As global health concerns continue to rise, the prognosis for the economy is changing daily amid growing expectations of muted business conditions. As a result, sales professionals will have to become more effective and productive to navigate the future.

While the severity of the developing climate is uncertain, what remains clear is that the already challenging task of selling is now more intense. Positioning a sales team for the steep climb means deploying a sales training solution that is accessible to a remote team, immediately available and interactive for a richer learning experience.

A virtual instructor-led sales training solution meets all three needs. Moreover, virtual instructor-led training (vILT) is more than a solution for our current environment. It is also a solution for the long term. Sales leaders are recognizing that newly deployed remote work practices are likely to become a widely accepted practice beyond the near term. This expectation makes intuitive sense for three reasons:

  • From a statistical perspective, the optimal sales team is unlikely to consist of a group of people who happen to live in close geographic proximity to one another. Coalescing the strongest team means accessing talent no matter where it resides.
  • Distributed sales teams are a necessity for pursuing sales opportunities that are also geographically distributed.
  • A remote framework fits the stratified structure of sales organizations, which often consists of inside sales professionals and in-the-field professionals, all of whom need constant communication enabled through technology.

Now is the time for sales leaders to implement a virtual instructor-led sales training solution. Here are the three key steps for doing so.

1. Build Around a Framework of Interactivity

Effective virtual learning requires more than a slide deck, because learning is an inherently cooperative endeavor. When learners are subjected to a simple “watch-and-learn” approach, they remain uninvolved. Participation is critical, because learning new selling skills means learning how to demonstrate specific behaviors. Without the kind of involvement that comes from role-play, breakout groups and open discussion, learners lack the rigor that is characteristic of any worthwhile training.

Interactivity drives learning because it is the basis of a phenomenon called elaborative interrogation, which is the practice of asking why. This style of learning requires participants to form an explanation for a fact they’ve learned. Research published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition found that a group of learners engaging in elaborative interrogation had an accuracy of 72%, compared to just 37% in the non-interrogation control group.

Some organizations take elaborative interrogation further and engage in a similar method of learning called self-explanation. With this approach, learners explain what the material means to them and their process for understanding it. Both approaches work because they bring learners deeper into the instructional process through questioning.

Fostering this environment of interactivity entails communicating the expectation that every participant will be involved, which means requiring participants to keep their camera on throughout instruction and reminding them that they may be called on at any time to answer a question, offer a comment or share their response to another participant’s answer.

2. Contextualize Skills Within the Participants’ Selling Challenges

Quota-bearing sales professionals are under constant pressure to perform. Therefore, irrelevant training will trigger disengagement. Keeping learners tuned in means speaking about the challenges they encounter on the job. Focusing the content on top-of-mind challenges also enables the sales professional to apply the concepts to in-play sales opportunities. Practical application means that training becomes resonant, and the concepts are more likely to stick.

Put simply, contextualizing the skills within the learner’s world helps foster the cognitive practice known as transfer. Transfer occurs when a learner understands concepts thoroughly enough to apply them to different contexts — in this case, different selling opportunities. As the Yale Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning asserts, “Transfer is often considered a hallmark of true learning.”

Research suggests several ways to promote transfer. For example, instructors can provide comparative scenarios in which learners are encouraged to formulate one solution to two seemingly different challenges. Additionally, instructors can help contextualize concepts by folding them into the participant’s existing base of knowledge. Doing so means asking the learners to think about how they can pair new selling skills with capabilities that they already know to be effective.

The key here is to customize the instructional material to the people for whom it is intended — and every industry, company and sales team is different.

3. Incorporate Experiential Feedback

The participant’s experience is about the other learners as much as it is about the instructor and the material. Learning becomes a richer, more meaningful experience when colleagues can share how it has impacted their performance. VILT is uniquely suited to drive this outcome, because learners have more opportunities to periodically pause learning, apply concepts to selling challenges and report back. The result of this dynamic is an environment where participants can adjust and modify the material in real time.

Instructors can develop this atmosphere by providing on-the-job assignments between training sessions. Unlike a traditional classroom configuration, learners in a virtual environment are well positioned for this approach, because they have the freedom to engage in a greater number of small sessions rather than a smaller number of long sessions. In-person instruction frequently requires travel and time out of market. As a result, there are rarely opportunities to apply concepts and report back.

Today’s business climate is, in many ways, different than any before. Therefore, leaders who do not change the way they prepare their sales teams are operating under outdated practices. Delivering new selling skills means being able to address a remote team, make the solution immediately available and drive interactivity for deeper learning. The solution is virtual instructor-led training.