Selling HPT to MBAs: The Case of Sales Performance Improvement

By Frank Q. Fu, CPT, PhD
Originally published in PerformanceXpress April 2017, available at

In the last week of April, hundreds of performance improvement practitioners from all around the world will come to Montreal, Canada, to attend the annual ISPI Conference.

Although the attendees are from all walks of life, they do have one thing in common. That is, all attendees of the conference—myself included—are convinced that human performance technology (HPT) benefits business executives and managers. The challenge is, as many of us will discuss at the conference, how we are going to convince business managers that this is indeed the case.

Working with performance consultants over the years, I saw how HPT has been gaining influence globally. As a marketing professor, however, I will say we still have a long way to go to reach the full potential of HPT in the business community. From a sales perspective, HPT is like a great product, but how do we sell the product to business executives?

One viable option is to sell HPT to MBAs and other business students, the future business leaders. After learning the beauty of HPT at school, they will be more willing to collaborate with Certified Performance Technologists and utilize HPT to improve business performance of their organizations. To make this sales call effective, we may want to learn a couple of things from salespeople. For example, professional salespeople know that if you want to sell a product to a group of customers, you need to speak their language—instead of forcing them to speak yours. The truth of the matter is that they will not learn yours. Salespeople also know that a product will sell itself when it is designed in a way that satisfies customers’ needs and solves their problems.

To sell HPT to MBAs, I have developed a sales performance improvement (SPI) methodology based on the HPT model. During the development process, I avoid HPT jargon, use sales managers’ language, and address four major challenges faced by sales management. As shown in Figure 1, I divide the SPI process into four stages.

Figure 1. The Process of Sales Performance Improvement (SPI) Model

Consistent with the HPT model, the first stage is performance assessment. In this stage, sales managers assess the current performance levels and compare those with sales goals to identify performance gaps and growth opportunities. In the second stage, sales managers identify activity weaknesses before analyzing their causes. The third stage focuses on inducing salespeople to adopt desirable new behaviors, leading indicators of sales performance. In the fourth stage, sales managers evaluate the impacts of salespeople’s behavioral changes and take actions to sustain improvement.

Specifically, I designed the SPI model to address four common mistakes made by new and experienced sales managers. The first mistake many sales managers make relates to their obsession with financial performance, which may include sales revenue, profitability, market share, and so forth. As highlighted by the balanced scorecard framework of Kaplan and Norton (1992), focusing only on financial performance and financial performance may create disastrous results.

Using the SPI methodology, sales managers will be able to take a balanced perspective and take care of all dimensions of the sales performance to sustain growth.

The second common mistake is that, when analyzing the causes of performance gaps, sales managers are often distracted by factors beyond their control. Examples of these factors include the economic downturns, intense competition, lack of resources, and poor strategies of employees in other departments. Using the SPI methodology, sales managers are able to focus on the significant influencing factors within their circle of control (Binder, 1998; Chevalier, 2007; Gilbert, 1978).

The third mistake deals with the fact that sales managers tend to rush to a remedy. According to a study by Zolters, Sinha, and Lorimer (2012), sales executives are addicted to the incentive solution. This addiction wastes resources and decreases the return on investment. Tools embedded in the SPI methodology enable sales managers to reconsider the criteria of solution selection and make better decisions.

The fourth mistake is that many sales managers do not have adequate knowledge, skill, and experience in performance evaluation and data analysis. Personal selling is a complex process. It is often difficult to assess and attribute the effects of their solutions on the business outcomes. The SPI methodology provides tools for sales managers to systematically analyze and evaluate performance data to reach conclusions, with or without statistical expertise (Phillips & Phillips, 2007).

The SPI methodology is an application of the HPT in the sales management context. Sales managers can use the SPI alone, or, ideally, together with performance consultants. The goal of SPI is to enable sales managers to use HPT, improve sales performance effectively, and add value to their management practice. The SPI model will have profound impacts on both performance improvement and sales management fields.


Binder C. (1998). The Six Boxes™: A Descendent of Gilbert’s Behavior Engineering Model. Performance Improvement, 37(6), 48-52.

Chevalier, R. (2007). A Manager’s Guide to Improving Workplace Performance. New York, NY: AMACOM.

Gilbert, T. F. (1978, republished 1996). Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance. Washington, DC: ISPI.

Kaplan, R. S., & Norton, D. P. (1992, Jan.-Feb.) “The Balanced Scorecard—Measures that Drive Performance.” Harvard Business Review, 71-79.

Phillips, J. J., & Phillips, P. P. (2007). Show Me the Money: How to Determine ROI in People, Projects, and Programs. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

Zoltners, A. A., Sinha, P., & Lorimer S. E. (2012). “Breaking the Sales Force Incentive Addiction: A Balanced Approach to Sales Force Effectiveness.” Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 32(2), 171-186.


Frank Q. Fu
Frank Q. Fu, CPT, PhD
, is an associate professor of marketing at the University of Missouri at St. Louis. He has published articles in major marketing and performance improvement journals and presented at national and international academic conferences. He currently serves on the editorial review board of Journal of Marketing Theory & Practice. Prior to joining academia, he gained sales, marketing, and management experience in the pharmaceutical and medical equipment industries in China. In addition to academic research and teaching, he helps American and Chinese companies improve their business performance through consulting and advising efforts. He is a founding member of the ISPI China Chapter and served as the vice president of membership/marketing of the ISPI St. Louis Chapter. He may be reached at