70:20:10 — Three Essential Numbers to Building Frontline Sales Capability

by Marty Nicholas

With markets contested more hotly than ever, the ability of organisations to drive continual step change in performance across their frontline sales teams is fundamental to maintaining currency and building predictable, repeatable, and sustainable sales growth. To achieve this performance uplift, many organisations routinely invest in training to develop sales capability in an effort to lift performance and drive improvement across the board.

The problem is, although well intentioned, the vast majority of sales training programs fall well short on facilitating promised behavioural change and delivering necessary impacts on bottom line results. There are a myriad of reasons for this:

  • One-off, point-in-time training programs may promise participants a long shopping list of new skills, but this zealous coverage of all and sundry leaves little space for real absorption, meaningful application and true assimilation back into the way people sell day-to-day
  • Generic, off-the-shelf selling systems may create a common language, but are all too often divorced from the realities of the day job and specificities of unique selling environments
  • L&D  functions may pre-emptively anticipate capability requirements or reactively look to plug skill gaps, but if disconnected from the business, these armchair diagnoses are unlikely to hit the mark.
  • Finally, after years of selling, many of your people may feel like they've  done every type of sales training known to man. Fatigued and disillusioned with classroom-based learning, their lack of engagement neuters the investment and turns the whole process into a meaningless sham and expensive charade.

So what is the most effective approach to building sales capability that ensures you achieve the requisite performance uplift and bottom line return to justify any upfront investment?

The answer lies in the 70:20:10 (Experience, Exposure and Education) methodology - the idea that the most effective learning mix is roughly 70% from on-the-job challenges, 20% from people (mostly the manager) and 10% from courses and reading. The 70:20:10 methodology drives more integrated development, sustainable behaviour change and performance improvement; and is generally well-accepted by leaders and professionals responsible for building capability within teams and across organisations. Adoption of the 70:20:10 methodology enables:

  • Prioritising on-the-job learning above all else
  • Balancing the relative time spent across development initiatives; and
  • Maintaining an unwavering focus on application to the day job and opportunities to be challenged through real work tasks

Acknowledging the primacy of on-the-job learning and adopting the 70:20:10 principles for driving capability development however, brings with it a fundamental conundrum: Although the idea of balancing development activities across a range of 70:20:10 activities is eminently sensible, pragmatic and logical; few organisations have been able to systematically implement a holistic program of seamlessly integrated learning activities that spans formal education, exposure to and leaning from others, and building experience through real work challenges.

A workshop, webinar or one-off training event might be offered. Individuals take from it what they will. Managers might be providing coaching. They might not. Some may do it more consistently or effectively than others. And what of conscious on-the-job learning? Well, beyond the typical bi-annual review process, the individual is often left to their own devices with little specificity and direction beyond the broad goals outlined in their development plan.

So the question really hinges on how do you affordably establish and implement a true set of 70:20:10 learning activities specific to your sales force that is fully integrated, seamlessly embedded into the way you work day-to-day, and can be dynamically adapted to team-wide development priorities while supporting the capability needs of individuals?

Sales organisations need to maximise limited development budgets by directing their valuable training dollars towards solutions that …

  • Are available to their teams 24/7
  • Provide up-to-date insight into where individuals and the team sit against external best practice
  • Offer a clear direction on where they need to focus to close capability gaps; and
  • Utilise dynamic tools and resources designed by sales professionals for sales professionals

…Only then can you materially and sustainably shift the needle on sales performance.