Research on the effectiveness of sales training has earned Michigan State University Broad College of Business doctoral student Blake Runnalls, and his team, one of only two $5,000 research grants awarded nationally by the Sales Education Foundation (SEF).

The research study, “Measuring and Evaluating Sales Training Effectiveness,” is being conducted with Doug Hughes, associate professor of marketing; Roger Calantone, Eli Broad Chaired University Professor of Business, co-director of the Center for Business and Social Analytics, and professor of marketing; and Clay Voorhees, associate professor of marketing.

The idea for the research came from conversations between Runnalls and a lifetime friend who works in a sales division of a multi-billion dollar international firm headquartered in the New York/New Jersey area. Runnalls asked his friend to set-up a meeting with the company president and the director of sales to see if they would be willing to collaborate with the college on a sales-related project.

The company invests a lot of money into sales training, but does not have a clear understanding of how to actually measure the effectiveness of its training investments, Runnalls said. After three hours of meeting and discussing the current status of the sales organization, the group decided to design a research project that will incorporate innovative ways to effectively measure and evaluate sales training investments.

That set the stage for the grant proposal to the SEF.

“I hope to be able to answer questions related to what organizational factors and sales representative traits are most influential in increasing the ‘stickiness’ of sales training initiatives,” Runnalls said.

The findings could influence organizations to develop new training practices aimed at retaining top sales talent and to develop training programs that align with the learning orientations of the sales force and that are most applicable to current selling environments.

“Companies are big on efficiency, and yet they invest time and money in training programs without a clear understanding of the return on investments of these training initiatives,” he said, adding that selling units may need ongoing training that aligns with the strategic vision of the organization, creating a longer time frame for which to measure and evaluate the effectiveness of training programs.

“Updating the sales fields’ understanding of training success will undoubtedly prepare selling firms to better align strategic resources focused on impacting not just the short-term bottom line but also on the long-term strategic focus of the company,” Runnalls said.

Runnalls, a doctoral student in marketing at the Broad College, earned his BA in communications/public relations from Marist College, his MA in economics from the University of South Florida, and his MBA from the University of Massachusetts–Amherst.