Online Training of Salespersons: Impact, heterogeneity, and spillover effects

13 Jun 2022
The Sasin Research Seminar series continues with a talk by Professor Siddharth S. Singh about online training for salespeople and whether it has any subsequent impact on sales. The study also looks at heterogeneity and spillover effects. The talk began by establishing the importance of keeping salespeople effective and the need for training. Unfortunately, traditional classroom training isn’t always the most effective due to the need for regularity, staff taking time off, the cost, the increased time gap between learning and application, and a lack of retention. Professor Singh then explained the differences of Online Modular Training. Each module is just a few minutes long and can be self-selected and self-paced. Participants are rewarded for performance and for engaging with the training platform. He noted that this type of training was already happening pre-covid, but the pandemic accelerated its use. Three research questions were posed. The first looked at the overall impact of online modular training on salesperson performance for “focus” products and “other” products. Then it examined how the training differed across salespeople based on heterogeneity. The final question assessed whether training program participation led to any spillover effect by others in the vicinity on salesperson performance. The data was then put in context. The professor said this was a field study in an emerging market by a global electronics manufacturer’s Indian subsidiary. The company had launched the online training, but it was conducted by corporate offices independently. In addition, traditional classroom-based training continued at local levels. After the context, the data was explained. The study looked at unit sales of one product category before and after online sales training. Three hundred and sixteen salespersons were involved, and 3476 observations were made over 11 months from April 2015 to February 2016, with the online training introduced in September 2015. There were 20 five-minute training modules covering various topics and five categories of salesperson along with their gender and location. Finally, the data’s statistics were expressed in a table. To get data for the Spillover Effect, the study measured the breadth and depth of the training by peer salespeople. In addition, other factors free from model inference were examined, such as training availability, with the data showing that training made a clear difference. Professor Singh then explained the different outcomes and features involved in the model. This was followed by a look at the model assumptions. These included unit sales for a product modeled using a Zero-Inflated Poisson distribution, a high proportion of zeroes in the data, and underlying consumer behavior. Next was an overview of the calculation and parameters for the overall model, for measuring heterogeneity, and the model for training choice. He explained how all these fit together, followed by the findings from the model. The results found that during the same month of training, there was a significant impact on sales of “other” product, a 12.9% rise. Sales rose immediately for “other” products, but there was a delay in impact on sales of “focus” products, that rose in the following month. Therefore, impact on sale of other products is immediate and that on sale of focus products is delayed. However, both types did increase after training. There was also a net positive impact on sales compared to traditional classroom-based training activities. The study also noted a positive spillover effect of total training sessions done by peers on sales of both products. However, increasing the number of peers taking training was found to have a negative impact on “other” sales but no effect on “focus” sales. Overall, the results for spillover effect were mixed. The research also found significant heterogeneity in training impact across salespersons. Professor Singh concluded the lecture with an overview of what studies are likely to follow and asked for suggestions and questions. The Q&A session discussed various topics. These included a look at the instrumental variables, how they were selected, and why; the relationship between participants’ test scores and the sales result; customer satisfaction in relation to incorrect information; the implications of online training; and the gamification of projects.  
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