Are We There Yet? Using Competencies to Maximize Sales Training ROI

Ralph Grimse

 We see it time and time again. Companies pour money into the wrong types of sales programs. Millions are spent on the annual sales kick-off conference, but pennies are pinched when it comes to things that will actually move the needle.

We consistently advise our clients to stop wasting their precious sales training investments on skill areas and topics that won’t move the needle. We all know that buzz words like ‘social selling’ and ‘challenger’ seem like great ideas for training sessions, but without rigorous implementation or proper customization to your selling context, these programs inevitably become empty sales training calories.

The clients we work with understand that data and measurement play a critical role in maximizing the ROI of a training investment. There are a number of ways to incorporate analytics into your training programs, so let’s start with one of the most effective: competency-based improvement models.

In a competency-based model, the focus is on improving the sales force by addressing the defined competencies of each sales role. We typically conduct an initial assessment, and through targeted curriculum development, roll-out and reinforcement, we attack each competency over time. In addition, we build curriculum tracks for folks who need to focus on one area more than another. Finally, we equip sales managers with the skills and tools to reinforce specific areas in the field. 

Sounds good, right? But unfortunately, successfully executing the competency-based approach requires some thought to get right. Here are five tips for building better competency-focused sales training programs that you can use to effectively measure ROI:  

1. More isn’t always more

It’s critical to focus on the vital few sales competencies. Most organizations are guilty of having far too many competencies across their sales roles. As a result, even the best training programs will fail to address each of them in enough depth to see improvement. We believe that sales roles should have fewer, but more focused competencies. 

2. Avoid ‘table stake’ sales competencies 

Not only do we see too many, a large number of competencies we see are simply ‘table stakes’ – common sense and good, but things that likely have no direct impact on actual sales performance. We believe competency models should be developed based on the specific factors that drive performance in your unique sales model. This means avoiding the trap of using vague platitude sales competencies like ‘Relationship Building’ or ‘Effective Communication’ without first refining them to the point where you can truly differentiate what drives results. 

3. Don’t forget selling experiences

One critical aspect missing from many competency models is a description of the on-the-job selling situations that an individual rep should experience to further their development. These experiences might include things such as selling a complex product bundle, working with a certain type of customer, or handling a tough selling scenario. Understanding what experiences provide development opportunities and replicating them in the training program can be a great proxy for the real thing, preparing reps for what will happen in the field. 

4. Properly assess before and after

The key to measuring the impact of training is creating a baseline. This is one of the things that makes using competencies so popular. However, to properly measure training ROI, we need to measure the sales team’s performance against these competencies. If designed properly, rep self-ratings have been shown to be reasonably valid. But combine these self-ratings with input from managers, peers and even customers, if appropriate. Sales trainers can also provide valuable input on improvements by leveraging their observations of reps during live training sessions. 

5. Define what ‘good looks like’ 

Finally, remember that sales skill improvement doesn’t happen overnight. Make sure you’re building your competency-based program so that it includes the proper field reinforcement. Also, don’t forget the ‘soft stuff’. Make heroes out of those applying their new skills successfully. Showcase the behavior of these reps in internal communications and during meetings. A real-life story that illustrates the ideal sales competencies in action provides effective ‘color commentary’ to the quantitative assessment findings. 

So the next time you’re asked for the ROI of sales training, think about building a measurement program using the key competencies that drive your business. These five tips will help to ensure you’re demonstrating ROI and moving the needle!

Drop us a line to learn more about Brevet’s approach to sales competency development, talent assessment and measuring sales training ROI.

 

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Ralph Grimse

Ralph Grimse

Ralph is a partner with The Brevet Group, and for 20 years he has led sales performance teams in the United States and Asia. Recently he also served as a sales leader in both the media and technology industries. Ralph’s work has focused on a unique blend of management consulting and sales enablement to help companies execute their sales strategies. Prior to this role, Ralph was the APAC sales effectiveness leader at Mercer.