While investing in sales training can produce a range of benefits, all of us in sales know it all boils down to the bottom line. Here are the sales training metrics you should be using to measure your success.
Here’s the cold hard truth about sales training ROI: While companies around the world continue to invest billions in sales enablement initiatives every year, most of these organizations cannot trace any tangible improvements in the key metrics that matter to their investment in those initiatives. In fact, data collected by the consulting firm ES Research has shown that 85 to 90 percent of sales training fails to translate into a lasting improvement in productivity.
There are a number of factors contributing to this dismal return rate. While investments in software and other enablement platforms can produce improvements in efficiency, they don’t impact actual salesperson behavior. Training, when it’s offered, often fails to address this gap because most training doesn’t focus on what really influences a salesperson’s success and isn’t designed or deployed to ensure long-term behavior change. All too often, training is often viewed as something to get checked off the list rather than an ongoing process of building and reinforcing new habits and skills in the context of clear business goals.
When you consider that the bulk of sales training budgets are being wasted, it’s well past time for a new mindset and approach. But even those sales and T&D leaders who’ve shifted to more effective models of sales development can still struggle with how to measure the success of their initiatives. And that can jeopardize future budgets.
For your investment in sales training to pay off in terms of a tangible return on investment, you must begin with the end in mind and make measurable goals part of the discussion upfront. Let’s take a closer look at how you can pinpoint the metrics that will be useful and tell an accurate story of your sales training ROI.
How to Determine Sales Training Metrics
Measurement is about answering the question, How will we know if the sales training is working?
When we begin an engagement with a client, we’ll ask them what “success” would look like to them. The responses we hear are often things like, we need to sell more, we need higher productivity, we want to increase accounts in a specific product line by a certain percentage. These are all good goals to have, but they’re outcomes; they’re not predictive. They’re not the leading indicators that will tell you whether what you’re doing is affecting change and putting you on the right track toward your goals.
To gauge sales training ROI, you must drill down into what it takes to get to those outcomes and, more specifically, how people are doing things differently to generate those outcomes.
There are three main areas where you should be able to see tangible impact from your sales training efforts:
- Financial: What needs to change so that you can reach your bottom- and top-line growth targets? While the financial metrics will be specific to your business, they might include such factors as revenue growth, profitability of deals, number of products per customer and account penetration.
- Performance: What improvements in individual and organizational performance will support your business goals? At the sales rep level, you can evaluate such things as percentage of quota achievement, and at the broader level, there are a number of predictive measures to track, such as pipeline health, pipeline value, number of deals in the pipeline and pipeline velocity.
- Behavioral: What kinds of things do salespeople need to habitually say and do differently in order for them to achieve their stated goals? Metrics here include those tangible, observable behaviors that are tied to the skills they’re learning. For example: asking next-level questions to help customers discuss their challenges in greater depth; identifying multiple buying influences for each opportunity; adjusting their behavior style to form a better connection with a customer; being consultative rather than pitching products; and gaining commitments at the end of meetings that will move an opportunity forward.
Take a step back and consider, what problem are we trying to solve? How is that problem impacting these three important areas?
Keys to Measuring Sales Training Impact
There are four questions every organization should ask themselves when it comes to measuring sales training ROI.
Did our salespeople see value in the training?
Do they feel that what they’re learning, and the way they’re being challenged and stretched will lead to improved outcomes? If feedback coming out of training is that it was a waste of time, you have everything you need to know right there. A simple post-training evaluation will give you answers to this question.
Are salespeople using what they learned in how they prepare and conduct customer meetings?
It’s not unusual for salespeople to go through a one-day training program or some digital learning modules, give it high marks, say they thought it was valuable — and then drift back to doing what they always did before. This gets at the behavioral metrics that indicate whether or not training is making the desired impact.
Is the application of what they learned in the sales training leading to better call outcomes?
For example, are they getting commitments that are moving opportunities forward, access to more senior-level people, information they never got before and that competitors are not getting? If people are applying the training and their results are the same, then that’s a big red flag. Either there’s something wrong with the training or there are other behavioral aspects — most likely mindset issues — that need to be addressed.
Are we moving the needle on key financial and sales performance metrics?
Answering this question will depend on your business and organizational dynamics, but you should expect to see tangible progress in those areas that will generate the desired outcomes. For example, you might look for pipeline growth, more sales of higher-margin products, higher average quota achievement among salespeople, reduction in sales cycle length, or higher conversion rates from initial conversations with prospects.
To see improvement with the behaviorally focused questions (#2 and 3), training needs to be implemented in a way that aligns with how humans improve performance in anything. It requires four components:
- Accountability for application
A developmental process that includes time-phased repetition and reinforcement along with application in the field with actual customers will allow you to answer those questions.
What Sales Training ROI Looks Like in Practice
We’ve seen numerous examples of this approach with sales training organizations that have been able to demonstrate tangible impact and ROI from their training initiatives. For example, the contact center for one of the large insurance companies we work with reported a double-digit growth in conversion rates without any increase in handle time. By tracking these metrics, they were able to show that the sales training made their team more effective without sacrificing efficiency.
Another insurance company we work with went from an average of 1.3 to 3 products per customer within 12 months. This resulted in skyrocketing profitability per customer, per sales rep and overall. Digging deeper, the metrics showed how each of the critical areas of measurement enabled them to achieve these outcomes:
- Behavioral: Salespeople were asking the right questions to uncover additional problems and needs that mattered to the customer.
- Performance: Those behaviors led to the salespeople uncovering and having the opportunity to address a broader range of needs, which meant larger proposals and larger deals forecasted.
- Financial: All of this led to increased revenue per customer and across the organization.
Sales Training Metrics: Beyond the Sales Team
One of the additional hurdles companies face when measuring sales training ROI is failing to include everyone who plays a role in impacting the metrics. In many industries, customer success teams, clinical reps and product specialists now have increased selling responsibilities. Considering how many others play a crucial role in engaging, supporting and retaining customers as well as in upselling and cross-selling, limiting development just to the salespeople will only take you so far. For the metrics to give you a full picture of what’s going on, you need to make sure everyone who would benefit from having a common language around account management, strategy and behaviors is included in the sales training efforts.
Lastly, there are two additional important questions every sales leader needs to ask.
Are our sales managers coaching?
Coaching is a critical component of sales training success, and that doesn’t mean just checking in on activity and numbers. Specifically, how are your managers building and developing the talent and potential in their teams?
Is the coaching perceived as valuable by the sales team?
And more to the point, do sales reps feel they’re being coached? Our surveys have shown up to a 40% gap in perception where sales managers say they’re coaching, and their salespeople say they’re not being coached. Often what the sales managers are doing falls into the category of management questions (“How can I increase your productivity for us”) as opposed to coaching questions (“How can I help you develop your talents to achieve your goals”). Both are important, but they’re two very different things.
In sales, we know it often comes down to the bottom line, and there’s simply no point wasting money and time on something that isn’t going to change anything in the long run. A clear measurement strategy, along with an approach that encompasses all the factors that influence sales outcomes, will give you a clear picture of what success looks like and roadmap of how to get there.
Chief Sales Officer
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