Who should pay for sales training: the employee or the employer?

Today I read a thought-provoking question on LinkedIn:

What a novel concept, asking end users to contribute to their own career progression by paying for training.

So how do we decide who should pay for sales training?

One’s response to this question might depend on so many things, most importantly whether you are the employer or the employee! Other influencers might include one’s culture, personal sense of proactive responsibility, and of course, one’s means.

Let me start on a personal level: I’ve been an employer for over a decade and I have never asked my employees to pay for their own training. If anything, I’ve paid for them to have it. Yet, this question makes me wonder if that makes sense.

On the flip side however; we, as directors of our company, will happily pay for our own training, and have arguably done so to the tune of tens of thousands since first paying tuition fees for university. Many Europeans aren’t (yet) accustomed to paying for their education, which might be one of the reasons many might feel their learning is the financial responsibility of an organisation, like a state or corporation.

Because I went to university in Canada, I was responsible for paying –all of my post-secondary education. Well, to be exact, my parents paid for my first degree by saving for years in what was then known as Registered Education Savings Plans. My second degree, however, was entirely on my own back. Did that cause me to view my experience differently? You bet it did. I was, unsurprisingly, more psychologically invested, which influenced how seriously I approached my studies, and my subsequent results.

We think differently about vocational training vs university training

Some might argue that paying for university or college is different than paying for vocational training, but on what basis? How is paying to learn any different when you are learning about Descartes or learning how to close a sale? One could argue that education is only about learning theory, whereas training gives you the skills to do something rather than just knowing it. I’d counter-argue that this is far too simplistic of a dichotomy that fails to take into account the plentiful application to be found in education, and plenty of theory one can learn in training. Besides, why would anyone consider that learning theory is the financial responsibility of an individual, whilst learning how to apply that theory is the responsibility of the organisation employing them? If that were the case, we’d have hospitals paying for doctors’ medical training, or mom and pop plumbing shops paying to teach people fresh off the street to be plumbers. It just doesn’t work that way in practice, does it?

As someone that has had to pay for every one of their work tools – from the computer I’m writing this on, to the desk on which it sits, to the office in which that desk resides, why wouldn’t I also consider paying for the more invisible tools of my trade: my knowledge, my skill, and my experiential learning? With that said, I still don’t expect my employees to pay for their own training, which doesn’t stop me from wondering why.

Some might argue that it’s only natural that the owners of a business pay for not only their own training, but also the training of the people in their employ. Isn’t that all part of the investment, or one’s cost of doing business? It’s a fair argument, if you consider the people you’re employing an investment, then doesn’t it make sense to feed that investment so that it has the highest chance of returning dividends?

Let’s consider the flip side: In an age where the classical definitions of “jobs”, “careers”, “company”, “worker”, and “boss” is changing by the minute, should we continue to allow ourselves to be reigned in by thinking that may no longer apply to our current reality? I believe that every person working in any business will do good to consider themselves an independent business entity.

The value that you bring as an employee is not only the time you punch in, but comprised of:

  • the quality imbued in everything you’ve learned, experienced, imagined, and practiced
  • the network you bring to the table
  • your ability to invest in yourself continuously – whether that be physically, mentally, or emotionally – that contributes to the value proposition known as “you”.

Isn’t this why we as employers carefully scrutinise prospective hires before taking them on? If the only value you brought was your time, then what would distinguish you as an individual worth hiring, before anyone else offering the same amount of time?

Therefore, as an employee, why wouldn’t you continuously invest in your own training in order to make yourself a more marketable and attractive asset to any company considering hiring you?

Well, the company will do it. But do they? In my experience as a trainer, I find it exceedingly rare to encounter individuals that have received formal training beyond job shadowing. It’s simply not the norm for companies to reach into their pockets and train their staff (which makes investing in training a competitive advantage). People might be in a job for 5 years, never spending even an hour in a classroom, simply because the company didn’t invest in the training that everyone thinks is their responsibility to provide. So where does that leave you, the employee? It leaves you stuck and disempowered. Whilst you’ve waited for someone else to foot the bill, your knowledge and skills have become obsolete. How will that work for you when you’re back on the job market competing with those who have benefitted from 5 years of advanced training, regardless of who paid for it? Who’s fault is this? The company’s? You might be able to justify that to yourself, but how will that mentality help you land your next gig?

Far better would your value appear, if you had taken it upon yourself to be responsible for your own development. Not only would you remain more valuable to your current employer, but also have more chance of landing on your feet should the floor be swiped from beneath you.

I’ve also heard the argument that whilst employers are paying for training, employees are paying with their time and energy. This doesn’t compute. If I, as an employer, am paying for my employee’s training while they otherwise would be working for me, then am I not also paying for their time as well? How is the employee paying with their time, when they’re already selling it to me? Well, they bring their energy to it. Similarly, why wouldn’t I expect them to bring their energy to the job that I hired them to do? As I said, I’m paying for more than someone warming a desk from 9-5. I’m sorry, but no matter how you slice it, this argument holds no water.

But employees are struggling to pay bills why should they also pay for sales training?

Employees may argue that they hardly make enough to make ends meet, let alone invest in training themselves. This of course depends on what you earn and what your priorities are when it comes to your spending. Still, if employers and employees shared the cost of training between them, the cost of such training would be less for everyone involved.

Let’s imagine someone asks you to pay for sales training. It’s a one day course for £500 on a Saturday. You might think this is beyond your means, so you decide against it and therefore do not benefit from the learning (or the results) you may gain from it. Well, if the company contributed 50% and gave you the time off to take the course, the course would be £250 and you’d still have your weekend, which might be more manageable, and you’d gain from the benefits and the consequent results of taking the course.

In my ideal world, on-the-job training would be mandatory, with the costs shared by the employer and the employees

Companies that co-jointly invested in tailored, professional and quality employee training (not solely events, but long-term programs) with their employees would experience the competitive advantages that would enable them to charge higher prices, or improve their cost efficiency, therefore leading to higher profits and greater success for everyone involved. Is this guaranteed? Of course not, but if we only did things in life that were guaranteed we’d do nothing at all. With that said, I also firmly believe that if employees and employers are co-investing in their company’s success, they they should also share in the returns of the joint investments the company makes. This situation is often taken care of in incentivised sales environments, which makes its implementation less challenging. Expecting employees to share in training investments, regardless of how logical it may seem, is unlikely unless the same employees can imagine the possibility of a return that such an investment might provide. What’s good for the goose is, after all, good for the gander.

Oh but how would you measure it? Well, we’ve come a long way in measuring the impacts of training. While nothing in a complex system can be isolated to the same extent as you might be able to do in a chemistry lab, to throw one’s hands up at the altar of ignorance is nothing but an excuse for lazy thinking.

To conclude, the notion of collective investment in employee training greatly depends on which side of the fence you sit. There are many advantages to this approach, and few disadvantages, but one’s views on the subject will greatly depend on one’s culture, personal sense of proactive responsibility, and means. It is also unlikely that many employees will co-fund training investments unless it is mandatory and also promises the prospect of shared returns proportionate to those investments. Who should pay for training, remains an excellent question, one that you’d do well to explore, regardless of which side of the fence you sit.

NOTE: The best way to answer that nagging question about practice growth or marketing or patient volume in the back of your mind is to book a free 15-minute compatibility call. Get some options and go away with a clear idea of what’s possible.

About the author

Rod Solar
Founder & Scalable Business Advisor / fCMO

Rod Solar is a co-founder of LiveseySolar and a Scalable Business Advisor for its customers. Rod mentors and coaches eye surgery business CEOs/Founders and their leadership teams to triple their sales, double their profit, and achieve their “ideal exit”.

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Rod Solar

Founder & Scalable Business Advisor

Rod Solar is a co-founder of LiveseySolar and a Scalable Business Advisor / fCMO for our customers. Rod mentors and coaches CEOs/Founders and their leadership teams to triple their sales, double their profit, and achieve their “ideal exit”.

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LiveseySolar completely transformed the way we were approaching this… We’ve gone from having just the dream of having a practice to having a practice up and running with people making inquiries and booking for procedures… It’s extremely pleasing. We feel lucky we connected with LiveseySolar.

— Dr Matthew Russell, MBChB, FRANZCO, specialist ophthalmic surgeon and founder of VSON and OKKO

Laura Livesey

Founder & CEO

Laura Livesey is the co-founder & CEO of LiveseySolar. She has developed powerful refractive surgery marketing systems that increase patient volumes and profits for doctors, clinics, and hospitals, since 1997.

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Rod and Laura know as much about marketing surgery to patients as I know about performing it. They are an expert in the field of laser eye surgery marketing. They know this industry inside out. I believe that they could help many companies in a variety of areas including marketing materials, sales training and marketing support for doctors.

— Prof. Dan Reinstein, MD MA FRSC DABO, founder of the London Vision Clinic, UK