Like many in the learning business, it’s likely you’ve spent the past several years adapting your sales enablement approach toward meeting the needs of an increasingly remote and, in some cases, highly distributed workforce.

And, while the COVID-19 pandemic challenged each of us to redirect learners to new forms of enablement, it also provided a unique opportunity to view existing training methods in a new light and to reassess what has worked and what hasn’t for our learners.

During this period, the power of personalized learning took on even greater importance — particularly in sales — as many sales executives, coping with the uncertainty of the times, sought added direction and relevance in their enablement.

These needs, combined with hectic schedules (a fact of life for sales executives pre-and post-pandemic) further accelerated personalized learning’s evolution for sales (and other roles) into new areas of exponential impact.

Among them, the use of skills gap analysis and customer relationship management (CRM) data to create individualized learning plans that maximize time spent learning and drive success in the field. Here are three key steps for unlocking this highly effective personalized learning approach for your target audience:

1. Gather Data Across a Standardized Set of Skills or Competencies

For those in sales and other customer-facing roles, the skills you seek to analyze may include a variety of hard and soft skills like demand generation, presentation skills and negotiation (to name a few).

However, no matter the role of your learner, keep your skill list as streamlined as possible (eliminating too much granularity, which leads to diluted data) and also consider drawing the skills (and their respective definitions) from a globally standardized skill database — a move that will allow you to compare your learner’s proficiency against others in your industry assessing the same skill list.

You may also leave room for role-specific skills that pertain only to certain subsets of your learning audience.

With your skill list defined, have sales executives assess themselves across a pre-defined proficiency scale. For example, you could use a 0-4 scale with ratings of “0” representing “new” to a particular skill on up to “4,” or “expert” level.

During this time (either simultaneously or following the collection of self-assessment data), ask your first line sales manager to assess their sales executive team members across the same skills, using the same proficiency scale — a crucial step for greater accuracy when determining skill gaps (see step two below).

2. Develop Personalized Learning Plans

Once your data is gathered, compare first line sales manager ratings against a pre-designated target rating — a level that could be set by leadership at the global or line-of-business level (for role-specific skills).

Wherever a manager rating (e.g., a “2” on the 1-4 scale) falls below the target ratings (a “3” for example), a gap is identified.

You can then share this information with participating sales executives via a personalized learning plan, outlining their individual skill gaps along with direct links to training specifically designed to close each gap.  By removing the guesswork, you’ll be able to maximize time spent learning for sales executives.

Managers should also have access to their team members’ learning plans and be encouraged to use them as a valuable resource during one-on-ones and other developmental discussions.

At the macro-level, data gathered via assessments can be compared against internal, CRM data to uncover correlations that may exist between skill proficiency and key performance indicators (KPIs) crucial to the success of your learners.

For example, you may find that high-performing sale executives who consistently make or exceed their sales targets also share comparatively higher proficiency levels in certain skills. You can then use this insight to build or enhance existing learning that will boost proficiency for others in these highly correlated skill areas.

You can also incorporate these findings into personalized learning plans, labeling them as “prioritized skills”— thereby, creating a clear starting point (should a gap exist) in each participating sales executive’s journey toward improved skill proficiency.

3. Close the Loop

Personalized learning plans will only have their intended impact if your learners complete the recommended learning to close their identified gaps.  As noted above, encouraging both participant and manager to use their plans as a key resource during developmental discussions will help ensure that action is taken.

Plans can also be used as a vehicle to promote new training or initiatives as they become available throughout the year. Adding new enablement to learning plans (when applicable and matched to gaps) serves as a perfect opportunity to stay engaged with your learning audience and reinforces the notion that the plan is a “living” document your learners can rely on for relevant and timely training.

Beyond learning plans, additional analysis of the data can unlock new insight into the effectiveness of your sales enablement approach.

For example, it’s likely you’ll be assessing many of the same individuals each year, allowing you to track their year-to-year proficiency growth (or lack thereof) in the skills that reoccur on your annual assessment (typically, the core skills needed for success in your industry).

By also tracking the completion of recommended learning in personalized learning plans, you may discover links between learning completion and proficiency growth — insight that will either support the value and impact of your enablement approach or highlight training areas needing improvement.

While establishing an effective personalized approach requires some effort upfront, the benefits to your learners and your enablement team leave no doubt that it’s a worthwhile endeavor. Using the strategies outlined here, learning professionals can create individualized learning plans that are relevant, timely and impactful for each learner, ensuring they achieve their learning goals and contribute to the overall success of the organization.