Relying solely on annual sales kickoffs and manager ride-alongs for sales training is ineffective – not to mention expensive. Therefore, many sales organizations are changing the way they train and enable sales reps, moving to a more continuous, structured corporate learning program. For the majority of sales trainers, this shift likely doesn’t come as a surprise; research by Sales Performance International indicates that participants in curriculum- and lecture-based training forget more than 80 percent of the information they were taught within 90 days.
Instead of annual or semi-annual events during which sales reps are force-fed information in bulk, modern sales organizations recognize that learning doesn’t take place within the confines of a single event and have instead adopted continuous learning techniques that integrate with a sales rep’s day-to-day activities to make sure all that crucial knowledge sticks.
Learning Isn’t a One-Stop Shop.
The sales training staples of just a decade ago largely consisted of the annual kick-off meeting, where sales teams were flown in from far and wide to attend all-day lectures and courses, which they were somehow expected to magically absorb, process and retain – and subsequently increase their selling effectiveness. Follow-up materials were often generic (i.e., not personalized to a particular prospect or industry or to outperform a particular competitor), not vetted by others on the sales team, and generally became quickly outdated or stored away somewhere in the labyrinth that is a corporate intranet.
With modern technologies, sales organizations are eschewing these events for an approach with far greater ROI: a comprehensive and continuous sales training program that integrates with a sales rep’s daily tasks and comprises multiple touch points to ensure true content mastery. In this new paradigm of sales training, reinforcement and periodic follow-up are recognized as critical for arming salespeople with the ability to perform now – and to continue performing well over time.
A continuous learning model focuses on the core phases of learning: acquiring new knowledge, absorbing it into long-term memory with periodic reinforcement, and the ability to quickly grab high-impact refreshers at the exact time and place of need. These core phases – which include curriculum learning, reinforcement learning and just-in-time learning – are the tool belt of the modern sales organization and rely on cutting-edge technologies for delivery.
Curriculum Learning: Courses, lectures and curriculum-based learning are essential for initial introduction to mastery of a subject. Generally composed of corporate training materials, this type of training includes video-based courses and testing, which play a crucial role in imparting the main themes and facts. Curriculum learning is often used when onboarding new employees and rolling out a new product or messaging and for annual or semi-annual e-learning courses, where reps can refresh their deeper knowledge of a topic.
Reinforcement Learning: While curriculum learning is necessary to develop a broad understanding of a topic, it only fixes concepts in the short-term memory, as the natural tendency of the mind is to discard information that is not frequently used. Reinforcement learning uses tools as flashcards, quizzes and bite-sized content to refresh sales training topics for a few minutes each day or week. This type of learning can be effectively delivered using mobile devices, and, since it is generally consumed in small chunks, it can easily fit into a sales rep’s busy schedule.
Just-in-Time Learning: Continuous learning follows the philosophy that training is most effective when reps actively seek out new information, instead of when new information is pushed on them during a training event. For example, just-in-time learning comes into play when reps are most motivated to learn – typically right before deal time. The key to the success of just-in-time learning is to have highly relevant, easily searchable and continuously available content that reps can access and consume whenever and wherever they need it.
Continuous learning taps into sales reps’ nature, taking advantage of their innate curiosity and desire to be lifelong learners and giving them the ability to master new information and skills on an ongoing basis. Creating a culture of continuous learning within a sales organization requires the buy-in and engagement of both managers and reps, a task that is made significantly more achievable with the use of technology platforms that ensure delivery of the right content and the right support at the right time during the sales process.
When implemented correctly, continuous learning techniques can be used throughout a salesperson’s development process, from initial onboarding and training all the way to just-in-time refreshers of concepts in preparation for a sales call. Organizations that have employed this method are already seeing dividends in terms of sales rep readiness, increases in positive customer conversations and higher quota attainment, as well as faster onboarding and more efficient product certification for new product rollouts.
Sales training is a major investment and crucial to get right. Sales organizations must take a comprehensive and modern view of training techniques and design their training programs to fit the way reps truly want to learn in order to be successful.