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Training & Development - The Ultimate Differentiator [Part 3]

4 Feb, 2011 By: David Ramos, Strategy Development, Inc. imageSource

Training & Development - The Ultimate Differentiator [Part 3]

So now the members of your team “haven’t got” all the skills they need if
they’re to perform at their best this year, and people are coming at you from
all directions with training courses they want you to consider. How do you
identify the best type of training that your staff will benefit from? Or make
use of a small education budget (or negotiate for more money) to enhance the
skill set of your sales team?

When it comes to educating your sales organization or any portion of your
staff, a well-conducted “Training Needs Assessment” will become a tremendously
useful tool. When planning to use any training and development program, you
really need to know the fundamentals before you arrange the actual training.
What type training is needed? Who needs it most? Why is the training important?
How or where will the training be delivered?

A Training Needs Assessment or a Training Needs Analysis is a good,
structured way of defining what is required.  It identifies the training that
will successfully address any employee skill deficit. It does this by surveying
the skills that sales employees already have and those that they need; and it
helps owners and managers think about how to deliver the right training at the
right time.  By looking at existing skills and competencies compared to the
skills required to meet organizational needs, you make an informed estimate of
the training that has to be delivered. From that point you can confidently
develop a training program that addresses organizational objectives, and ties
into the strategic direction of the company. When understood in this way, you
can see that a Training Needs Assessment is much more than simple data
gathering. Rather, it is a process that starts with gathering data and ends with
a specific training plan.

Scoping Your Training Needs Assessment

Before you begin, you need to determine what the scope of your (training) needs
assessment is. To do that, it is useful to consider which of the following
perspectives is driving the training needs that you are considering:

1) Organization – what training needs to be done to ensure the
organization performs effectively? 

  • Is the sales organization meeting its performance targets?
  • Are there new regulations you need to be versed in to meet client needs?
  • Have the sales organization’s goals and objectives changed?
  • Is new technology necessary to allow for better collaboration & access
    to info?
  • Do you have to learn to work with different resource constraints?
  • Are there human resource issues like turnover and recruitment problems?

2) Task and Job – what training is needed to reach performance standards
for the task or job?

  • Do people have the skills, knowledge & competence required to do the
    work required of them (how are they at initiating appointments,
    presentations skills, needs discovery, proposal writing skills, negotiation
    skills, and project management?)
  • Do skill levels need to be increased to meet performance goals?
  • Is the organization using best practices effectively?

3) Individual – which employees need training and in what, to perform
their jobs more effectively?

  • Are there weaknesses in job-specific skills, knowledge and competencies?
    (These may be flagged by poor productivity in revenue or percent of plan,
    down time, customer complaints, or high levels of absenteeism, even stress.)
  • Do the employees believe they need training on certain skills or
  • Are skill upgrades required to compete more effectively?

Most Training Needs Assessments involve elements from all three levels. This
ensures that while the training is targeted to individual needs, these needs are
tied to job performance and organizational goals and objectives. And what’s the
scope of your assessment? Are you going to determine the training needs across
the organization? Is it for a specific team or to improve performance in a
specific process? Clarify and write down your scope so that you remain focused.
It’s all too easy to get side-tracked in broadening or narrowing your scope too
much during the assessment process.

The Training Needs Assessment Process

1) Gather Data

The process starts with gathering data, depending on the scope you’ve
identified. Make sure you gather the information that will help you analyze
performance and/or skills in the areas you need to cover. This will help you
identify gaps between:

  • Existing skills and competencies, and desired skills and competencies.
  • Current performance and desired performance.

Think about this using the following headings:

  • Organizational data
  • Strategic plans.
  • Key performance data, like turnover, percent of plan, revenue
  • Information about planned change and initiatives.

Task and job data

  • Performance data for specific processes or departments.
  • Job descriptions.
  • Knowledge/skills/abilities required.

Individual data

  • Performance appraisals.
  • Personal Development Plans.

You need to also gather information about training that has already taken
place and, where available, information about its effectiveness. In medicine,
it’s easy to understand the difference between treating symptoms and curing a
medical condition. The first implies immediate help while the second eliminates
the problem.  But when you have a problem with your sales organization, how do
you approach it? Do you jump in and start treating the symptoms or do you
consider the deeper, underlying problem that needs to be resolved permanently? 

2) Analyze skills and performance gaps

Training helps build skills and improve performance. Acquiring the latest
methods and up to date industry information is paramount today to stay
competitive. So the next stage is to identify, within your scope, what areas of
skills and performance could be improved by specific training. To do this,
you’ll need to analyze data that you’ve gathered and also consult with key
people. You’ll need to consider gaps at the organizational, task/job and
individual level, depending on your scope and context. Consider:

  • What changes in strategy are forthcoming, and what training might be
    required to support it?
  • Are there discrepancies in performance between expectations and results?
  • What common themes arise in people’s appraisals and development plans?

Consult with key people

Meet with the leaders of applicable departments or teams to discuss training
to ask questions such as:

  • What are the key tasks the department performs?
  • What training has already been done?
  • What are your most pressing training issues?
  • What training will help your department’s performance?

Consider surveys, interviews and/or focus groups

To identify training needs, consider involving the people who need to be
trained. You could do this by survey or interview people individually, or
consult with people in focus groups. A survey can be a good way of involving a
wider group of people, while interviews and focus groups can be more effective
at making a qualitative assessment & validating it. Take care not to emerge with
a vast “wish list” - you’ll need to prioritize. First and foremost, ask people
what areas are they interested in learning.

3) Identify Specific Training Needs

With your data and analysis in hand, it’s now time to identify the training
needed. This means deciding which of the gaps in skills & performance you’ve
identified now need to be met by your training plan. Note that not all
performance gaps will require training. Some will be better addressed by
improving communication with clearly defined expectations or changes in job
specification. Others can be addressed by outsourcing non-core activities, or
changing work patterns so that people with important, rare skills can focus on
their specific-type of work. Overall, consider the appropriate types of
training, referring to your scope and/or conferring further with an experienced
management consulting firm. Once you have identified the training your staff
needs, acquire and deliver the best training available.

David Ramos is a consultant for Strategy Development, Inc., the industry
management consulting firm providing Sales, Service & MPS training, including
workshops for the BTA, InfoTrends, and others. Ramos consults & instructs
selling skills workshops and is a regular contributor to industry publications.
He is a class presenter at the ITEX 2011 Expo. At


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