Training Returns

I’m often asked to run ‘training’ sessions among my clients. The nature of the actual ‘event’ is typically either a session around 90-minutes as part of a broader Sales Conference-style agenda, homing-in on one specific sales element (most commonly about selling new products at the moment) or a full day’s workshop tying several skills or themes together (the most recent being a detailed and live-account walk-through of Political Mapping).

My customer-base are aware I that possess such capabilities as most of my project work includes a similarly chargeable component to kick-start the support of their current key initiative. As such, when they feel that a need exists to improve upon or introduce a particular skill, I’m often an obvious port of call.

Such discussions do not then tend to be framed in terms of expected returns. This makes me feel that selling training as a standalone activity must be hellish.  Today’s environment for this reminds me a little of what faced PR agencies fifteen or so years ago. What is the sales trainer’s equivalent of going beyond mere column inches? And how on earth does this relate to pure sales revenue?

I mention this as I’m somehow on the email list of a small training company that just encouraged me to sign-up for evening classes.  I neither know them personally nor have any familiarity with their services, but one paragraph in their blurb did intrigue me:

“It seems odd to think of training as a means to generate profit however, an internal Accenture investigation indicates that we should do so. They carried out an extensive long-term study to measure the value created by their internal training. Their results revealed a 353% return on the money invested. In other words, for every £1 spent on training, they got back £3.53.”

Even setting aside the grammar and structure of this direct marketing message, I still find this disturbing on many levels.  First of all, I shudder when I think of how the bean counters and coders inside Andersen Consulting as-was calculated this Return figure.

There are of course, certain tasks that neatly lend itself to such calculations.  A made-up example.  Let’s say that I pay a reasonable amount for personal touch-typing tuition.  Whereas I once two-finger typed 19 words a minute, I leap to 67.  Is it then fair to say that for every £1 initially invested on this task, I’ve made the Andersen £3.53 (as 67 words are 3.53-times more than the original 19)?

If right, then how this relates to solution-selling is a minefield.  Furthermore where does their figure sit across the training universe?  Is it aspirational, or merely the bottom rung of expectations?

Here’s another angle.  If you charge $1,000 for your services, would you struggle to get work if you promised the company would recoup precisely $3,530?

Perhaps the difficulty is in attributing future success solely to the training delivered.  What is it you’re looking to have direct impact on?  Top-line sales would surely be a notoriously slippy pole to hang on to.  A raft of alternative KPIs exist, but again, how do you filter out the impact of outside factors?

Maybe this is why firms traditionally spend so little on training.  And that’s without introducing the really darkened deal-breaker of how to guarantee and maintain the training’s take-up, through whatever coaching or monitoring programmes are available.

I could riff on this all day, but I’ll restrict myself to a single take-away.  If salespeople pick a single skill that they want to learn, re-inforce, introduce or refresh, then as in most things, if you can express what you wish the impact to be in a single sentence, that includes numbers and timescales, then you’re half-way there.  Here’s a cheeky example I just thought of by way of example related to my days in the b2b software solutions jungle:

I will increase my new appointments from 4 to 5 each week by adopting [insert new behaviour just learned] starting now so that by the end of the quarter I’ve half-a-dozen better-qualified prospects than I have now to deliver 3.53-times more commission than I currently make : -)

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