Sales & Marketing

Sales Training ROI? Setting the proper objectives allows the most valuable evaluation.

One reason that companies are willing to invest in sales training is that there seems to be an immediate connection to results. An improvement in sales skills should result in a corresponding improvement in sales, right? But the correlation is not so direct, as many companies have learned. And the extravagant claims that training companies often make about increased sales or improved productivity turn out to be difficult to substantiate. Even a company like Xerox Corp., which invests considerable monies in sales training, treads cautiously around claims of a dollars-and-cents return on its investment. "We look at 'performance impact' and ask if learners increase their job productivity as a result of completing a specific learning event," says Ray Sizemore, manager of evaluation and testing services for Xerox in Leesburg, Va. "We have every intention to look at the quantitative relationship between the dollars we invest in learning and what we get for it but it's difficult, both in terms of capturing the information and deciding exactly how to analyze the relationship." Xerox addresses the problem, at least in part, by changing the terms of the discussion. Now the events are not called "training," but "learning," and rather than an ROI, Xerox looks for "knowledge verification" and "performance support." A company must start by "understanding the critical skills and knowledge requirements for their business -- the key competencies required to move the business forward," says Leesburg-based Mignon G. Williams, Xerox's vice president of sales education and learning, North American solutions group. "Then you have to assess the competencies," she says. "Where do your salespeople stand against those competencies?" By identifying critical skills and testing skill and competency levels before the "learning event," Xerox can focus its training dollars where they will deliver strategic business results and deliver "the biggest bang for the buck." Motorola Inc., through its Motorola University that provides training not only to Motorola salespeople but also to distributors, VARs, and other business partners, eschews traditional notions of training. In particular it attempts to erase, as much as possible, the line between training and doing. "The notion of training apart from sales activity has to be abandoned," says Tom McCarty, director of consulting and training services at Motorola University in Schaumburg, Ill. "Sales training shouldn't even feel like training; it should be more like a strategy session to penetrate a new account." The key is to integrate training with work results and to measure results as close to the training event as possible. "If we offer training on needs analysis, for instance, that training has to connect to business-case-based proposals," says McCarty. "That way training results are a measure of that salesperson's account activity." Within a week after the training did the salesperson contact 10 prospects to conduct a needs analysis? How many sales proposals did the salesperson generate based on those analyses within 30 days? How many sales can you make based on that rep's sale-to-proposal ratio? "You might not put a precise dollar figure on it, but proposal rates will go up, quality of opportunities will improve, and improvements in revenue and margins will follow." Motorola also involves the sales manager as part of the "knowledge community" that supports individual salespeople. Sales managers are coached on how to pose questions and monitor and review the efforts of salespeople to ensure that training skills are utilized. Salespeople also post account plans that arise out of their training sessions on an intranet bulletin board, where they can be reviewed and tweaked by sales managers or sales trainers. The goal, says McCarty, is to eliminate the differentiation between training and field coaching. When that happens, training results will become indistinguishable from sales results, and the question "Are you getting a return on your training investment?" becomes a moot point. William Keenan Jr. is editorial director for Alexander Communications Group, New York, editor of Sales Rep's Advisor newsletter, and the former editor of Selling magazine.

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