Don't Train in Vain

Chris Morgan, Namita Kalyan and Dan Frey


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We’ve all been there. At the beginning of the year we set our sights on something that we want to change in our behavior. We buy an instrument, sign up for the gym or start a diet, setting ourselves on a road paved with good intentions. But we all know that the outcome is far from certain. If we manage to stay the course, then the rewards can be huge. We can take pride in the new, improved selves that we see in the mirror each day. Sometimes, however, life gets in the way, and six months later, nothing has really happened.
Sales organizations often face the same challenges. They set out on training programs and ambitious goals for changes in performance. Some achieve these goals, but others—even those with very similar objectives—don’t live up to expectations.

But the opportunity is there. ZS recently conducted the Explorer Study, an extensive quantitative and qualitative analysis of sales force effectiveness (SFE) initiatives. The study looked at more than 800 data points from a wide range of survey respondents, literature sources, interviews with SFE industry leaders and internal ZS case studies. At a high level, the Explorer Study results indicate that, across industries, companies that invest in even a single SFE initiative can increase their revenue by an average of 4 to 8%, and companies that invest more programmatically across a variety of SFE initiatives see average increases in revenue of 9 to 10% and up to 30%.

Among specific SFE categories, the study found that sales processes and training are the most common investment targets—for understandable reasons. Nearly any sales force initiative will involve some kind of training or process improvement to implement changes in the field.

Moreover, efforts that were aimed at increasing the impact of each customer interaction, like training and sales process improvements, saw the largest payoff, with average one-year increases in revenue of 8%. Critically, however, they also saw the largest variation, with revenue hikes ranging from 2 to 17%. In other words, companies can generate real results if they get certain initiatives—like training—right, but they can also miss the mark badly.

About the Experts

Chris Morgan is a principal at ZS and leads the global talent management practice from the London office. He has also headed the EU sales practice and worked out of ZS’s Frankfurt and Chicago offices. He has a special focus on overcoming the challenges of translating business strategies into local actions through the complexities of sales and marketing organizations. Chris has worked in over 20 countries across all continents in the pharmaceutical, healthcare, airline, industrial products and communications sectors. He has led numerous root-and-branch sales and marketing capability transformation projects, including many pan-Europe or global projects for a range of blue-chip companies, and is a frequent guest speaker at international symposia and U.K. business schools.

Namita Kalyan is an associate principal based in ZS’s Philadelphia office. She is the global lead for customer engagement excellence within ZS’s talent management practice, and her focus has been in sales force strategy design and effectiveness. She has worked with Fortune 100 companies to evaluate and improve sales manager and rep effectiveness, including multi-country sales force training.

Dan Frey is a principal at ZS’s San Mateo, Calif., office. He joined ZS in 2002 and has led ZS’s China business since 2011. Dan has led and executed several hundred projects addressing a broad range of sales and marketing challenges, including sales force effectiveness, organizational design, resource allocation, incentive design, customer segmentation, and capability building for marketing innovation. Dan has been a featured speaker on Chinese healthcare reform at PharmaChina, co-authored two publications on healthcare sales and marketing issues, and chaired an Eyeforpharma conference on patient adherence and engagement. Dan has an MBA from Northwestern University and a B.A. from Princeton University.