Sales training is always a priority at financial services and insurance companies. How can you ensure that it works? Provide a mix of training modalities, says Kristen Smithwick, manager of membership services, Best Practices LLC, a Chapel Hill, N.C. — based research firm.

“The most effective sales training combines on-the-job coaching, classroom training, and self-directed education,” advises Smithwick. She suggests mixing instructor-led training with experiential activities such as role playing, games, and live or online simulations to help financial advisors retain the concepts and skills taught.

Varying the types of training offered also makes it more accessible to people at any time — and can cut costs. “Classroom training, though generally regarded as one of the most effective approaches, is time-consuming and often expensive,” notes Smithwick.

A Best Practices survey of 36 companies across a variety of industries, released earlier this year, found that, on average, companies deliver 30 percent of their sales training via ongoing on-the-job coaching; 29 percent in a classroom setting; 21 percent through external vendors; and 15 percent through Web-based training. Workshops and simulations, both online and in person, are often overlapped with these other formats.

Measuring Results

Are companies measuring the return on investment of their sales training? According to Best Practices' survey, the answer is yes: 65 percent of respondents said they do, primarily with a survey at the end of the program.

Training meetings are good candidates for ROI studies, says Monica Myhill, CMP, president of Meeting Returns, a Littleton, Colo., company that provides return-on-investment impact and evaluation studies for meetings. But designing a survey that truly proves ROI is no simple matter, she stresses.

The first step, advises Myhill, is to come up with clear, measurable objectives for each of the five levels of evaluation in the Phillips evaluation and ROI methodology: Reaction and planned action; learning; application/implementation; business impact; and return on investment.

For example, consider a large sales training meeting attended by 90 percent or more of your sales force. Level-one objectives (reaction and planned action) might include that “90 percent of attendees will indicate an intention to implement the new sales strategy within one month of the meeting, and 80 percent of attendees will indicate that the meeting was a worthwhile investment for the company.” Level-two objectives (learning) might include that at least 80 percent of attendees “successfully demonstrate sales call techniques during a workshop role play and score 75 out of 100, or better, on a sales strategy quiz taken at the meeting.” It follows that level-three objectives (action/implementation) would say: “Within three months of the meeting, 80 percent of attendees will indicate that they use sales call techniques on every sales call; and 80 percent of managers will have discussed the status of their region's goals and objectives with their direct reports on a conference call or at a face-to-face meeting.”

It is not until level four (business impact) that bottom-line objectives kick in, such as “Within six months, increase market share by 10 percent and increase the customer satisfaction index by 15 percent.” And finally, the level-five ROI objective: “Within the first year, achieve a 25 percent return on investment.”

Determining meeting ROI can be daunting, admits Myhill. Most important, she emphasizes: “Start by taking small steps with lower levels of evaluation and work towards an ROI measurement over the process of several meetings.”