Learning management systems (LMSs) have long been the tool of choice for training content delivery. This makes logical sense.

As work became more digital first and globalized in the 1990s and 2000s, companies realized that to develop business-level unity and train people according to the differential specifications of their roles, they would have to adopt systems for the distribution of knowledge and engagement of their workforce.

Then as COVID-19 took hold in 2020, the workforce became even more distributed, and learning experience platform (LXP) adoption grew in scale. The newly remote nature of business operations necessitated digital, cloud-based solutions that all employees could access, regardless of industry sector.

Are We Thinking About Unpredictability the Wrong Way?

As a business culture, we’re used to directionality — ideas like digital transformation and remote productivity have given consultants and executive decision-makers a working set of ideas and priorities to rely on. But anyone who tells you today what the future will look like is probably selling a bill of goods.

At a time when the need for geopolitical risk management is growing, is the traditional LXP still the best vehicle for training content delivery? The entire point of the LXP framework is that businesses use knowledge gleaned from the past to educate and train their sales forces in the present to complete tasks and face situational challenges in the future.

Furthermore, with the rate of productivity growth having hit its lowest ebb since 1947 last year, is learning enough? Evolving out of the much simpler LMSs, LXPs came of age in the productivity-heavy market of 2016-2020, but today’s realities and needs require that companies look beyond learning and training as ends in themselves and toward learning and training that enhance sales productivity and performance in measurable ways.

In other words, when businesses leave learning and training unconnected to the outcomes that determine their own growth, and instead simply deliver lessons that the company has decided are relevant, they’re letting a key resource go untapped: the strength of the sales force itself. We need to move from the emphasis on lessons, which affect a more or less intangible factor in workforce capability (knowledge), toward one on activities: targeted tasks and productivity-related suggestions that inculcate training by putting it into action. Perhaps the goal should be to enable rather than educate.

The Turn Toward Sales Performance Enablement

Far be it from me to argue that the LXP is a fixture of the past, but in business, it’s important to insist on change and evolution. This is particularly true when many companies are facing trends and pain points (falling productivity, growing uncertainty, a wobbly consumer market) that one of their core technologies does not directly help them solve for.

The market in which LMSs and LXPs flourished was often enough to emphasize training for its own sake, with the crucial goal being training completion. Before the pandemic, and arguably, even for some time during it, businesses had a reasonable sense of how the future would unfold and so only needed to show the sales force how to act in case of predictable events occurring.

What does the “evolution” of sales training technology look like? As mentioned, we can imagine technology that enables the sales force to respond to a variety of different scenarios by unlocking their abilities and reflexes using real activities in the flow of work, rather than tech that provides lessons untethered to business outcomes. And not only that, but such tech should also be able to mold the kinds of activities the individual seller sees based on her own interests and goals. So not simply “learn about this,” but “do this because it will benefit you.”

Recently, this technology has been called “performance enablement.” Whichever name one applies to this model, the goal is to evolve from an LMS and LXP models of training content delivery, one based on the predictability of inputs and outputs, to one that trains and educates with the aim of making the sales force more productive and flexible in the face of the unpredictable. In today’s business climate, in place of past narratives (like digital acceleration and remote work, which are of course still very relevant), uncertainty and unpredictability have become central to growth.

We can think about enablement technology as tech that delivers training and learning content, synchronously with other kinds of content, in the form of activities; for instance, sales incentives (“sell X amount to win Y incentive”) and customer relationship management (CRM) (“contact X about Y product”). The aim of such technology would in this case be not to “teach” but to develop, reward and reinforce the right behaviors through the surfacing and completion of concrete sales productivity-related tasks that matter to the individual’s goals and key performance indicators (KPIs), rather than abstract lessons removed from the flow of work. This emphasizes the more holistic metric of performance more than knowledge, which in this case is only part of the larger revenue-generating equation.

Righting the Ship: New Problems, New Technologies

The truth is that with uncertainty as a fixture in the business world, companies need to be able to rely on an adaptive sales force. The bigger the ship, the harder it is to correct its course.

Ultimately, focusing on enablement rather than training alone helps not only sellers and companies themselves, but training leaders. During the “golden age” of LXPs, such leaders often had the budget to acquire and implement these systems without having to tie their success to real revenue generation.

In a more austere market full of uncertainty, the modern training leader can and should become an active contributor in the boardroom, able to demonstrate that their department has added to revenue growth. They should consider technology that prioritizes such growth through training, rather than training as an end in itself.

More broadly, companies will increasingly have to enable their sales forces to address problems on the ground, enabling from the bottom-up in place of the paternalistic LXP model (“we know what’s best for you”). The more unpredictable market dynamics become, the more important it is to use skills development technologies to create more agile, proactive and imaginative sales forces, who not only know but are truly able to do.