me, that the journey we were about to embark on with our son, to develop his writing skills, was almost identical to the one many sales organisations need to take, to elevate sales capabilities to grow sales revenue, margin and profitability. 

Like our Son, how many salespeople attend training programs, only to continue with (to extend the metaphor), gripping their pencil the same way they were before the training?

My Son needed training and coaching to cultivate the right handwriting behaviours, because this skill deficiency was inhibiting his development. Any process for developing new skills, must aim to change the old behaviours, so that what is learned, becomes ‘the way’ of writing, or selling, preventing where possible, reversion to the old (sub-optimal) behaviours.

The challenge we have with our Son, is the same challenge sales organisations have with their salespeople today; the ongoing development of desired behaviours and skills that are consistent with successful sales outcomes and in my Son’s case, improved handwriting proficiency.  Irrespective of age, the principles of learning don’t seem to change from childhood into adulthood. Someone shows you ‘the how’ we call this Training. Then it is supported by continued guided practice, which we call Coaching. 

As parents, we are experts in our son, more so than any teacher. However, we understood, we needed professional guidance, so we consulted with the experts first - his teachers at the school. We believed that, as they work with these situations often, they would have the knowledge, tools and expertise to help identify the right development path for our son. We listened. We thought carefully about how to support this necessary behavioural transition; the resources, the expertise we either had in place or needed to obtain. We thought about how to communicate, the situation to our son. The changes required, the reason behind the need for change and the consequences of not changing. Then bringing our combined thinking together, teachers and parents alike, we established a framework for his development and it looked something like this:

  1. We committed financial resources to additional learning support, occupational therapy, external coaching and technology enabled learning experiences on tablets.
  2. We felt even despite his young age we had to communicate the situation to him. We carefully explained the situation; he understood and is responding positively.
  3. We took him to see an occupational therapist for diagnosis
  4. We developed and implemented a reward system that focussed on behaviours and not outcomes; the amount of time he practiced handwriting, for holding his pencil correctly but not for the quality of his handwriting – we believed that would be a natural outcome
  5. He has additional learning support (training and coaching) with teachers, where he practices what he is taught and is rewarded
  6. We use technology to help reinforce the desired behaviours when at home, the use of handwriting apps used on tablets serve as a great resource

In short, we acknowledged that one classroom experience was not going to change our Son’s handwriting behaviours and get him where he needs to be.  As my Son continues to improve his handwriting skills, the comparisons between my Son’s learning experience and what I see happen in sales organisations is striking.  

For organisations who just want to run training programs/events, and there is nothing wrong with this, then what follows may not be of relevance. For those whose intent, it is to drive long lasting change within their organisation that transforms training cost dollars into investment dollars – with clear return on investment, then this is for you. 

Let’s think about memory retention. The chart to the right is what I call the Forgetting Curve. Research on the Forgetting curve shows that within one hour, people will have forgotten an average of 50 percent of the information you presented. Within 24 hours, they have forgotten an average of 70 percent of new information, and within a week, forgetting claims an average of 90 percent of it.

If the expectation is that after a single training program, salespeople will leave the training room, enabled to make the desired behavioral changes - think again. Some participants will try to make changes, but because they are unpracticed, they may not initially get the results they want, and like our son revert, to their old behaviors very quickly. Some will not bother trying at all. The statement here is clear; if the intent is to create long lasting change, then the training program is just the start of the process, and what should follow is systematic program of support and guidance through various modalities to reinforce the new behaviors. More on the modalities in a moment.

To lean on our research once again; the reinforcement curve to the right, demonstrates how commitment to consistent reinforcement elevates knowledge levels to counteract the forgetting curve. If you provide reinforcement, adoption support, it causes the learner to recall the information, the learner's forgetting curve will be reset. If you provide a series of these reinforcement events, the forgetting curve will be reset each time and long-term retrieval will be maximized.  In other words, the desired behaviors become ‘the way’.

What’s a stake? Well, recalling CSO Insights research, I discussed in a previous blog post: Igniting the double-digit growth in your organization, the point at which you move from sales training to cultural adoption, typically happens when more than 90% of the people consistently behave the same way. At this point, the needle starts to move significantly. As I mentioned in the previous blog post, the 11% shift in close rates, from 45-56% can equate to 25% growth in top-line revenue. Now how would that look on your résumé? 

Much like my Son’s focus on his handwriting, building and acquiring new skills takes time, effort and support. The more organizational support provided, the higher the probability of seeing training initiatives impact the top and bottom line. As a suggestion consider some or all the following steps:

  • Seek external guidance and experience of what to do and what not to do - this is critical
  • Perform a diagnostic exercise to be targeted in your training dollar investment 
  • View training resource allocation as an investment not a cost, monitor ROI
  • Budget 50% of your training dollars for in-classroom learning and the same for adoption support 
  • Communicate ahead of time the what, the why the when and the how so that everyone understands
  • View the communication process as you would any marketing campaign. 
  • The message should be clear, consistent and repetitive
  • Create a competency framework – certification process for sales, with clear paths and staging posts for accomplishing individual capability milestones
  • Make your sales managers the internal champions of the initiative, build it into their coaching
  • Manage and drive the change you desire, don’t leave anything to chance 
  • Manage behavioural metrics – leading indicators. The rest will look after itself.
  • Create incentives related to the behaviour change you desire
  • Continue to broadcast success stories
  • Never assume done is done; this is not a point solution
  • Commit sufficient resources to see the project to a clear position of achievement

The list of what can be done to support sales your evolution or transformation is by no means definitive. Turning sales methodology and skills into ‘the way’ goes way beyond the classroom. To embed the desired behaviours into a salesperson’s daily operational rhythm, requires a roadmap for change management. Get it right and you are on the road to outsmarting your competition and serving your clients to your fullest potential.

In my next post, I will talk about the importance of the Sales Enablement function, within the sales organization and its role in sales transformation initiatives. Some sales organizations, have achieved significant ROI from Sales Enablement. This doesn't happen by accident, and I will provide guidance on how you can achieve that ROI - so stay tuned!

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