The mystery of measurement

Roy Whitten and Scott Roy explore why so few organisations get measurement right and provide a way that works

Why is measuring sales training so difficult? Photo source: fotolia

In our experience, most companies fail to accurately measure the impact of their sales training programmes in a way that can lead to sustained improvement in performance. As a sales consultancy, we think it’s critical to get this right. Why train if you’re not going to measure? Why measure if you’re not going to do it right?

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Let’s take a look at why measuring sales training is so difficult, what it takes to get it right, and explore one method that we have found to be effective.

Why is measuring sales training so difficult?

We have discovered three root causes of ineffective measurement:

  1. Sales is a science and an art, concealed in a big, black box. Push people hard enough and you’ll uncover a profound ignorance about how sales actually works.  Most salespeople don’t know why they succeed. Most sales managers don’t know how to develop their teams. Most sales executives drown in management information that fails to pinpoint what’s wrong. It’s hard to measure what you don’t understand.
  2. Everyone knows attitude is key, but they don’t know what to do about it.  Everyone knows that, in sales, mind-set is key. But very few people know how to manage their own attitude, and hardly anyone knows how to manage it in others. You can’t measure what you don’t know.

People confuse correlation with causation. To most of us, ‘measurement’ means hard data. The best it can do is provide correlation between discrete items (e.g. a greater number of customer visits correlates positively with a greater volume of sales, but the real cause of increased sales is still unknown). Measuring the wrong thing doesn’t lead to improvement. 

​​What does effective measurement require?

Our customer conversations about this subject have isolated at least four requirements for the development of an accurate, effective system of measurement for our sales training programmes.

  1. A transformational mind-set. Both consultants and clients need to believe that people can change, and that the people at the top of the food chain are part of the problem and therefore must be part of the solution. 
  2. Inputs as well as outputs. Most systems of measurement focus solely on outputs (volume of sales, speed to close, etc.) and fail to measure the inputs that create these results. Those systems that do measure inputs tend to focus on the obvious instead of the truly functional factors (e.g. number of customer visits instead of the quality and activity within these visits).
  3. Qualitative as well as quantitative methodology. Sales involves human beings acting in very human ways. Quantitative data requires the addition of robust qualitative measures that capture what is actually happening in the customer engagement.
  4. Time, attention, and patience. Jack Phillips, the return on investment guru, advises aligning measurement of impact with the timeframe required for that impact to take effect. In an age of short-term thinking and instant corporate gratification, companies often lack the patience and discipline to do this.


Here is one way to do it

We don’t always succeed in convincing our clients to take these steps. When they do, the results are accurate, often impressive, and they support greater sustainability of training results. Here’s our ideal process.

Before the training begins, we determine both the output and the input measures. We use the following formula to guide our measures (as well as our diagnostics, our design, and our delivery): R = A + C + E, which means that Results = Attitude + Competence + Execution®.

With our clients, we establish KPIs for the outputs (the sales results) and the inputs (mind-set, skills, and systems/activities) required to transform the results. We establish baselines for all the KPIs and identify a tracking system that will measure progress.

During the training – face-to-face training and months of embedding – we track progress towards the KPIs.

After the training, we use the Brinkerhoff Success Case Method (SCM) methodology to augment quantitative data with qualitative understanding in order to understand what caused sales results to improve or not. 

SCM: How we use it

Here’s a brief overview of SCM from David Vachell, one of our consultants who introduced us to Brinkerhoff and is responsible for its successful implementation for our clients.

When a sales training programme is complete, we identify three groups of participants:

  1. Those who ‘get’ the training, use it, and create a business impact.
  2. Those who ‘get’ it, but either don’t use it or who try to use it, don’t get a result, and stop using it.
  3. Those who don’t ‘get’ it at all.

The SCM uses a thoughtful, two-step methodology that not only discovers what happened in each group, it creates the opportunity for people in groups B and C to move into group A, thus increasing the training’s impact and the client’s ROI. The measuring tool also serves as a learning tool.

SCM: Step 1 – intake

A simple questionnaire identifies the group into which each participant falls. A sample from each group is interviewed to determine causality between the training and their subsequent experience in the field.

We interview group A to find out which parts of the training actually helped and to identify exactly how they used the training to create an impact in their business.

We interview groups B and C to discover what prevented them from using the training or creating the sales impact they desired. Was it the training itself, or pressures of the business, or management practices?

SCM: Step 2 – analysis and strategic initiatives

With the client, we analyse all this information and we help them choose their next steps to sustain and expand the impact experienced by the business. There are checks and balances within the methodology, and there’s a balance between quantitative and qualitative methodology. More valuable information can be found in Robert Brinkerhoff’s book The Success Case Method.

For one year following completion of the training, we offer quarterly reviews of their progress – using the same input and output measures – with a final calculation of ROI

There are solid benefits to this type of measurement. The client receives information that actually empowers them to sustain the growth they’ve experienced and the consultancy has confirmation that the time they spent actually mattered.

Isn’t that what measurement is about?


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