The Role of Sales Training Requirements Definition and Requests for Proposals in the Success of Technology Companies
Written By: Dave Stein
Published On: November 4 2005
Sales training is a critical component contributing to the success of most technology companies. For sales and training executives and managers, assessing and selecting from among the many sales training and methodology providers can be a daunting task. However, sales training is a significant (and, from a financial reporting standpoint, often a "financially material") investment. To get the best results, and to select the best providers, developing a requirements definition and a request for proposal (RFP) is the best route.
Sales Training as a Component of Success
In today's hypercompetitive business environments, companies look for the competitive edge. For many technology companies, it's product-based. These companies strive for the best quality, the most innovation, the lowest price, the hottest technology, the greatest return on investment (ROI), or, perhaps, outstanding brand recognition. Other companies depend on stellar service or customer care to differentiate them from the competition. Regardless of which of those advantages your company depends upon to win, we believe that those organizations with a well-founded, pragmatic sales methodology—a set of processes, procedures, and tools that provide the sales organization with what it needs to convert qualified prospects to customers—win business more often, at higher margins. Sales training is a critical component contributing to the success of these organizations.
The total cost of training (TCT) is a significant and, for many companies, a financially material expense. Well spent, sales training can boost the top line of an enterprise by providing a competitive edge that mitigates minor deficiencies in product, delivery, quality, price, or brand value. Poorly spent, it is a waste of human resources and money, and can easily cost an organization millions in lost business opportunity.
Sales executives don't invest in sales training, per se, they invest in quota attainment. Sales training is how they achieve that goal. Savvy companies, that employ a sales methodology, invest in sales training strategically (as an ongoing process to support the broad adoption of the methodology) or tactically (to educate and train their teams on specific skills required to adapt to changing market conditions, such as how to win against a specific, tough competitor that introduces a new product). However, a sales training company, (or effectiveness solutions provider (ESP), may not be the same company that consulted with them on the installation of their methodology or even provided the strategic training.
ESP Evaluation and Selection
With that in mind, once you determine that you need sales training for your organization, the next step is to develop a set of requirements. These will serve as a foundation from which you will select a sales ESP, or define a curriculum for delivery by your internal sales training team.
Broadly, ESP evaluation process can be divided into three parts:
- Requirements Definition: This is the process of defining your organization's sales training needs, culminating in an RFP. Are you currently using a methodology? If so, what are its characteristics? Is the training strategic, or tactical, as described above? Do you need basic, advanced, or sales management training? Do you need to transfer product, industry, and service knowledge, or basic selling skills? Do you know how to assess the training needs of your existing sales personnel, or do you need an impartial, independent assessment? Change management is a key part of the sales training process. Do you have a program of continuous follow-up and reinforcement to ensure that change is effected, or must that be part of the procured program?
- ESP Vendor Evaluation: This is the process of examining the vendor, its training methodology, geographic reach, facilitator experience, business model, pricing, customization capability, and a myriad of other factors that affect whether or not this particular vendor is a fit for your organization.
- ESP Program Evaluation: This is the actual evaluation of the training program(s). What is the underlying sales methodology? Is the methodology suitable to your markets, products, and services? Is the complexity of the solution compatible with your sales team? Does the complexity of the methodology match the products or services being sold? Does this program have documented, demonstrable success? How does the vendor suggest you measure program success? Does the vendor provide tools for assessment? Can the program be tailored to your needs? The key question is "Will using this sales methodology, as advertised, provide your company with competitive advantage, above and beyond other assets such as your products or services, quality customer service, or brand recognition?"
The Total Cost of Training: Why Requirements Definition Is Important
Many organizations take an informal approach to defining their sales training requirements—they either don't develop any, or do so with a minimal effort. The typical "requirements" effort is reviewing "word of mouth" references, searching the web for training companies that serve the enterprise's market, or responding to a training company's marketing campaign. Countless companies have invested millions in these informal approaches, leaving them with a confused or demoralized sales force, lost business opportunity, and a training budget spent with little to no measurable return.
A Look at Costs
A training event for fifty sales people can cost an organization almost $109,000. For companies in many industries, two sales training events per year are required for their people to stay competitive. If you gather your sales people twice per year for sales training, that is a nearly quarter of a million dollar investment. For a company that, for example, generates $30 million in sales and $4.5 million in earnings, two training events per year represent an incredible 4.8 percent of annual earnings!
Where else in the organization can your spend 1 percent of revenue or 4.8 percent of earnings without a business plan outlining the requirements and benefits, an action plan to track results, and some type of RFP with performance criteria issued to competing vendors? A twice annual sales training event approaches the total information technology (IT) cost for a typical midsize manufacturing company. In this example, from the chief financial officer's (CFO) perspective, sales training is a material income statement expense.
Sales training is an investment, with the expected return being an increase in the average sales per sales representative. The goal of developing training requirements is to maximize the probability of achieving the expected return.
What Is a "Requirement"?
When discussing a requirements definition, the first thing we should do is define a requirement. A requirement is a characteristic of the training, such as the language in which the training materials are written and delivered, or the background of the facilitator (including details such as whether that facilitator was a sales person in the past, or has knowledge of your industry). Your organization must define those requirements that are appropriate to your business situation.
Once you have "selected" the requirements for your particular training engagement, you must define the desired characteristics for those requirements. For example, the Training Materials Language requirement, may be characterized by English and Spanish. You can then present this to an ESP in an RFP and evaluate their characteristics against those of the requirements you've defined (see figure 1).
Figure 1. Requirements Definition
Your objective is to define a series of appropriate requirements for your organization, and then develop scenarios where you can objectively compare particular ESPs. The formal approach, employed in most industries, suggests creating a "requirements document", which becomes an RFP to the ESPs. It is also your organization's guide. The requirements document should contain training objectives, baseline assumptions, event requirements, and a cost/benefit analysis. Each of these sections should then be broken down further. A short list of sample requirements appears at the end of the article.
If you have an immediate need, employ the basic model presented below or a version of it that has been customized with your specific requirements. Once completed, this can be submitted to several training vendors that can respond to each item under baseline assumptions, event requirements, and a cost/benefit analysis.
Requirements Document as a Negotiation Tool
In addition to clarifying your training goals and methods of achievement in measurable terms, the requirements document or RFP becomes a key negotiating tool with your vendors. Training is a relatively high-margin business, especially with non-customized, generic programs. Use the requirements document to hone in on how the ESP will deliver a customized program (if required), post-training follow up, reinforcement, and facilitation, as well as how much it will all cost. Determine the event-based training costs, and then negotiate the appropriate follow-up to assure that your organization is properly supported to achieve your desired results.
The time and cost involved to develop a requirements definition for a sales training initiative is a fraction of the cost of the event. That requirements definition will take you a long way to making certain that you have selected the right ESP and will be a lever in negotiating with that ESP.
Develop a sales training requirements definition and deliver this as an RFP to two or more ESPs when you have the need for sales training. For the most part, the evaluation of ESPs does not entail the separation of the "good" from the "bad", nor is it a ranking system. Most ESPs that have been in business for a while have more successful engagements than failures, as judged by their clients. Most have a program of continuously improving their courseware. Rather, it is a process of matching an ESP's characteristics, programs, and products with your needs.
Implementing and maintaining a usable, pragmatic sales methodology and providing your team with the ongoing training necessary to maximize its effectiveness can make the difference between winning and losing.
Here is a generic short list of high-level requirements for sales training:
Basic Sales Training Requirements
- 1. Training objectives
- Learning objectives
- Desired outcome (e.g. sales increase per participant, deals closing sooner, less discounting)
- Criteria and methods for measuring the outcome
- 2. Baseline assumptions
- What methodology, processes, and procedures are you currently using?
- What does your sales force already know?
- What are their individual and aggregate strengths and weaknesses?
- What areas require training
- Employing the company's sales methodology
- Product knowledge
- Selling process
- Communicating up and down the sales "chain of command"
- Gaining and maintaining access to senior-levels
- Getting to the "right buyer"
- Devising strategies and tactics to win against a specific competitor?
- Can the group to be trained be divided into groups based upon the broad categories listed above?
- Event Requirements
- Dates and timing
- Language—facilitation and materials
- Learning objectives
- Customization of workshops and case studies, training materials, and specific content
- Instrumentation, including what tools are left with the sales representatives to reinforce or facilitate the adoption of the training post-event
- Existence of follow-up mechanisms, other than instrumentation, to reinforce the training, both from the ESP and by your organization
- Preparation /customization cost
- Delivery cost
- Strategy for assessing results:
- What will be measured?
- Over what time frame?
- What are the goals?
- How will the results be validated?
- What improvements will be included in the ongoing training process?
- Facilitator credentials, such as sales experience and knowledge of the industry into which you are selling
- Sales experience
- Knowledge of the industry into which you are selling
- Cost/Benefit analysis
- Anticipated sales achievement
- Less delivery costs
- Less assessment costs
- Less internal event costs
- Yield results
About the Authors
Dave Stein, is the chief executive officer and founder of ESR, which provides Gartner-style membership-based analyses of the sales training, methodology, and consulting marketplace and the providers that serve it. http://www.ESResearchCorp.com. He is an internationally recognized expert on business to business selling, author of the Amazon best-seller , How Winners Sell, and writer of the monthly "Smart Selling" column for Sales and Marketing Management Magazine.
Al Case, research fellow and principal analyst at ESR, was a principal researcher at Gartner as well as a president of Gartner eMetrix. He led Gartner's vertical industries and e-business divisions, and grew Gartner Software to$25 million (USD). In his thirteen-year tenure at Gartner, Case hired, managed, and trained sales forces for four different divisions. Prior to working at Gartner, he was the founder of Nastec/Transform Logic's Consulting and Education division, which provided professional training world-wide.