Your learning and development staff is feeling great — all of their hard work has paid off with an amazing three-day event.
As a seasoned Learning and Development Leader, you are glad that the training was so well received within the sales organization. However, you know that the initiative has now entered its riskiest phase. One question haunts you: What will salespeople actually do differently in their day-to-day interactions with customers as a result of the training? The sales organization’s whole investment in behavior change will be made or broken in the next three to six months — either behavior change takes off, or it does not. In nine months, when your CFO begins to ask the SVP of Sales, “What did we get as a result of all that sales training?” you need to ensure that you and your executive sponsor have a fantastic story of success to tell. That story began as soon as the salespeople left the new sales training.
Sales Training is Not a One Time Event
At Richardson, we see the scenario described above play out over and over again with sales organizations. We regularly counsel our clients that sales training cannot be an event; it has to be bigger than three days of relevant learning and great facilitation in order to get behavior change back on the job. One of the first steps to getting behavior change is to invest in knowledge retention immediately after training (see this blog post about the pernicious effects of the “forgetting curve”). Post-training knowledge retention is only the first step on the journey to get sustained behavior change in your sales organization. However, like most first steps, it has an outsized influence on later results. Retaining key skills and knowledge in long-term memory is foundational to applying those new skills and knowledge. Strong knowledge retention is a prerequisite for strong sales performance with customers. And yet, knowledge retention is nearly invisible! How can you be held responsible to something that is invisible?
Even more importantly for a progressive Learning and Development Leader, there has to be a way of proving that knowledge retention has taken place across multiple sales teams and topic areas. Anecdotal information is not going to be enough (or should not be enough) to satisfy your executive sponsor. This is where learning analytics becomes vital to the early success of your organization’s sales training investment. Measuring knowledge retention and visualizing that data enables you to do three things:
- Demonstrate how well salespeople have retained key knowledge and concepts three months after training
- Determine where to focus limited sustainment resources to close the remaining, post-training skill gaps
- Identify lack of engagement and reinforcement early so that critical conversations with front-line sales managers and sales leaders are fact-based
In order to get these three benefits from your learning analytics, they need to be (1) easy to collect via technology and (2) extremely granular — down to the individual salesperson, sales team, and topic area. Without this level of visibility into the invisible process of knowledge retention, you are very unlikely to know what is actually going on in the first 30-90 days after training. It is in this period that the battle for behavior change is either starting to be won or your investment in training is rapidly being lost. Learning analytics ensures that you know how the battle for behavior change is going. As a result, you and your executive sponsor can make smart decisions that set the sales organization up for consistent behavior change and outstanding business outcomes nine to twelve months in the future. That is a data-driven story worth telling any skeptical CFO.