Would you like to know one of the most common questions a sales trainer hears? “How will we measure the success of your program?” Companies make significant investments in the training of their sales forces, and it certainly makes sense that they would like a method to evaluate the success of the program they will be purchasing.  It’s a great question!  There is often another question that follows: “What percent increase in sales can we expect after going through this training?” It sure seems like a fair question, doesn’t it?  On second thought, it may not be quite as fair a question as one would think.

One of my favorite television shows is a show called Shark Tank.  If you have never seen it, put it on your list.  If you have seen the show, look for the episode where a sales trainer comes into the Shark Tank and tries to sell his sales training.  It is must see T.V.  One of the wealthy investors asked the sales trainer that exact question about the percent of increase in the sales numbers, and the sales trainer had a rather simple answer:  “40%!”

It sounds like a very impressive response, but the next question should have been, “How did you arrive at that number?”  For a panel of supposed experts, I think it might have been a good question considering the following:

  • The sales trainer had been in business for four months.
  • The sales trainer had a grand total of two clients.
  • The sales trainer never really disclosed any current clients, and he never specified what industry he was working with.

In other words, the question was weak, and the answer was a fairytale.  If I had a nickel for every client who asked me what percent increase they could expect in their sales numbers after going through my sales training, I’d have a heck of a lot of nickels.  It’s easy to throw a number out, but it’s much harder to validate it.

For instance, while I was at Xerox, I was part of a team of instructors that taught the fundamentals of selling to the sales people at Xerox authorized dealerships.  We took measurements and we found out that we were increasing sales from those who attended by 22%.  Wow – and that was documented over a year!  Of course, what we failed to mention was that over 90% of those who attended the programs were new hires.  Coincidently, whether trained or not, new hires who sell will typically show an increase in sales numbers by simply staying employed and learning as they go.

In the 90’s, I was apparently a sales genius!  Over 80% of my clients were in the financial industry, and due to success of the stock market, sales numbers were going through the roof.  People were practically taking numbers in the lobby to meet with a broker and invest their money.  My sales training was obviously working like a charm since all of my trainees were seeing massive growth in their businesses.

Now we can look at the following question and see the complexity in it: “What percent increase in sales can we expect after going through this training?”  The correct answer is this:

“That will depend upon the economy, the implementation of the process driven within the organization, your particular product, and a number of other variables.  However, I can tell you is this:  When you put a repeatable, predictable process in place that creates trust and urgency, you maximize every selling opportunity you face.”

I applaud an organization’s desire to seek a measurement as to the success of training they are investing in.  However, given the nature of selling, is the immediate percentage of gain really the right measurement?  It’s a lot like taking a golf lesson and measuring your initial success by how far you hit the ball.  It’s tempting, but it can be misleading.  I’d much rather evaluate if the overall swing has improved, and not necessarily the distance that the ball travels.  The distance will come.  Assuming the program put in place is of value, shouldn’t the ultimate measurement be centered on who is actually using whatever has been taught?

You would think that the most rewarding aspects of my job would be nailing a presentation in front of a big audience, wiping the sweat away, and hearing the applause… and you would be close.  It’s an amazing feeling.  However, it takes a backseat to the sheer joy of working with a sales person who is struggling, holding management at bay with a promise that this individual will improve based on the new skills they are working to perfect, and watching that salesperson soar past the others.  This week I heard from a salesperson that I have worked with who did just that.  It was a very good week.


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