Was Your Sales Training Effective?

By Heather Baldwin

If you conduct sales training and your sales numbers rise shortly thereafter, was your training successful? The answer to that question is a definite maybe. That’s the trouble with relying strictly on sales numbers to evaluate whether or not your training was effective – you don’t know what worked and what didn’t work, what specific effect the training had on your sales numbers and where adjustments need to be made. If you don’t know these kinds of details, you can’t ensure an upward trend in your numbers over the long term, cautions Michael Abrams, managing partner at Numerof & Associates, Inc., a strategic management consulting firm that helps clients align and implement strategies to enhance performance and profitability (www.nai-consulting.com).

Abrams cites the example of a cell phone retailer whose salespeople completed training on how to investigate the needs of prospective customers. “There’s a need to diagnose customers’ requirements in the cell phone industry because otherwise you run a real risk of providing a service that’s overkill – far too many minutes – or not adequate enough. People don’t want to bother going back to get it right,” says Abrams. “They want a right match the first time.”

NAI was brought in to find out if the training was effective and where it had an impact. The company created realistic, scenario-based, multiple-choice tests that set up scenes and then asked salespeople to choose the answer that most indicated what the salesperson should do in each situation. “We didn’t care if people could regurgitate terms or acronyms that were used in the training,” Abrams explains. “We wanted to know what they’d absorbed and whether they could use it.”

As expected, the results revealed that individuals who did well on the test saw an improvement in their individual sales. Far more interesting, however, were the findings that most salespeople did not ask enough questions to get a complete diagnosis. Instead they subconsciously relied on the company’s guarantee that if a customer is not happy with what they walk out with, the company will swap it out. “Salespeople made the assumption that customers would come back if they weren’t happy,” says Abrams. “The important thing to them was to close the sale and move customers through, even if the recommended solution wasn’t quite right.” In reality, he notes, customers recognize when a recommended solution isn’t right and may not buy, or the rep might undersell and leave money on the table. With so many cell phone service options out there, frustrated customers might not bother coming back to the store at all; they’ll just switch services.

Armed with this information the company offered additional training on how to diagnose needs. They also took a close look at their culture. Were salespeople being pressured to move people through the buying process faster than was effective? Were stores short-staffed, giving reps less time to work with each customer? “These were insights they would not have gained by simply looking at sales figures,” says Abrams. Sure, the numbers went up, but identifying these deeper cultural issues that they would not have questioned without the results of a detailed training evaluation was even more important.

“If you construct a realistic scenario with multiple choice questions, you can get a differential diagnosis that tells you what’s working and what’s not. It can really get you thinking,” says Abrams. If you’re going to spend all that money on training, it’s worth spending a little more to dig into these details.