Suppose you deliver a sales training program to your sales force. And suppose that in the next quarter, or the next year, your company’s sales revenue increases. Well, good, right?

But now suppose you are asked to prove to a skeptical CEO or CFO that the additional revenue—or some defined percentage of the increase—is directly attributable to the sales training, as opposed to changes in the company’s marketing practices, a pickup in the general economy, or whatever. How would you demonstrate that?

For as long as there have been such things as sales executives, no good answer to that question has existed. In recent years, other industries have been able to address such issues by seeking patterns and evidence in oceans of “big data.” But not the sales-training industry. Not until now.

In 1995 my company, The Sales Board, formed a development team of software engineers and psychometricians to create a validated instrument that would reliably measure factors pertaining to Action Selling ® training. 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.

As I explained in the previous two editions of eCoach, we now have compiled 20 years’ worth of 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.

Now that we’ve got “big data,” let’s mine it.

Research has proven that sales success is most affected by five Critical Selling Skills. Action Selling ® isolates and teaches those skills. They are:

  1. Buyer/Seller Relationship
  2. Sales Call Planning
  3. Questioning/Listening
  4. Presentation Skills
  5. Gaining Commitment

The “big data” we have amassed over 20 years allows us to look at each of the five Critical Sales Skills (and at all five together) to determine the average starting point for students, prior to training, in both knowledge and ability to apply the knowledge. We also can determine the levels that students reached upon certification in each skill. We then can calculate (in percentage terms) the skill gain that occurred, in both knowledge and application, as a direct result of sales training.

Here is what those measurements reveal for the third Critical Selling Skill, which is Questioning/Listening…