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Understanding the ROI of Virtual Training

Leaders are discovering the viability of virtual instructor-led sales training as ROI benefits become clear.

Initially, leaders began exploring virtual instructor-led training (VILT) in response to social distancing measures. However, their investigations have revealed that the most supportive evidence of the value of VILT is found on the balance sheet.

These previously unseen benefits are being realised as leaders choose to maintain momentum by embracing a VILT solution now rather than waiting for the clouds to part.

The importance of maintaining momentum is evident in research from Boston Consulting Group. The organisation discovered that adaptability is increasingly important as failure occurs faster than in previous years. The data shows that “only 44% of today’s industry leaders have held their position for at least five years, down from 77% a half-century ago.” The takeaway: in a world of accelerating change, the hesitant business unravels faster than ever before. Elevated selling capabilities are needed now so that they can be applied to the intensified selling challenges of today.

As novelist Victor Hugo once wrote, “Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come.” VILT is an idea that has found its time amid the heightened scrutiny of ROI metrics.

Here, we break down the three key factors supporting the ROI of VILT.

The Absence of Travel Expenses

Total spending on business travel by domestic and international travelers reached $334.2 billion in 2019, according to data from the U.S. Travel Association. The percentage of employees who travel for business in a typical month ranges from 11.6% to 18.4%, according to additional data from J.P.Morgan.

These figures illustrate the financial implications of joining disparate sales professionals in one location. A VILT approach avoids these costs and represents a significant savings to businesses seeking ways to drive selling skills within a budget.

These savings are needed now as businesses look to aggressively cut budgets without impairing operations. The absence of travel expenses means that for many businesses, a VILT approach requires only two-thirds the cost of a traditional instructor-led training solution.

This savings in travel means that companies will avoid allocating dollars to costs that offer no improvement to the business or the skill of the sales force. Put simply: in a changed economy, businesses need to invest in themselves rather than allocate spending to expenses that do nothing to drive productivity improvements.

VILT also allows leaders to make use of existing technical resources in a more meaningful way because VILT solutions only require lightweight tech platforms whose costs are usually absorbed by the third-party training provider. There are rarely any new IT costs associated with VILT.

Finally, without the logistical demands of travel arrangements, organisations are positioned to capitalise on the speed of implementation afforded by a VILT engagement. In many cases, we are seeing VILT capability development programmes scheduled within a two-week period rather than the traditional eight- to ten-week window required by traditional in-person training. This level of agility is increasingly critical in a market characterised by swift changes.

A Greater Impact on the Sales Organisation

With the substantial savings from travel-related expenses, organisations can redeploy the capital to include more sales professionals in the training initiative. Driving meaningful improvements in sales means equipping the entire organisation with the right skills.

Developing change with this inclusive approach to sales training is an idea that is not only intuitive, it is imperative. A McKinsey survey of more than 2,000 executives in 900 companies across various industries found that “the greatest impact on a major change effort’s outcome comes from ownership of and commitment to change.” In their discussions with leaders, the researchers discovered that approximately two-thirds of respondents cited that the single most important factor in driving a successful transformation is a united commitment to change.

However, encouraging this uniformity is difficult without properly equipping the entirety of the sales team with the right skills. When the investment is spread across a team, everyone has the ability to effect change, and with the ability to drive change comes the accountability to drive change. This dynamic is critical because the researchers concluded that “successful transformations typically reinforce ownership through clear accountability.” The number one enabler of improved sales outcomes that clients cite is the desire for a common, consistent approach to sales execution that creates a standard against which execution can be measured. Redeploying travel dollars increases an organisation’s ability to achieve this goal by potentially including more selling roles and service and support teams.

Without the considerable cash outlay required for travel, leaders have greater choice in where they invest. As the research from McKinsey makes clear, instilling a shared commitment to change is an investment that pays long-term dividends because united change efforts retain their value at every stage of implementation whereas fragmented approaches see value erode throughout the process.

A More Productive Use of Time

Sales professionals need every opportunity they can get to learn about the customer’s challenges. A VILT programme recognizes this reality by engaging the sales professional in a way that minimises time out of market thereby avoiding the lost opportunity cost associated with travel. Sales professional productivity is more important today than ever before. As selling challenges grow, leaders are becoming even more attuned to the value of keeping their team in front of customers and engaged in selling rather than travel.

The impact of opportunity cost becomes even more clear when considering the cost of delaying a VILT programme. With each month that a leader chooses to wait, they experience a magnified opportunity cost as additional revenue generated per representative goes unrealised. Avoiding this result means overcoming the “wait and see” approach that is pervasive in an uncertain economy. To do so, leaders need to look beyond near-term challenges. They must consider the downstream effect that inaction today will have on future outcomes.

Effective, forward-thinking leaders are choosing to accelerate their once long-term transformation initiatives to adjust to circumstances that insist on digital engagement. The need for this approach is evident in a recent survey from McKinsey, which shows that nearly nine out of ten executives and managers believe that their organisation is facing a skill gap or expect to face a considerable skill gap in the coming years.

Time spent traveling is time that can have been spent exploring customer needs, overcoming objections, or coalescing stakeholders. Even one extra day that would have otherwise been lost to travel can make the difference that leads to a sale or preserves one that is in risk of faltering. Speed matters in a business environment characterised by vanishing competitive advantages.

Inaction is More Expensive than it has Ever Been

The expense associated with waiting is so impactful that it has entered the modern business lexicon as “COI” — the cost of inaction. This cost is more than an abstract concept. It represents dollars that can be isolated on a budget.

The world has proven it can change overnight, and successful businesses are not waiting for the next upheaval to determine their fates. They are responding to far reaching changes with equally far-reaching initiatives that will equip their sales teams with the skills to connect with customers in any environment.

While many ask what will change in the future, effective leaders are asking what will not change and discovering that the answer is the value of effective selling skills.

About the Author

John D. Elsey is President and CEO of Richardson, leading the company’s global go-to-market strategy and vision around being a mission-critical resource to executive leaders who strive to improve and sustain revenue performance via world-class selling teams. With more than 15 years of helping clients design and implement programs that drive measurable improvements to performance, John provides executive sponsorship to many of Richardson’s clients throughout their sales transformations. As a business executive himself, John combines his experience in skill development within the sales function with helping customers connect their human talent initiatives to what matters most — improvements in their companies’ operational metrics.

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