My colleague Rick Mitchell passed on some interesting research about training and its impact on sales. And though the focus is on retail, I think the findings are relevant for all kinds of sales organizations.
The research, reported by the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, examined a whopping 63,500 sales associates at 330 stores. Researchers wanted to study the impact of training in this tough selling environment.
Retailers, of course, have taken it on the chin from the Internet in recent years. In particular, they’ve become victims of “showrooming,” where consumers stop by a brick-and-mortar store to check out products, but then buy online to save a few bucks. So the question is, under these tough circumstances, can salespeople change the consumer’s mind? Can they turn window shoppers into buyers?
Some retailers were more successful than others, and the reasons turned out to be pretty obvious. People were more likely to buy if they could (1) find someone to help them, (2) talk to a knowledgeable salesperson, (3) find what they were looking for, and (4) not have to wait in a long checkout line.
Then the researchers took a closer look at factor #2 — salesperson knowledge — and the impact of training. They found that sales associates who did any training at all had 46% more sales per hour than those who weren’t trained.
But was this correlation or causation? In other words, was it simply a case that smarter, more motivated salespeople sought out training? Or was it the training itself that made the difference?
There was some of both. The researchers concluded that about half of that 46% difference in results was due to individual differences among the associates. The other half was due to the training. (They came to this conclusion by looking at pre- and post-training results for individual reps.)
So training improved sales-per-hour by about 23%. That’s huge.
In fact, the researchers found, just one hour of training boosted sales by 5%. That’s an hour well spent.
The researchers concluded that the key benefit of a knowledgeable salesperson, from the buyer’s point of view, is the rep’s ability to narrow down choices. They trusted knowledgeable salespeople to sift through the information they were being bombarded with and make good recommendations.
And that’s a lesson for any salesperson who feels threatened by all of the information that buyers can now access on the Internet. We tend to think that information is power — power that gives buyers the upper hand. This study suggests that buyers feel overwhelmed by too much information, which creates an opportunity for a well-trained, knowledgeable rep to add significant value.
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