How Do You Know Your Sales Training Works? (Part 2) - Action Selling

How Do You Know Your Sales Training Works? (Part 2)

MARCH 2016 – ISSUE 142

How Do You Know Your Sales Training Works? (Part 2)

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Dear Sales Executive:
How would you react if I suggested that the motto of the sales training industry ought to be, “Sales training: Long on promises, short on proof”?

If there is one thing the industry has always lacked, it is a solid, validated, data-driven methodology to evaluate the claims that suppliers make for their programs. But, as I said in the previous edition of this newsletter, that is no longer the case. Let’s talk some more about “big data.”

If you have a question about how to conduct sales training that can be evaluated in a genuinely meaningful way, click on “Ask The eCoach“.

We are committed to your professional success.

Duane Sparks
Author of Action Selling


Action Selling operates from the research-proven principle that the most effective way to boost a company’s sales performance is to train salespeople in a way that improves five Critical Selling Skills. Those critical skills are:

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

Recently a prospective client for Action Selling training challenged us with some extremely interesting questions:

  1. How much has your training improved critical selling skills in companies in particular industries, such as technology, heath care, manufacturing, finance, or agriculture?
  2. Which of these skills was the most deficient? Which skills improved the most?
  3. How do you compare gains in knowledge (how much students learn in a training program) to how much they transfer into the field?
  4. Which of the critical skills, when improved, produces the greatest return on investment for the salesperson’s company?

No sales training company in history could answer questions like those with reliable, validated data—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 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. (Applying skills and knowledge on the job is, of course, the only way to improve actual sales performance.)

As I explained in the last edition 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.

So, yes, we could answer our client’s questions. And we could do it with very high degrees of accuracy and validity.

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.

In Part 1 of this series, we showed what that looks like for the first critical sales skill, Buyer/Seller Relationship. Here is what the data shows for the second critical skill, Sales Call Planning:

  1. Blue bars indicate average assessment scores prior to training. Green bars indicate assessment scores upon certification.
  2. Two bars on the left indicate Knowledge measurement. Two bars on the right indicate Application measurement.
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Remarkable findings about this skill

  1. Before training, salespeople had a reasonable amount of knowledge (64%), but the ability to apply sales-call planning skills was surprisingly low (37%). Salespeople generally are poor planners.
  2. The key to mastering this skill lies in understanding how to set the right kind of objectives for a sales call.
  3. The post-certification Application score of 82%, compared with the post-certification Knowledge score of 83%, shows that trained salespeople, when they return to the job, actually use nearly all of the skills they learned.
  4. The 121% Skill Gain suggests that Sales Call Planning is the No. 1 most important skill to focus upon in training. No other skill posted that high a gain.

In the next edition of eCoach, we will look at what the data shows about the third critical sales skill, Questioning/Listening.

Meanwhile, maybe Action Selling’s motto ought to be, “Sales training: Results you can prove!”

For information about how to make sales training pay huge dividends, contact Action Selling at (800) 232-3485.

For a far more complete look at findings from The Sales Board’s 20-year sales-training evaluation project, see my current white paper, Big Data Reveals the Best Way to Develop Sales Talent.


If you’re looking for sales training, New Big Data reveals the right approach to designing sales training that produces maximum business results. Are you asking any of these Big Questions?

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