How much of your training budget is wasted?

Tony Hughes believes that too many companies waste too much of their training budgets. Why? And how can they solve the problem?

We’re all training professionals here. If I were writing this piece for a more general business publication I’d have to start from first principles, and explain why the classroom component of any behaviour change programme is only a part of the wider project. But readers of Training Journal know the importance of needs analysis, ground preparation, pre-work, integration with business processes and coaching – as well as all the modern digital armoury of reinforcement tools and methods.

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So the question remains: why, knowing all this, do so many organisations still struggle to get the most out of the hard-won training budgets they spend on external providers or internally-developed programmes?

Rather than any lack of understanding of what is required, I wonder whether in fact persistence, energy and focus on outcomes are the things that are really in short supply.

Those of us who train people in the behavioural skills to help them sell ought to be able to measure success with one swift test: are the trained people making more sales? But it is a bit more complicated than that, and the extent to which we can answer that question accurately says everything about what a holistic, sustainable behaviour change programme can be at its best. And when it is at its best, it puts the training budget to good use, many times over.

When we take the time and trouble to measure these things really thoroughly, to show return on investment (for our clients’ satisfaction and our own), it’s important to rule out as many uncontrollable variables as possible. In one client study in the early part of the century we deliberately kept one group un-trained for a while, to establish a control sample.

Half the sales force went through what was then a full state-of-the-art group training and reinforcement regime while the other half got nothing – to ensure that external economic factors, new product launches, the activities of marketing and advertising and so forth could not be adduced as the cause of sales improvement, since those would be common to both groups.

The measured changes under each category of verbal behaviour that we sought to change and embed, and then the 12.3 per cent improvement in revenues from the trained group, were irrefutable outcomes. (Don’t worry; the untrained group got their turn in the end).

That’s a level of outcome-related rigour that I simply don’t think enough organisations seek to request or apply. To establish whether something is working or not people have to be prepared to go to the top of the Kirkpatrick model pyramid every time and decide, before any of the implementation planning for training gets underway, what success will look like and how it will be quantitatively measured.

Many providers shy away from this path because they aren’t confident that they can either measure, or deliver, the agreed outcomes. Indeed, client organisations themselves might resist it, in case a shortfall in the eventual results exposes a misspent budget, a badly managed project, or an ill-chosen supplier. But why should training professionals (and the outside contractors who supply them) be any less accountable for the results they produce than people in production, quality management, procurement or – of course – sales?

The organisations which realise that a behaviour change project involves everyone, and must entail sustained effort, are those that will be the keenest to measure its effectiveness, and will almost by definition see the best results.

When companies who invest in behavior change describe measurable improvements, they don’t just mean what happens in a one off training session. They mean the decisions they had made beforehand about what internal processes they were going to change to prepare fertile ground for new skills.

They mean the top executive focus from first to last that had board and sales leadership teams attending training and using the new language and methodology to plan and review each customer sales call from that day onwards. Appointing dedicated internal coaches to learn how to recognise the new verbal behaviours used in customer sales calls, and then how to point out to every single sales person over a defined period whether they were using them properly – and how to improve.

In addition, recording that behaviour change accurately and honestly in a variety of digital tools that would slice and dice behavioural change performance data by individual, team, product and manager – to help the coaches focus their efforts where needed, and plot behaviour change against revenue change.

Coaching is the varnish that seals the work done in the training room. In a survey of more than 800 of our SPIN® Selling delegates, 90 per cent agreed (and more than 75 per cent strongly agreed) that the training course they had attended would make them more effective at planning and executing sales calls.

But, when training and coaching were combined in a broad and sustained effort, 99 per cent agreed (and nearly 87 per cent strongly agreed) that the interventions would help them improve their team’s effectiveness. To make it happen requires the unflagging will of managers and leaders to make (or permit) time for coaching to take place amid the onrushing clatter of deadlines, quarter-end closes, competitor discount pressure and the hundred other things sales people have to worry about. In our 41 years of experience around the world, the clients who are prepared to find a way to coach are the ones who find a way to win.

I’d love to be able to say that success has come to these companies solely because they chose the supplier with the best intellectual property and the most capable delivery team. But it takes more than those alone. Prepare, learn, reinforce, measure – not once, but right the way through the project. These activities are the hallmarks of that persistence, energy and focus I highlighted earlier. And they are indispensable.

About the author

Tony Hughes, Chief Executive of sales and negotiation experts Huthwaite International.


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