Your sales training event is right around the corner. The date is set and the venue secured. The vendor you are considering to design the creative workshops—the heart of the event—is on the phone. You ask the following questions:

  • “I want the training to be memorable, so can you show me something different?”
  • “The training needs to be engaging; what new technology do you have?”
  • “We need our reps to practice, but whatever you design, don’t use the words ‘role play!’ Our sales representatives hate to role-play.”
  • “Can you build a fun competitive game?”

Do these questions sound familiar to you? They’re fine, but one critical question has been overlooked. Without answering this question, the success of your entire training event could be at risk. The one question you must be able to answer to communicate to your vendor, to your management team and to your sales force is: What do you want your representatives to be able to do differently as a result of the training?

Without knowing the answer to this key question, your training could have a minimal impact on learners at best and no impact at worst. Your learners may have been wowed by something new and different, they may have role-played (by a different name), and they may have beaten their competitors in a highly contested game and splashed their name on a leaderboard, but without the answer to that question, no amount of technology or glitz will help improve the performance of your sales force or benefit the business.

The answer to this question involves identifying clear behavioral objectives, which is instructional design-speak for knowing what kind of performance learners should be capable of at the end of the training. For example, when you get into your car, you generally know where you’re going. If you don’t, you may end up driving aimlessly, using gas but getting nowhere.

This is not much different from using training budgets to drive your learners around and deliver them back to where they started. With the car, once you know where you’re headed, especially with GPS technologies, you can map your route to any destination. But when it comes to training, how will you map your outcomes and determine what the behavioral objectives should be?

When organizations had more time, they would take some of it to conduct a carefully thought-out needs and audience analysis to determine the gap between where the learners were and where the organization wanted them to be; what was required to close that gap became the behavioral or performance objectives. However, in today’s rushed environment, how do you make sure you’re targeting the right behaviors? Although you may not have time to conduct an exhaustive needs analysis, you do have time to ask questions of some key stakeholders:

  • Ask your executive team: What do they expect from the sales force that they’re currently not seeing?
  • Ask sales managers: What are their high performers doing that differentiates them from the remaining sales force?
  • Ask your sales force: What challenges are they facing, and what do they think would help them be successful in their job?
  • If possible, ask your customers: What value can your sales force provide to help them in their business?

You should come away with a list of suggested changes that need to be made, which in turn translates into behaviors your sales force needs to exhibit. Once you are able to list the behaviors that will impact the business, you can both design effective training and measure the success of your training by evaluating how well your learners demonstrated those new behaviors. Think of it this way: Your behavioral objectives should paint a picture of the successful sales representative, and everyone attending the training should be able to paint by number to color themselves into that picture.

The next time you’re preparing a sales event and are determining what activities will ensure its success, consider something like this statement to open your conversation with your supplier: “We want all of our sales representative to be able to articulate our product’s value to the customer in three minutes or less. Can you help us design an engaging, memorable activity that will ensure that happens?” Now you’re driving with a clear destination.