This is such an important topic that I wanted to follow that up with a post focused specifically on the major takeaways from that research.
You might guess where this is going once you see the section headings below. The major findings are neatly grouped into pre-, during, and post-training. We can’t underscore enough the need to focus beyond the training event and place considerable emphasis on how you prepare your sales reps before the sales training and especially how well you follow through afterward in order to get the most bang for your buck.
Respondents overwhelmingly indicated that pre-training activities have a major impact on sales training sustainment. Effective organizations invested more in planning and were significantly more likely to use pre-training strategies to set learner expectations and support training. Among these strategies, establishing post-training developmental plans and optimizing the sales management process resulted in the greatest levels of sales training sustainment.
Few companies and leaders possess the patience and discipline to truly plan for something with the necessary time and effort. There’s almost always a rush to finish, with the feeling that the paint is still wet on the surface. “Is this the color we really wanted?” Too late to change now. Give your team plenty of time — with wiggle room — to properly plan your activities and prepare your sales reps before the training.
The flip side to that can be equally maddening: you’ve allowed enough time in the schedule for planning, testing, modeling, and the like and are so very proud of it that you unleash it early! “It’s so good we can’t wait to put it out there!” That impatience can disrupt the sense of flow in favor of a series of stops and starts. If you do your pre-training three months before an event, it quickly turns into a game of hurry-up-and-wait, which frustrates those who are to be trained and loses momentum. Be disciplined enough to build and stick to the optimum schedule.
Results point to a much smaller role for activities completed during training. Indeed, organizations that invest more in training delivery experience significantly lower sales training sustainment. Still, some activities completed during training were important for training sustainment; organizations that utilized gamification in the classroom and provided individual feedback on learning assessments were significantly more effective at sustaining the impact of sales training. These findings are particularly interesting in light of the relatively small frequency of organizations actually using gamification during training.
A key element during training is to keep it practical. Don’t waste time on activities that won’t help your sales reps get where you want them to be. Take advantage of the time you have with your people to demonstrate exactly what you expect them to be doing once the training has ended. Make it as real for them as possible so that they can easily hit the ground running and directly apply what they’ve been taught on the job. That level of focus on the end result should help you make the best impact and set you up for sustainment.
Unsurprisingly, respondents stressed the importance of evaluating training. Effective organizations utilized every evaluation technique more frequently than organizations that were considered ineffective at sustaining sales training. Furthermore, a sizable 25% of respondents reported being unsure of how long their organizations’ sales training participants exhibit trained behaviors. These results point to a need for continuous evaluation in order to better inform organizational sales training decisions and increase the length of time that training impacts the performance of sales reps.
The results indicate that a number of post-training activities also result in longer and more effective training sustainment. Organizations that use mobile reinforcement and client spotlights were rated more effective at sustaining sales training. Mirroring the findings on effective strategies for sustainment during training, results suggest that providing feedback on assessments and using gamification lead to greater sales training sustainment effectiveness. It is surprising that post-training gamification led to greater sustainment, as only 24% of respondents indicated that it is important for post-training activities. Thus, while gamification is less frequently used and rated less important, its use results in more effective and longer-lasting sales training impact.
Another critical aspect of post-training success lies with sales managers: their ability to coach their sales reps. Ensure that your sales managers are ready to guide their sales reps following the training to assure them and help them stay on target. Sales managers should know what the expectations are before the training begins and be prepared to talk about it immediately upon their sales reps returning to the office. Get them ready to answer difficult and easy questions. The more your new normal can be baked into everyday conversations and interactions, the longer it will stay top of mind for sales reps — and the more likely that they’ll be able to follow through.
Sustaining Sales Training: A Vision of Success
Many training programs fail to sustain results beyond the training event itself due to a lack of vision. What does the end result look like? What should my sales reps be doing differently in order to achieve our targets? How do we get them to let go of “the way we do things” in favor of embracing the new?
If you allow your people to think of the training in project terms, then you might find it difficult to break free of the end-date mindset. Silly as it may sound, perhaps the best way forward is to start with an illustration. In order to fulfill a mission or task, it’s common to draw a pie chart that defines the various stages of an activity from start to finish. It can be useful to see how evenly or unevenly the various components are or when the stages begin and end (as if you’re looking at a clock face.) However, the notion that there’s a beginning and end essentially squashes your hopes of sustaining the impact of the training. (If you’ve come full circle, then you’ve gone nowhere.)
I’d challenge you to think instead of a line graph that isn’t necessarily bound to defined beginnings and ends. You can more easily show where you’ve been, where you are, and where you want to be. Set both short- and long-term post-training milestones, and measure your progress toward them. Hold yourself, your sales managers, and your sales reps accountable for working toward those common goals.
It’s often said that effective leaders possess a clear vision for where they’re going. Take heed, and apply that logic to your training efforts so that you move the needle and keep it moving forward rather than ending up right back where you started.