Putting Your Sales Training Under the Microscope

Jul 4


Richard Stone

Richard Stone

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Richard Stone looks at the considerations for organising sales training. The importance of evaluating the effectiveness and what to look out for.


Sales training is organised and carried out very differently from business to business.  Many companies regularly train their employees in a planned way,Putting Your Sales Training Under the Microscope Articles whereas others only train sporadically.

Training for sales people is not cheap. On top of the direct costs, there is also the cost of  ‘lost’ time that the salespeople could have spent actively selling. Because of this, it is important to ensure all sales training is effectively planned, organised and implemented. In the article below some of the key areas relating to the planning of training, together with who should be responsible for managing the whole process, are discussed. How does your business compare?

Who is responsible for deciding on the training programme? In large businesses the sales manager and/or in-house sales trainer are responsible for these decisions.  However, in smaller companies the Managing Director or Senior Executive is responsible for training matters.

Who sets the training budget? In large companies only a third of the budget is set by the business management with the most important role being played by the training department, followed by the sales managers. In smaller companies the order is reversed: in most cases responsibility for the budget lies with the business management, followed by the sales managers.

If technical competence primarily controls budgeting for training matters in large businesses, in smaller ones the responsibility follows the formal hierarchy.

Who plans and organises the sales training? In over 90% of large businesses the training department is responsible. In smaller businesses either the business or the sales management have the responsibility. It is astonishing that with such an important task there is often very little co-operation between the responsible parties.

Who delivers the sales training? In the majority of large companies the in-house trainers carry out the training and in the third of all businesses they are supported by sales managers.  In smaller companies, as a rule, the training is carried out by Sales Managers. However, more and more companies are seeking external suppliers to provide structured sales training programs.

Co-ordination and communication. Trainers should obtain feedback from the sales leadership at every step. Even if this starts by increasing the costs of planning, the improved communication between the sales manager and trainer will lead to a better prepared and, above all, more targeted training session.  In this context intensive questioning of those to be involved in the training is important.

Who Sets specific, measurable goals? Business management, sales management, training departments and training suppliers must determine the training goals and outcomes together. Agreement of goals and outcomes prior to delivering training ensures everyone pulls in the same direction and the training is designed to achieve these goals.

Once the goals have been defined they should be communicated to everyone involved in the training. In particular, it is very important that the goals are explained to the participants and that this happens before the training session. Participants should be briefed on what they should learn and why they need what they are going to learn! This should be done by their sales manager. 

Who selects the delegates? Where courses are of various levels it is important that the delegates attend the correct level of training. So before every training course the standard of the participants’ knowledge should be determined. This assessment should be by the line manager, often in partnership with the trainer. Of course, the following classifications can be applied to parts or individual topics within a general course and used to focus delegates on particular areas for improvement.

Vague idea.     The people just know that this problem/phenomenon exists. Example: they have heard or read the term ‘Trade Marketing’, but do not know what it is about.

Partial knowledge.     Knowledge is partial or superficial.  They have ‘heard something ringing but do not know where the bells are’.

Understanding.     The subject being discussed is well known theoretically. The training course participant can correctly explain what ‘Trade Marketing’ is.

Experience.  Delegates are not only able to talk about the subject expertly, but they have already worked successfully in some fields.

Specialist competence. Course participants have a complete mastery of the subject area.  They are experts in theory and practice.

Overall view.     Course delegates do not just have a mastery of the special subject, but they see it in a broader context at the same time. They understand not only possibilities, but also limitations.

Who assesses the sales training? In very few businesses, whether large or small, does the business management get involved in the assessment of training effectiveness. This is surprising insofar as sales training is an extremely important and costly measure.

The question, “What has it yielded?” is as justified as it is difficult to answer.   The idea of just observing a salesperson’s turnover development following their attendance on a training course falls short of the mark.

So how can you measure the effective uses of a training session?There is a four-stage assessment procedure that in its basic principles is over 30 years old and is now being increasingly used in budgetary difficult times. The following four different effect levels are considered:

Level 1: Reaction. Immediately after the training course the participants are asked to fill out an assessment questionnaire in which they express their satisfaction with each part of the course. The questionnaire provides feedback and should be used to improve any parts of the course that were seen to be weak.

Level 2: Learning success. Did the training course improve the salespeople’s knowledge, attitude towards sales, attitude towards the client, argumentation skills etc…? Tests can easily be followed by a standardised questionnaire.  The assessment of this level, as with level 1, can be carried out directly after the training session. You can compare it to previous knowledge and behaviour.  However, it can only be compared afterwards if you have already carried out an initial test with the same questions.

Level 3: Behaviour. Has the training course altered the salesperson’s behaviour? Do the participants use their newly acquired skills in their sales negotiations, in their personal working style and in their dealings with clients and colleagues?

Remember, behavioural changes require time and opportunity. A sensible amount of time to monitor behavioural changes is generally two to three months after the training course. This assessment presupposes that you have recorded the salesperson’s behaviour before attendance at the course.  Level 3 is the most costly one for assessment.

Level 4: Results: What effect has the training course had on thefigures? Take into consideration turnover, the amount of discounts granted, costs per sale, number of complaints etc. Here too a before and after comparison is informative.  Ideally, you would compare the performance of salespeople who have been on the training course with that of salespeople who have not.

This short summary of the possible evaluation methods available to you for training courses shows that you need to prepare for sales training courses and assess them afterwards if you want to be able to note any changes - ie success.  It makes no difference whether you have the training course in-house or externally.

There is another advantage of systematically evaluating training: it is easier to get approval for your training budget for the next year if you can prove the effect of the training courses you have invested in.