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Order Matters: The Sequence of Sales Training Measurement

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In my previous post — How effective are Your Sales Training Programmes?  — we made a business case for why companies should invest in sales training measurement. Now that the importance of measurement has been established, it’s vital to adopt the proper measurement sequence to have the greatest impact on performance.

Sales Training measurement is not a one-and-done prospect. The standard pre- and post-test approach isn’t sufficient to achieve lasting change.

The Kirkpatrick Four-level Training Evaluation model has become a cornerstone in the learning industry, looking at reaction, learning, behaviour, and results. These traditional measures are familiar and necessary, but they’re not sufficient. At Richardson Sales Performance, we build on the Kirkpatrick model by identifying additional factors that come into play.

Before training individuals, we want to know their natural talents and skills. There’s an important difference between the two. Talent refers to an individual’s aptitude and motivation. Talent is a part of their DNA because people can be great at jobs that are a good fit. The other side of that coin is that while a poor fit can be workable, it’s not optimal. It’s hard to be passionate about a job that doesn’t play to a person’s talents.

The other element involves skills. This is the “how” of doing something. Skills can be observed. If there was a video camera taping a client meeting, what would the camera see?

Talent should be assessed as a foundational element, both in pre-hiring, as well as pre-training. Assessing skills is the next step to set a baseline to measure against.

These two elements, assessing talent and skills, should come before training. After training, we move on to assess the four Kirkpatrick levels but with a few twists to gain a more complete perspective.

  • Level One: Reaction. This is more than the typical participant feedback (How did you like the class? How would you rate the instructor?). We want to know if the content was relevant and applicable. Do participants see themselves changing behaviour? What is their confidence level that they will use what they learn? What is their plan when they get back to the office? We also want feedback from the instructor. Are they seeing early indications of adoption and behaviour change?
  • Level Two: Knowledge Retention. This is about more than passing a test. It’s about arresting the forgetting curve, which is the first step to sustainment. We measure how well participants retain knowledge in the immediate three-to-four months following training, and we provide them with feedback throughout the process to reinforce learning. Sales Training Measurement has to be part of the learning journey, and people need to know how they’re doing along the way.
  • Level Three: Behaviour Change. It takes about six months to achieve a consistent change in behaviour. We take a multi-faceted approach to measuring this change. It can be self-reported by the individual (“When a client objects to a solution that I have offered, I typically …”). It can be observations from the individual’s manager (“When a client raises an objection, this sales professional acknowledges the objection and asks an open-ended question to better understand the client's need driving that objection.”) Or, it can be feedback from customers (“When I express concerns, this person acknowledges my issues and asks questions to better understand my needs.”) Of course, it is best if these results are compared to baseline measurements or observations of these same behaviours prior to the sales training.
  • Level Four: Business Impact. At this level, it’s important to consider three elements: 1) the consistent application of the knowledge and skills gained; 2) the actual change in the business metrics (revenue, volume, goal attainment, etc.); and 3) the extent to which the change can be attributed to the application of the new knowledge and skills. It can also be helpful to determine what barriers or obstacles may be inhibiting potential improvement, such as competing organisational priorities, market influences, or the lack of management support. It’s more than whether the individual is achieving his/her goals and seeing an improvement over time. The question is to what extent did his/her learning influence what he/she is doing now and is that making a difference in results? These should be tied to the company’s performance scorecard or other regularly tracked metrics.
According to author and expert on HR strategy Mark Huselid, a measurement strategy that focuses just on efficiency and activity level is merely capturing “doables.” More meaningful sales training measurement comes from focusing on “deliverables;” that is, the outcomes that serve the company’s strategy.

When you incorporate measurement into your sales training strategy, using the proper sequence, you can gain insights and confidence about the ability of your team to deliver on its accountabilities. And, that will always be more meaningful than measuring what the team does on the job. It’s a matter of activity vs. business impact.

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