August 2011

Expert opinion: “Training to boost sales performance”

The financial crisis had a significant impact on training priorities since 2009. Projects which survived budget cuts were focused on achieving operating efficiency and creating short-term value, and of these, projects focused on sales-force training received top priority! 

By Jérôme Wargnier, Business Consulting Director, CrossKnowledge

In light of this, we took a look at the training programs which got the best results to find out what they had in common and share the lessons that can be learned from them with the CrossKnowledge community. Although taking place in very different business sectors, the programs in question all stand out for their original take on the two main requirements for success: project preparation and tailoring to the target population.

A new requirement


Tasked with demonstrating the contribution made by training to a company’s global performance, training managers turned to programs to develop sales teams’ skills in order to have concrete indicators of results. They also seized the opportunity to impose an unprecedented requirement on their operational counterparts.

Not only did they ask sales managers to define SMART targets during the project preparation phase, but they also secured their involvement in the design, roll-out and follow-up of training programs.

Consequently, in the end it was the sales managers who monitored and assessed the results of the training in terms of observable behaviour and impact on operations.

This put the training managers in a radically different position, allowing them to put an end to the often unequal client-provider relationship and reduce costs for organisations which are under constant pressure over results.

A marketing-based approach


What makes these projects particularly noteworthy is the marketing approach they adopted. To fully understand their audience and guarantee the success of the courses, training managers had to start by cataloguing the characteristics of their target populations, supplementing the traditional skills test with analyses of their personality, their attitude to training, their motivations and their concerns.

Thanks to the clear and complete vision this gave them of the target population’s attributes (diverse, nomadic, challenge-oriented, results-oriented), their selected teaching methods (evaluation, coaching, role playing, etc.) were particularly relevant to the aims of the program.

For example…


The main objective of one of the courses analysed was to provide sales representatives with the tools to sell and defend the cost of their product in times of economic crisis. Given the diversity of the target audience, with possible reactions ranging from indifference to the theme to relief that it was to be tackled, the course organiser needed to come up with 350 individually-tailored programs before bringing the sales representatives together for training… and that’s precisely what he did. By asking sales representatives from the onset to complete an assessment, he was able to give each of them a personalised selection of online teaching resources. Managers were approached to approve the development plan and communicate when providing course support in the field. Eight weeks later, when sales representatives took part in a role-playing activity, they already had a firm grasp of the fundamentals and so were able to really get the most out of the scenarios.


The table below summarises this approach for the four main characteristics of sales representatives.

Requirements for success in training to boost sales performances




Although these practices may obviously be extended to all training initiatives, courses aimed at sales representatives have the advantage of providing solid operational indicators. The results of these courses can actually be seen in terms of changes in profit margins, cycle-time reduction, improved conversion rates, and, last but not least, participants’ satisfaction at being treated as individuals.