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Sustaining Sales Training Impact

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Here at Richardson Sales Performance, we work closely with our clients on what to do not only during training, but also before and after to ensure that sales training sticks and delivers impact. I sat down with Gregg Kober, Richardson Sales Performance’s Vice President of Change Management, to discuss our sustainment framework.

Gregg generously shares his expertise on the thinking and approach we take on sustaining sales training impact.

Dario Priolo (DP):  What is a sustainment framework?

Gregg Kober (GK):  Sustainment framework is the term for a way to maintain the learning effects of training once the training is over the trainees get back to their offices.

DP: How did the idea of the sustainment framework start?

GK: The impetus for the sustainment framework’s development as an articulated philosophy was in academic literature and in professional training industry literature. Their idea was the effective training is not “event based.”  In traditional training you come to as session, perhaps even enjoy and think that is effective, and head back to work and find that it was not very effective at all  There are high rates of failure is transferring the new behavior back to the job.   Money invested in this type of training is usually not well invested.

People get a false sense that training worked because people leave the training talking about how great it was: It was relevant.  Their company cares enough to invest in them. The training facilitator was fantastic. The food was wonderful.  They transmit this by giving the facilitator a good review, on an evaluation form usually filled out just as the training sessions end – which makes the facilitator and his or her department feel good. .

Managers feel good, because they sent their people to training and invested in their development. They are now going to be able to do new and better things when they are back on the job.  Everyone is feeling good.

DP:     Is it bad for employees and managers to feel good about their jobs?

GK: Not if the good feeling is based on accomplishment. A business is not in business to make people feel good.  A business is in business to produce results. This is where thing start to slip. “One and done” is not the way to produce last results. People who leave traditional training are going back to the same environment from which they came.  The chances of them using the new skills are low. They are going around and wondering why they should bother.  Do they really have the opportunity to use their new skills?    It takes an effort to do that.   Performances may drop off temporarily because they are not quite so confident they can do it right the first time out of the gate with a client. And so there is a lot of sliding back into old behavior.

It is not that they did not learn what they should have in the class. More often than not, with good design and good facilitation, they did.  But they are just not using their new skills back on the job. And so the sustainment framework was about helping people to use things they learn back on the job.

DP: Can you explain the three phases of behavior change in the sustainment framework? Start with the “define” phase? Can you also explain them for the organization as well as for the individual?

GK: What we are trying to do is tackle the three phases at both an organizational level and at an individual level. And so when we are defining – the first phase is define, the second phase is develop, and the third phase is sustain. What we are trying to do organizationally and individually at each level is something different to help move the needle, to help encourage behavioral change to take hold;  for people to adopt that new behavior.

Organizationally, really what leaders are primarily charged with is effective communication about the nature and the need for change. There should be no one ever going to a sales training or a manager’s training who does not know why they are in the seats. Why are we taking two days out of our busy schedules to do this?

Over and over, we work with organizations where people say I do not know why I am here in this training. I do not see how it connects with the bigger picture. So people have to be aware of why they are actually going to training. But beyond that, leaders are charged with making sure the changes in the environment support the behavior change. So that may be changes in process. That may be changes in who goes to training and how people are selected for training or how they are selected into their roles.

It can also be about metrics and process. And a big part is how do the existing systems (and for most salesforces that is the CRM system) how do those reflect what is being learned in the training. Because if people do not see changes in their environment around them, they are much less likely to think the new skills and behaviors are going to help them.

Leaders need to communicate. Then they need to alter the work environment enough to signal that we are really serious about you using these new skills. In the first phase, define. Individuals need to understand where their current skill gap is because we have to raise the awareness of an individual about where they stand relative to other people or where they stand relative to best practice. That makes them aware why the training is relevant, which can drive a desire to engage in the training.

DP: Can you discuss the “develop” phase of training?

GK: This is the second phase, and traditionally where sales training has focused. At the individual level, the reasoning is pretty obvious -- I need to go through training. I need to be engaged. I need to learn by doing because we want to have lots of practice and lots of relevant activity so that people feel like they can do these skills when they leave.

From the organization’s point of view, besides what the employees are learning, development leaders and managers have to get that program and that event off the ground, which is a heavy lift. Organizationally, the best thing that leaders can do is just to give people uninterrupted time to actually engage in the training, to not have distractions go on during that period. So at the organizational level, it is pretty simple. It just gives people a safe bubble to be able to practice, fail, and then do better.  This bubble should come, to the degree possible, back at the “ranch,” after the formal training is over.

DP: What about the sustain phase?

GK:  In the third phase, which is sustained, this is where we take a fully systematic point of view. There are things to do with the individual level certainly to have sustainment work, but there are also things that we need to do organizationally. And that is what the five steps to sustainment are about.

Sustain is sometimes called, drive, in an effort to symbolize that training is designed to improve how a company moves forwards. Research we have done at Richardson Sales Performance, with, shows that there really is a significant difference between those organizations that have managers and executives reporting that their organization is “effective” versus “not effective” in sustaining behavior change after training.

DP: Does the allocation of training resources, not just the total amount, play a major role in the long-term success of training?

GK: One of the interesting things our study found was the allocation of resources. There was a fairly significant difference between how those were effectively allocated their resources against those that were ineffective. What we found is that those who were effective at sustaining change, they were really looking at a budget allocation of about than 20 percent of their total project budget to be spent in the sustainment phase, compared to those organizations that were ineffectual. The ineffectual organizations, who were not doing sustainment right, were only spending a little bit more than ten percent of their budget.

This is the first blog post in a 2 part series on sustaining sales training impact. In our next article, Gregg explains our 5 Paths to Sustainment in greater depth.

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