How to target learning and development of your sales organisation

Is sales – and sales training, in particular – finally coming of age? There’s no doubt that learning and development (L&D) professionals, like the rest of business, currently face major challenges, and those engaged with the sales organisation probably more than most.

Not least among these challenges is the fallout from today’s testy economic climate and the scrutiny imposed on L&D activity as part of a remorseless drive to eradicate “unproductive” cost. Yet, cost and the need to justify L&D spending is only one in a series of factors coinciding to radically change the way we approach people development.  A simultaneous need to deliver a far wider range of development opportunities, designed to enable organisations to respond rapidly to evolving market conditions, is another factor that only adds to the pressure.

A third factor has been driven by technological change – e-learning, which is now well established, brings with it a whole new set of protocols in terms of delivering development opportunities.

Finally, there has been a discernible change in attitude in the way businesses manage, hire and develop its sales talent, as they recognise the significant competitive advantage inherent in its revenue-generating organisations. This recognition of the importance of selling and sales management has spread to legislators, academics and professional bodies as they unite at long last in seeking to create a framework around sales as a career, again reflecting the importance of revenue-generation in today’s complex, global economy.

These factors have combined to cause forward-thinking organisations to reassess their approach to sales and sales training, re-focusing efforts on finding and developing the right talent for each available role in the most efficient way possible. Today’s trend amongst large corporations for providing sales training through sales academies has developed into a sophisticated system, with the thought-leaders delivering L&D using a two-tiered approach comprising sales academies and traditional classroom learning on the one hand, and virtual academies based around e-learning solutions on the other.


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Such advances are almost entirely market-driven at the cutting edge, with organisations that are able to drill down into the capabilities and development potential of individual sales talent leading the way.

One of our global clients, well-respected both for its sales capability and its approach to development, has now adopted this dual academy approach based on performance and return on sales, focusing the lion’s share of its L&D budget on its top producers. Accordingly, it spends some 80 percent of its budget on the top 30 percent of its sales talent, reserving face-to-face, classroom training for top-producers, those it has decided to fast-track and the most demanding jobs. The remaining 70 percent also have access to high-quality training but through the much more cost-effective e-learning route.

e-learning brings with it many advantages, not least the ability to deliver precisely the learning required only when it is needed by the individual. It can be delivered objectively and consistently throughout the organisation, in the individual’s own time and at their preferred pace. This is in stark contrast with the one-size-fits-all, so-called “sheep-dip” training which had become the hallmark of the classroom approach in many instances. While traditional training is often inconsistent, inflexible and time-intensive, taking valuable people “off the road” for learning that is not necessarily tailored to their needs, e-learning is flexible, consistent, adaptable and cost-effective.

Even this is not the end of the story. How much more effective would the L&D process become if there were a relatively easy method of identifying exactly where the skills and competency gaps lie within each individual – and also how big those gaps are? How useful would it be to also have a reliable way of assessing individuals’ potential to develop?

A suitable online assessment tool allows organisations to do all of that. Such a tool clearly needs to be objective, accurate and highly predictive.  It also needs to be role-specific to enable L&D professionals to focus on the precise skills and competencies required for each sales role – individuals engaged in application selling, for instance, have a very different profile to those performing a strategic sales role. Finally, the tool needs to be able to assess individuals against a “high-performer” benchmark in each role to provide a global understanding of “what good looks like” rather than just a comparison with the best available in the organisation.

Such a tool is very powerful when placed in the hands of L&D professionals. They instantly gain the ability to focus on the right learning exactly when and where it is needed – with laser-sharp accuracy – depending on the skills gaps identified. They are able to put together a comprehensive, forward-looking development plan for each individual in a timely fashion and for very little cost; this in turn provides the framework for subsequent learning interventions, providing an evidential justification for L&D expenditure in terms of return on sales and other metrics that the business will understand.

Best of all, the right assessment tool allows L&D professionals to become proactive in the way they deliver their service to the business.

A modern L&D strategy, allied to an accurate assessment tool, redraws the relationship between an organisation and its employees, aligning them in a “partnership of equals.” It provides a win-win situation which more closely matches the needs of both the employer and the employee. This will inevitably pay significant dividends in terms of enhancing individual performance and delivering superior returns for the business.


About the author

Andrew Dugdale is an expert on talent management within the Sales sector, helping forward-thinking firms assess, recruit, develop, and retain the right people at all levels within their sales organisations. He is a pioneer in developing the interface between the C-Suite, Sales, Human Resources, and Learning and Development departments, helping to define and put in place a framework which enables them to ‘speak the same language’, cutting across cultural boundaries and delivering breakthrough sales performance. 

Mr Dugdale is President of, a ground-breaking business focused on providing highly predictive online assessments and associated analyses designed to enable clients to recruit the right people for specific Sales roles, predict their revenue potential, and focus their development strategies accordingly. Mr Dugdale has recently spun off a new ecommerce-based assessment company called the Universal Sales Skills Audit, delivering ‘gold standard’ sales skills assessment at a mass market price.

Simon Dutton