The sales training industry traditionally is long on bold claims but short on proof. When you come down to it, sales training always has been a “spray and pray” proposition: Spray it on the sales force, then pray that something positive and lasting happens to your company’s ability to sell its goods or services.

The reasons are understandable. After all, consider the difficulty of collecting hard, measurable evidence that would establish a direct link between a sales training program and improved business results. First you would need a training program that teaches distinct, identifiable sales skills—skills that provably make a critical difference in the real world of sales. Then the program would have to improve those skills, demonstrably and measurably. Then the improved skills would have to “transfer” from the training program to application on the job, again demonstrably and measurably.

Finally, if you were to have any confidence that a sales training program would do all of that before you invested in it, you would need evidence in the form of a database large enough to prove that the program did what it promised. You would need “Big Data” that could be mined to show, for example, that the training program convincingly improves Sales Skill X by a factor of Y and, further, that on-the-job application of Skill X is convincingly boosted by a factor of Z.

That kind of big data has never existed in the world of sales training. But now it does.

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 including these: How much knowledge a salesperson has about the selling skills that are critical to success; how much that knowledge level improves after training; and how well the person is able to use the knowledge on the job.

That last piece—measuring how often and how well a skill is applied in the real world—provides the crucial evidentiary link between a training program and any subsequent improvement in critical business indicators, such as revenue gains, higher margins, or increases in market share.

For more than 20 years we have used this validated instrument to evaluate the impact of Action Selling ® training. We have collected 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 with a two-decade time span. In other words, we now have access to “big data” on the impact of sales training.

Everything starts with critical skills

Action Selling ® is built upon the research-proven fact that success in sales is most influenced by the degree to which salespeople master and use five Critical Selling Skills. Those skills are…