It’s finally 2021, and we have all been looking forward to putting last year in the rear-view mirror. But we know that Jan. 1 is just another day, and most things evolve continuously, with little regard for whether a year has ended or started.
One example is sales enablement and all things related to sales, for that matter. The way we sell, where we sell, and to whom we sell are constantly evolving. The past year has given us plenty of evidence of how organizations have evolved their sales training curriculums to drive an engaging remote learning experience for frontline sales.
Remote learning became mainstream this year as we naturally gravitated to virtual platforms, initially just to keep sales enablement and training above water. However, the same rote experience, coupled with bandwidth glitches and evolving digital etiquettes, detracted the sales force from an engaging learning experience.
Sales representatives can disengage from a virtual training session more easily than they can an in-person one. As a result, disengagement during remote learning is growing exponentially, whether sales reps turn off their video to multitask or log off altogether.
While there will be a shift back to normalcy, and in-person training programs will slowly resume, there is no refuting that remote learning will continue to play a much larger role. After all, modern sales enablement is focused on integrating new learning methods that are easily accessible and effective in helping sales reps to learn and retain critical information.
Therefore, maximizing digital engagement and reinventing the remote learning experience will be a key agenda item for sales leaders in 2021. As learning sciences evolve and newer roles like “learning engineer” gain prominence, newer technologies and techniques should focus on generating more authentic engagement — which should go beyond completion rates, the number of views, feedback scores or other such vanity metrics.
It’s Time to Redefine How We Measure Sales Training and Enablement
The Kirkpatrick model can be a great starting point. Level 1, or reaction, has often meant capturing how learners feel at the end of a training session. Taking a cue from digital marketing, training leaders obsess over the growth in users, the number of repeat users, and how often those repeat users return to the training platform.
Learning any skill requires practice and discipline to build habits, or the skill’s repeatability. A sales rep who has been trained on selling over the phone is much more likely to be skilled at remote selling than a salesperson who has worked primarily in a face-to-face selling scenario. What we do repeatedly ultimately becomes what we’re good at, so a highly engaging learning experience involves repetition.
For sales and learning and development (L&D) leaders, then, repetition could be a useful metric to gauge learning engagement and effectiveness in 2021. Repetition may appear to be a more authentic measure of learning engagement and effectiveness for the sales leaders who often question whether sales reps’ skills are improving through training and whether those programs are delivering a return on investment (ROI). With repetition as an indicator of learning effectiveness, sales leaders can gauge the readiness of their salespeople before sending them into the field (virtual or otherwise).
Sales organizations often struggle with poor adoption and course completion rates, but it is possible to achieve higher repetition rates if the underlying learning experience is interactive and novel. The sample analysis taken below from a learning initiative sheds light on how organizations can capture repetition rates.
How Can We Build an Engaging and Effective Sales Enablement Experience?
Studies on spaced repetition have demonstrated that repeated, staggered learning improves long-term retention. Without reinforcement of sales training, sales reps are likely to quickly forget much of the content. During an important sales call of high importance, they are more likely to revert to their old selling skills instead of applying what they learned in the classroom.
Unfortunately, for most sales organizations, spaced learning has often meant refresher classroom sessions and follow-up webinars. The challenge with these approaches, besides scalability and cost, is that they are forced repetitions on behalf of the organization. On the other hand, a self-sustaining digital learning experience would naturally lead to more repetition, which, in turn, would translate into higher retention and application of learning.
To make this type of learning and retention happen, sales organizations need to consider three things:
For starters, modern learning principles like lean learning or microlearning, along with complementary concepts like gamification, data science and behavioral psychology, can help organizations develop an engaging digital sales enablement experience.
Secondly, to find the right balance of these disciplines, it is important to develop a learning loop in which high engagement translates into more repetition, which translates into more data on the sales rep for analyzing learning effectiveness. An engaging loop between learning and gaming, for example, could that ensure sales reps pick up new skills habitually and in a bite-sized manner, fueling high repetition rates. Through a game-based assessment, a sales rep could repeatedly attempt a given set of questions due to any or all the following reasons:
- The learner lost the game due to too many incorrect answers.
- The assessment timed out.
- The learner completed the assessment but did not achieve the highest score.
Repeated learning would be the result of a highly engaging experience that is fundamentally built on self-driven learning rather than “push”-based learning.
Thirdly, the game-based assessment could have increasing levels of difficulty with each level. This approach would help ensure engagement and continuous learning among high performers, who would revisit the game to unlock new levels.
There are several implications of this type of learning for each stakeholder:
For the Sales Rep
For the sales rep, repetition data and the resulting outcome from each repetition can better personalize the learning experience. As it results in more data, repetition can make sales training personalization more accurate, thereby leading to greater engagement; more repetition; and, ultimately, better retention and application of the skill.
For the Sales Training Professional
For the sales training professional, data on repetition provides a deeper perspective on which content sales representatives understand. Repeatability can also be more actionable than feedback scores, where training professionals evaluate which courses are most popular. With the repeatability approach, a sales rep who gives a course a rating of 5 out of 5 but has not repeated it would not be viewed as favorably as a representative who gives a feedback score of 4 out of 5 but shows higher repeatability after completing it.
Consequently, the process of rebalancing a training program among classroom, virtual and self-paced training can become more data-driven and optimized. Furthermore, the sales training professional can create content that addresses specific skill gaps for each rep. Repeatability can also translate into the ability to quantify how quickly sales reps can master or advance in a new skill. With each successive attempt, repeatability rates can tell sales training professionals whether a rep improved upon what he or she understood prior to the repetition and whether it is resulting in higher retention and application on the job.
For the Sales Leader
With this approach to sales enablement, sales leaders, who look to measure the impact of training on revenue or costs are one step closer to aligning the effectiveness of learning with business results. Rather than correlating high course completion rates with high performers, business leaders will be able to measure performance improvement based on repeated attempts. In other words, is a sales representative with more attempts gradually showing a similar uptrend in his or her sales conversions?
The use of repeatability rates would force organizations to reexamine their learning platforms and content and determine what could drive higher engagement. This process would fuel more innovation from organizations as well as sales enablement vendors, as they would be able to focus on creating a learning loop that is self-sustaining and that generates more insights on how the sales force learns.
Keep in mind, however, that while repetition is a crucial element in sales training, it is not the only one. Using behavioral psychology, for instance, helps training professionals know how to engage sales reps and incentivize them to reach new milestones in their learning paths. Furthermore, data science plays a crucial role in evaluation the learning experience by providing important insights on skill gaps, pace of learning and areas that require improvement and so on.
It’s also important to keep in mind that learners who master a course in their first attempt might be fast learners, but it’s possible that their long-term retention is lower without the repetition of multiple attempts.
At a time when sales organizations are digitally transforming their business and cutting unnecessary costs, reporting repeatability rates as a measure of learning engagement would build greater authenticity in how organizations develop a digital learning culture. So, let the start of 2021 not be about resolutions but evolution! Let sales force enablement and effectiveness evolve from completing a course to repeating a learning experience to mastering a new skill.