Sell benefits of training, not features (On Training)

Management wants to see clear ties to strategic objectives

When training and development managers propose training solutions, they can encounter significant resistance, which usually stems from a fear of change or failure. Senior managers are concerned with accountability and results. As training budgets increase, they expect to see a tangible return on their investment, just as they do from any other operational activity.

T&D managers are often in a defensive position trying to justify their existence by positioning training as an essential need. However, most senior managers are already sold on the need for training. The issue is not if they want training, it’s about which training initiative presents the most benefits for the organization.

Both management and T&D have latched on to return on investment (ROI). Unfortunately ROI, with respect to the training function, is often misunderstood, incorrectly applied and overused. When management uses the term ROI, they are essentially saying to T&D: “We want to see results,” either quantitative or qualitative. Providing these will facilitate the buy-in of training throughout the organization.

Like every other business function, training’s worth is determined by how it helps an organization reach its strategic objectives. To do this, T&D must see itself as a business and be accountable. Training professionals need to take a holistic approach to learning and performance, rather than simply focusing on the training function itself.

This requires that those responsible for training not only have expertise in training but also basic business acumen and an understanding of business strategy.

Gaining buy-in

The challenge in gaining support for T&D is understanding what customers want, demonstrating tangible results and detailing who will benefit from the training.

Gaining internal support for training is all about being prepared, involving the appropriate individuals and clearly understanding what the executive team wants to hear. But to establish true credibility in the eyes of management, it’s critical to demonstrate a clear relationship with business and strategic objectives.

The focus of any proposed training must be on the benefits and not on the features. If you are proposing a customer service program for front-line workers, one feature would be resolving client problems with the benefit of increasing customer satisfaction and repeat sales. These are the tangible results senior managers want to see. Applying the feature/benefit principal will help move your cause forward with those who are most resistant.

Another common mistake made by training managers is focusing on obtaining support from the executive team. There are only two outcomes from this approach — either management approve the training project or reject it.

If they approve it, more often than not the project is doomed to fail because those directly affected were not involved or consulted. Like wildfire, resistance quickly spreads, jeopardizing the project.

Know your audience

Training managers who successfully gain internal acceptance for training know who they need to approach and gain an appreciation for the concerns and needs of those directly and indirectly involved. These managers also have an appreciation and understanding of the fundamental sales mantras: “Sell the buyer what they want to buy, not what you want to sell” and “Know your audience.”

There are three groups to address — training participants (or employees), mid-level managers and the executive team.


Training participants will usually accept training if it provides them with value-added resources and does not take time away from their immediate responsibilities. The training must be easy for them to absorb and incorporate into their daily activities if it is to change behaviour. Changing the behaviour of participants is at the core of how training will affect business results.

Mid-level managers

Mid-level managers are challenged by senior managers to leverage their employees’ abilities to achieve specific department or production objectives. These managers are involved in budget planning and are accountable for performance benchmarks. They have little patience or time for training solutions that don’t produce immediate results and take employees away from their daily responsibilities.

Executive team

Decision-making at the executive level focuses on attaining strategic objectives, increasing profitability and maximizing shareholder value. These executives want to create an environment that increases sales and revenue through improving product quality and customer and employee satisfaction. Their objective is to optimize the return on their investment in every business-related activity, especially when investing in employees. Every training investment must ensure the performance of the organization improves by developing a knowledgeable team of employees to effectively serve clients and capitalize on new opportunities.

A training manager’s success depends on how he addresses the concerns at each level of decision-making and if the individuals at these levels participated in developing the proposed training solution. Offering training to anyone requires an understanding of the benefits for employees and the organization.

Ajay Pangarkar and Teresa Kirkwood are partners in Central Knowledge, a Montreal-based training company, and co-authors of The Trainer’s Portable Mentor and Building Business Acumen for Trainers. They can be reached at (866) 489-7378 or [email protected].

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