Sales training traditionally has been a “spray and pray” undertaking: You sprayed on some training and prayed that your salespeople put it to use in ways that benefited the company.

After all, it wasn’t as if we could tie training directly to specific changes in on-the-job performance that demonstrably generated more revenue or profits or market share.

Well, now we can. Today we have “big data” that lets us show measurable gains in sales skills at a granular level. We can even document changes in particular sales skills among salespeople in particular industries. That means we can now answer questions such as: What is the impact of training on salespeople in a particular industry—the tech industry, for instance—compared with the impact on salespeople as a whole?

How is this possible?

Since 1995, my company, The Sales Board, has been using a validated instrument to reliably measure factors pertaining to Action Selling ® training. As I have explained in previous editions of eCoach, those factors include how much knowledge a salesperson has about each of the five Critical Selling Skills that Action Selling ® teaches; how much that knowledge level improves after training; and how well the person is able to use the knowledge on the job.

That last point—measuring the application of skills and knowledge on the job—has always been the missing link in proving a direct connection between sales training and a subsequent increase in sales revenue.

Today, over two decades later, we have compiled data on 400,000 salespeople from more than 3,500 companies in a broad range of industries. Our SQL relational database contains about 78 million data points. We have so much “big data” on the impact of sales training that we can report results not only for the whole “universe” of salespeople, but for salespeople within particular industries.

The technology industry, also known as the high-tech sector, includes companies that produce or sell cutting-edge products that incorporate advanced computer electronics and/or software. So, how do salespeople in the tech world stack up against salespeople in the broader universe of companies?

Just as with companies generally, gains in knowledge and in the application of skills on the job were dramatic. To focus on application, where the real payoffs lie, tech salespeople saw a skill gain of 112% in the critical skill of Sales Call Planning, a 102% gain in Presentation Skills, and a 120% boost in the critical skill of Gaining Commitment. With results like those, the training definitely paid dividends.

With huge gains in skill application, training for tech salespeople definitely paid dividends. Overall, however, the tech industry underperformed the universe. Taking all five critical skills as a whole, tech salespeople trailed their counterparts by two points in knowledge gain (41% vs. 43%) and by 10 points in application gain (76% vs. 86%).

This trend (and part of its cause) was especially notable in the critical sales skill we call Buyer/Seller Relationship. This refers to a salesperson’s ability to use a sales methodology to navigate through each of the customer’s incremental buying decisions in the proper sequence.

Here is what the data shows…