Before making a substantial investment, you are likely to give it careful consideration. “What am I paying for? What will I get for that investment? Could that money be put to better use elsewhere?”
These are necessary and often tough questions to answer when investing in sales training. Sales leaders can’t expect to get by on false assumption that conducting training is a de facto cost of doing business.
Effective, But Not Sustained?
A recent Training Industry, Inc. study revealed that sales training programs are generally considered effective, with approximately 81% of respondents indicating that their organization’s sales training programs are somewhat or very effective. However, they may be less effective at sustaining the impact of such training and development programs over time.
I would argue that a sales training program cannot be considered effective if its impact fails to be sustained. Otherwise, the training program is, in fact, an “event” that is perhaps good as a pep rally for sales reps but with no intention or plan for lasting change. My colleagues and I have written in previous posts of the need to view training not as an event with a defined start and finish but as a series of events that occur before, during, and long after a classroom training or similar activity. The goal is to change behaviors and improve skills, not get through a two-day session to in order to check a box on the training curriculum.
With estimates of the global sales training market exceeding $2 billion annually, the importance of sustaining the impact of sales training investment cannot be overstated. The current study addresses this important goal by investigating approaches that organizations use in sustaining the impact of sales training and highlights recommended strategies for maximizing the impact of sales training over time.
There are several findings of interest from the study. As you read through them, I encourage you to consider what I mentioned above — that is, training as an engagement, not a singular event.
- Only 32% of respondents rate their organization effective or very effective at sustaining the impact of their sales training program. Put another way, two out of every three companies are guilty of treating training as an event.
- Over half of respondents report that their organizations sustain the impact of sales training for greater than three months following training. This could be questioned given the results in the previous finding.
- Organizations rated as effective, invest less in the delivery of sales training and more in the planning, evaluation, and sustainment of that training. This is a step in the right direction. When planning and budgeting, don’t neglect the before and after.
- In our study, effective companies sustained the impact of training 63% longer than ineffective companies. The most frequently used pre-training strategies for sustainment involve communicating the importance of and expectations for training.
- Also consider pre-training assessments to benchmark where your sales reps are now versus where you want them to be. And don’t forget to ask for their input, which gives them a voice and greater ownership over the process and outcomes.
- Effective organizations utilize more pre-training strategies for sustaining training, including establishing post-training development plans and optimizing the sales management process before training begins.
- In-person and virtual instructor-led training are the most frequently used modalities for delivering training.
- Effective organizations are more likely to utilize gamification and competition both during and following training. This is becoming an ever-increasing tactic that can yield great results if done properly.
- While tracking performance metrics was the most frequently used evaluation technique across all learning leaders, effective organizations consistently use more evaluation techniques to assess the impact of training. See #5 above. This will also help you know where the greatest needs are for your training efforts.
- Providing refresher training and using curated learning portals were the most frequently used post-training techniques for sustaining sales training. Provide helpful triggers to help keep what was taught top of mind and reinforced as soon as possible after the training event.
- Effective organizations use mobile/tablet reinforcement solutions post-training more frequently than ineffective organizations. Make it convenient so that sales reps can keep up while standing in line at Starbucks rather than force them to log in when they return to the office or their hotel room. Keep it short, simple, and accessible to keep them engaged.
Five Strategies for Sustaining the Impact of Sales Training
Based on the key findings above, here are five strategies for you to follow in order to sustain the impact of sales training solutions over a longer period, thus increasing your effectiveness and training ROI.
- Invest in sustainment. Don’t invest in training events. Yes, classroom activities will likely be part of your training program, but it shouldn’t take up all or even most of your budget and efforts. Invest in communication, assessments, evaluations, training aids, and gamification.
- Establish post-training developmental plans before training begins. Have a vision for what you want your sales reps to be doing immediately following the training and then three, six, and 12 months later. How will you help them remember what they’ve learned and apply it in place of old behaviors?
- Utilize gamification during and after training. Have it ready to demonstrate during the training so that sales reps can leave and hit the ground running with it after. Use friendly competition and leaderboards to encourage usage. Try to make it fun and not a chore, which means getting the timing and relevance right.
- Use mobile and tablet reinforcement solutions. Bring it to them to make it easy to access. Break free of the desktop-only apps in order to appear fresh and timely. Perhaps showing that you’ve invested your time and energy into a working gamification tool will further encourage them to take advantage of it.
- Evaluate and provide individual feedback on training. You can’t “set it and forget it” as Ron Popeil used to say. Don’t assume that a successful training event will translate into the desired behaviors and actions you set out to achieve. Find out what’s working and what’s not catching on to know who to help and how through one-on-one coaching, mentoring, or more training.
Does your organization view training as an event or a longer-term program with specific sustainment activities? How would your organization compare to the stats listed in the key findings above? How can you most effectively move the needle to improve your efforts and impact?