About five years ago, I decided I wanted to learn how to brew beer, so I joined a homebrew group with 10 other people. About half of the group had been brewing beer for several years, but we were all fortunate that we had Kurt and Dane, who had been brewing beer at home for over 20 years.
When we started, Kurt put us into two groups and charged us with our first task: creating a team recipe. The ingredients for making beer are pretty basic; all you need is water, grain, malt, hops and yeast. But to ensure we appreciated each component, Kurt asked us to taste and smell the raw ingredients and describe to each other what we liked and didn’t like about them. This activity prompted us to share our experiences and to explore which types of beers we enjoyed and which types of beer we wanted to make. Then, we created our team’s recipe.
Listening to and learning from the people in my group, I quickly learned that a few of them had some great success as well as some significant failures in their attempt to brew beer at home. They were a valuable resource; given that I had no experience, I was like a sponge, soaking up everything I could, but I also asked questions that often challenged the thinking and wisdom of my experienced teammates. This experience enabled all of us to grow and learn from each other. Together, we successfully made an English cream ale, and my first attempt at home brewing was a success, because we shared in back-and-forth conversations and collaboration and exchanged ideas.
This experience was peer-to-peer learning at its finest.
Peer-to-peer learning is used often in sales. In most cases, a new hire teams up with a more experienced salesperson to spend time in the field together. This type of peer learning is not only popular but is also successful.
If peer learning is successful in the field, shouldn’t it be used when we train salespeople in the classroom, whether virtually or in person?
There are reportedly nearly 66 million baby boomers and 90 millennials in the workplace, which means that there’s a wide variety of knowledge and expertise on every sales team. The question becomes, how can leadership teams leverage this diverse expertise?
Peer learning is a great way to improve sales performance for both new and experienced salespeople. Let’s look at three of its key benefits:
1. Peer Learning Is a Great Way for Salespeople to Learn in a Non-Threatening Way
In a 2018 Ignite Selling survey, 68% of the respondents said that peer-to-peer learning was their preferred way to learn. All salespeople have both battle scars and medals of honor. Their successes and failures make them who they are today. When placed together with their peers and given a new strategic initiative, they will come up with great ideas. A good peer-to-peer learning environment and facilitator will drive the conversation and critical thinking even deeper.
2. Salespeople Are More Likely to Try Something New if It’s Recommended by a Peer
The peer learning environment improves the expertise of all participants in the group more quickly than would otherwise happen. Learning information from peers who are more knowledgeable and experienced encourages salespeople, especially younger ones. Sales professionals are also more likely to respond positively when they are given information from peers who have been in the job. It provides an opportunity to ask questions without the fear of ridicule or dismissal, because they realize their peers have been in the same situation and understand their concerns.
3. Peer Learning Builds the Team
This type of environment enables everyone to learn as a group by sharing their best practices, traps, concerns and successes. It is a great way to transfer skills, knowledge and processes; by having the entire team in the same place, at the same time, you can turn the learning over to the salespeople by letting the facilitator be the “guide on the side” rather than the “sage on the stage.” In this environment, the exchange of ideas, back-and-forth conversations and collaboration increase.
Peer-to-peer learning empowers salespeople to hold each other accountable for their own learning and the learning of others. It is a form of positive peer pressure. Ensure that all of your sales training, whether conducted virtually or in a classroom, provides a safe place for salespeople to learn, provide feedback to one another, and engage in meaningful ways that challenge common assumptions and push their critical thinking.