Magazine article Talent Development

Better Faster, Cheaper, More! IBM Identifies, Designs, Deploys, and Measures Sales Training to Fit an Accelerated World

Magazine article Talent Development

Better Faster, Cheaper, More! IBM Identifies, Designs, Deploys, and Measures Sales Training to Fit an Accelerated World

Article excerpt

In early 2006, IBM senior executives made a commitment to hire additional sales professionals around the world to fuel company growth.

The company's sales learning team was charged with redesigning the Global Sales School (GSS)--the foundational sales training program for IBM's approximately 3,000 annual sales hires--to be more efficient and to accelerate the production of revenue by the newly hired sellers. IBM needed a new program that increased sellers' quota attainment, took them out of the field sparingly, and was cost-efficient.

While there was agreement that a new GSS should teach sellers how to navigate the complexities of IBM--where sellers have to bring together a variety of software, hardware, and services to create solutions that deliver client value--this meant something different to every stakeholder.

Different regions had different sales coverage models. Specific lines of business wanted to promote their specific products and services. Other executives were leading initiatives they wished to integrate into any new sales training. Every person had a valid perspective, just about every one of them was a vice president, and all expected the sales learning team to figure out how to meet these challenges.

Most large training initiatives face the same challenge. The problem is not too little potential content, but too much. The team needed to ensure that the learning program was not a disjointed, lengthy, and tedious mix of everyone's favorite topics. An effective design team needed to provide a compelling focus that united the different stakeholders.

Exemplary performance

Which competencies or behaviors correlate with exemplary performance? The sales learning team needed to show what top performers do more or less than average performers, before they could make a compelling argument for using these competencies as the learning objectives for a new training program.

Once these "differentiators of performance" were identified, the team was able to explain to stakeholders that the learning is focused on growth drivers, and that other topics, though they might be important, cannot be included because the program must be delivered as quickly and efficiently as possible.

IBM's sales learning team collected data from a multitude of sources, including the sales executive council, focus groups, and a survey of top and typical sellers. The data was categorized and presented as part of a "global summit" so stakeholders could gain agreement on the need for change and the core elements of the new design.

During the summit, stakeholders agreed on 19 activities that were the most important areas for new IBM sellers to receive training on, including prospecting and researching clients and client industries, identifying leads, exploring and identifying opportunities, creating sales strategies and plans, making sales calls, developing the client's perception of IBM's unique value, and designing solutions and preparing proposals.

These performance differentiators united stakeholders around a new agenda and provided a target for the learning team.

The levers to pull

Much of what people learn takes place on the job. In large organizations, people also build expertise in how to navigate their organization. The more that training can be linked to real work, the greater the chance that it will be productively applied when employees return to their desks.

Learning organizations can accomplish this by training people to perform--not just understand--work tasks. For example, instead of administering a multiple-choice test on what makes a good proposal, assess a proposal that sellers create as part of the training.

The IBM GSS curriculum includes two content types tied to performance-based and work-based learning:

Team challenges. A model for performance-based learning, team challenges provide real-life situations in which teams of new sales hires perform real sales tasks using actual sales tools and resources. …

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