Isolating the swing factors for making big-ticket sales training investments

Sales training investments

Sales training investments

While sales training programs aren’t multi-billion dollar investments, we think some of the points the McKinsey & Co principals shared around considerations in making multi-billion dollar purchasing decisions have implications for sales training investments – whether in the millions or the tens of thousands.

To ascertain what it takes to prepare to make high-stake decisions, McKinsey staff interviewed executives in multiple industries. The result is a belief that the good practices their interviewees’ used when making decisions can be widely applied.  Let’s take a look and translate the results to sales training investments

Focus on the swing factors.  The more complex the project, the more uncertainties affect the cost and the payoffs of the investment.  However, when all is said and done, they found that only a handful of factors really impact success.   It’s those few … the swing factors that require focus and consideration.

What might this mean for sales training purchasing decisions?

Assuming you’ve done the requisite screening and you’re looking at a high-quality, highly customized sales training, the sales training program itself is unlikely to be a swing factor.  More importantly nor will the cost – that is you can pay more and get less.

But there are considerations that are likely to be swing factors – for example: senior management involvement, what you do before the program to position it and what you do after it to reinforce the skills learned in the program.  In addition:

  • Recognize swing factors are not static. During the planning, implementation and post-sales training program, new swing factors are likely to emerge.  For example, during the planning, senior management could launch a new sales initiative that is all about moving from selling individual products to selling an integrated solution.  The swing factor is the ability to address the nature of the program to be responsive to emerging shifts.
  • Be able to better assess risk and payoff.   If you use both quantitative and qualitative data to assess the value and risk of the project one is likely to end up with a more comprehensive picture.  As the McKinsey authors noted – restricting to one or the other can miss key points. This is certainly true with sales training.  For example, two qualitative factors often underemphasized that can impact the project are: the degree to which you can get the sales team committed to the project and the degree to which you can sustain an effective and efficient front-line sales manager sales coaching effort post program.
  • Keep decision biases in check. Everyone has biases (knowingly or not) when making decisions. Being aware is the first step. Putting processes in place to minimize bias creeping into the decision is the second.   Like any field the biases in sales training are highly specific to the company making the decision and to the individual decision makers.  However, there are a couple that tend to pop up more often than some others.

For example, senior managers going with a training company or even a specific program because they went through it when they were a rep so even though it is now 20 years later they suggest the same program.  A second bias is related to the failure to consider new technology-based methodologies like online sales training or software based coaching program because they are “new or “hard to implement.”

In the last five years a lot of exciting things have been happening in sales training  – the options and alternatives are significantly greater and more interesting.  But in the end, it is always about how do you decide to decide.

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About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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