How to Sell Training Internally

Learning professionals spend a considerable amount of time trying to convince management that the training ideas we have are worth doing. Whether it is that new conflict management training or switching to e-learning for the first time, we too often run up against blank stares or direct rejections. We know our ideas will make things better, but often have a hard time convincing others. Return on Investment (ROI)

Why is this, you ask?

One reason is that we are just not speaking “their” language, that is, the language of our stakeholders. For example, let’s say you want to switch some or most of the training you do to e-learning. You know it will help you deliver a more consistent message to a more global audience, but the executive team says, “But what’s wrong with the way we do it now?” Or “What will improve if we switch to e-learning?”

“Ugh!” you say to yourself.

So how do you speak “their” language and sell training internally? The simple answer is this. Solve a well-defined problem. If you can do that, selling your training will be easy.

Selling Training in Five Steps

If you can solve a well-defined problem with one of your training ideas, the business will beat down your door for more. Here is a five-step process that will help you sell your training ideas in your organization.

Find a problem: This is where you conduct a needs analysis. A needs analysis can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. However you do it, the key is to find out from the business it’s most important problem(s) that you can help solve with training. To find this out, you could ask managers, survey employees, and read operating reports. The key here is to find a problem that already exists.

Define the problem well: It is not enough to know that the business is having a problem with conflict management. You need to define the problem in specific and measurable terms. For example, a well-defined problem in this case could be that office conflicts have caused the number of complaints in HR to double over the past six months.

Get stakeholders to agree on the well-defined problem: Once you have defined the problem, it is important to get your business partners to agree on the problem. In the above case, HR may not see an increase in complaints as a problem. Your HR department may think they are more important now because there are so many complaints to handle. It gives them power and a reason for being. Of course, good leaders would see it as a problem if complaints doubles and they had to spend that much more time resolving those complaints. Do not assume everyone agrees on what the problem is.

Propose training as a solution: If your “conflict management” training can solve this problem by reducing the number of complaints to HR over the next six months, you will have the ears of your key stakeholders. If they agree that the number of complaints needs to come down, and you demonstrate that some training could help, you will likely get your training approved. Maybe. It seems at this point, it would be an easy sell, but at least one of your stakeholders is going to ask, “How much is the training?” Any answer other than “free” could torpedo your otherwise excellent proposal unless you do the next and final step.

Show the return on investment (ROI): Just because people agree that your training is a good idea does not mean it is a good idea to do. You still need to demonstrate whether it is worth doing. For example, if your training solution will save the company $50,000 from reduced complaints, but the cost of the training is $75,000, it is not worth doing. The company is better off just managing to the new higher number of complaints. This is where a good ROI calculator comes into play.

Let’s calculate the ROI of this scenario to show why it is not worth doing. The formula for calculating ROI is:

(Gain from the investment – cost of the investment) / Cost of the investment = ROI

($50,000 – $75,000) / $75,000 = -33.33%

This is a negative 33.33% return on investment. In this example, the cost of the training outweighs the benefits of the savings. Obviously this training is not worth doing. However, armed with this information, you could look at a different scenario. What if the training only costs $25,000? Now that is a different story.

($50,000 – $25,000)/$25,000 = 100%

A 100% ROI is a number any business would love to achieve.

If you can show a positive return on investment, in addition to demonstrating that your training solution can solve a well-defined problem, it is hard to believe anyone would not approve your training plan.

Solve a Well-Defined Problem

This five step process is a simple way to sell your training internally. It will not always be easy, however. It is often difficult to get people to agree on what the problem is and how to define it. There can be many ways to look at a problem. But if you can clearly define a problem, get people to agree on that definition, and then show that training can solve that problem with a positive ROI. then you will have a much easier time selling training internally. Pretty soon, your training ideas might just sell themselves.

How do you sell your training internally? Share your successes and failures in the comments below.

Bill Cushard, authorblogger, and learning experience (LX) designer, is a human performance technology (HPT) leader with extensive, in-the-trenches experience building learning organizations in start-up and hyper-growth organizations like E*TRADE, the Knowland Group, and Allonhill. You can follow him on Twitter or on Google+.