“To what degree is my organization addressing the entire journey performers make from the beginning stages of learning through the full range of challenges that can occur at the moment of apply, when learners are called upon to actually perform?”

When Conrad Gottfredson and Bob Mosher posed this question, they likely did not have sales force enablement in mind. However, it is a question those charged with that task should be asking regularly. Enabling salespeople presents challenges that are not wholly unlike challenges in enabling other forms of learning, but it is also unique in some ways.

Previously restricted to traditional classroom delivery, enablement opportunities have evolved to include a holistic virtual experience. We can answer the question above, while addressing common sales force enablement challenges, with Gottfredson and Mosher’s answer: the Five Moments of Need.

THE CHALLENGES

Travel … Or should we say the lack thereof. The more time salespeople spend out of the field, the less they are selling. Face-to-face learning must be deployed judiciously. Additionally, it is often the learning organization itself that is under a travel restriction, limiting delivery mode options even further.

Frequently changing content. How many times after an e-learning module has been released or a live bootcamp wrapped does a company launch a new product, necessitating a learning content update? This dynamic environment requires an agile learning organization to be able to recalibrate a single asset, curriculum or entire learning plan.

To develop this agility, the learning organization must consider the development effort, available resources, cost of updating content, logistics of delivery, and communication with stakeholders, among other considerations. Most likely, the learning organization has limited bandwidth and resources to address all these concerns.

Staying true to sound instructional design principles. The feverish pace of sales force enablement often results in a compromise of instructional integrity. This compromise might mean eliminating interactivity to trim development costs, having instructional breadth but not depth, or losing scalability and replicability.

A SOLUTION AT THE FIVE MOMENTS OF NEED

Remember when virtual worlds like Second Life were first considered as learning environments? When in order for users to learn virtually, organizations had to teach them to customize an avatar? When training managers had to engage programmers to make the simplest of changes to their virtual environments?

Virtual learning environments (VLEs) have come a long way in a short time. From the simplification of the user experience to back-end design options, learning organizations are now able not only to embrace VLEs but to genuinely provide performance support to meet learners at their five moments of need.

1. When learning to do something for the first time

Through a VLE, the sales force can still use onboarding programs, e-learning, live webinars, on-demand content, virtual means of finding experts or colleagues, and other methods of learning something new. The difference is that a VLE offers a “one-stop shop” opportunity. Virtual events, like sales kickoffs, limit the time spent out of the field. If salespeople need to learn about a new solution or product, they can choose to use a formal learning curriculum or an informal tool such as a video, discussion forum or virtual peer network.

2. When wanting to learn more

If the VLE is for a recurring program, the sales force has the flexibility of choosing when to access the information. Offering just-in-time learning is crucial to supporting a sales force. VLEs can offer access to a role-based learning path, a sales success story or a job aid to review before a meeting. Most VLEs have a mobile-friendly user experience, which expands flexibility even further.

3. When trying to remember and apply

VLE content is often geared toward a large audience. However, you can leverage the tools in these environments to help salespeople customize content for their specific need. Video and chat capabilities allow connections between colleagues or experts. For example, role-playing could be helpful for account executives to practice their messaging before meeting with customers. 

4. When things change

The user-friendly design of VLEs allows enablement teams to find the latest content quickly and easily. Dynamic, up-to-date content will keep your sales force coming back.

5. When something goes wrong

Virtual options for help include virtual office hours with product experts, FAQ documents and discussion forums. These resources can be structured within a VLE and housed in the same location as the source content.

Whether it’s a single event or an ongoing program, virtual learning environments provide a solution that doesn’t just serve as a “cool” factor, but also provides true performance support for a mobile and dynamic learning audience. 

TIPS FOR HIGH-IMPACT SALES ENABLEMENT 

Make your enablement event-focused. While it would be easy to let a virtual learning environment morph into just another content management system, don’t let it. Optimize the dynamic setting, tools and opportunities within a VLE. These environments offer design options for both event-driven learning and continuous, on-demand enablement. Brand your VLE by scheduling a quarterly learning day (or week) or a bi-annual sales kickoff – or both! Keep your learners coming back by offering content on demand while launching in conjunction with an event. 

Give your enablement a theme. The theme is an important way to motivate your sales force to participate in a VLE, and it’s a fun way to connect the assets, environment and promotional activities surrounding it. A recent example leveraged by a global software company was the World Cup. Because this sports event resonates globally, this theme provided a way to connect global customers with World Cup graphics, titles, promotional efforts, virtual booth designs and more. Some sales organizations reward their top salespeople with a “club” trip or “Winner’s Circle.” This practice also lends itself to a themed virtual learning environment. 

Promote your enablement. Rather than relying solely on email communications, consider a promotional video. Enlist executive involvement (for example, via cameo appearances) and salespeople themselves (by taking on roles in the video or playing themselves), and align the promotional videos to the theme. Humor can be a powerful attention-grabber. Embed the video within email invitations to the learning event. Create a series of commercials as “webisodes,” with the final episode only available within the virtual learning environment itself.

Gamify your enablement. Keep the theme going, and incorporate competition between regions or market units. For example, you could create a “Learning World Cup” in which the region with the most participants or completed learning assets receives executive recognition and a virtual gold medal. Individual participants can receive points for each virtual keynote attended, asset completed, assessment passed or discussion forum participated in. Offer prizes for the top participants; iWatches, cameras, gift cards and other tangibles can keep participants motivated to explore and return to the virtual environment.

Many VLE vendors offer gamification options, such as leaderboards, that are built in to the VLE and customizable. Leverage a leaderboard to create a virtual scavenger hunt in which participants are awarded points for attending virtual sessions, accessing virtual content, seeking experts in live chats, etc. You can also use apps in your gamification approach by enabling participants to access their event agenda or receive notifications of leaderboard scores on the VLE app.

TRACKING IMPACT

Like any other learning opportunity, learning within a VLE should be measured. Track the sign-ons into the virtual environment, attendance of virtual sessions and access of on-demand content. Push evaluations to participants in the environment or via an app to gather feedback at the session, program or event level.

Offer traditional knowledge checks by linking to an LMS-based web assessment or using a gamified design within the VLE, such as a “Jeopardy” game, to test knowledge of a solution or product. Establish current knowledge levels prior to a learning event so you can measure knowledge change. Take a snapshot of the sales force pipeline so you can examine impact over time.

A virtual learning environment can elevate a sales enablement organization’s role from a static source of solution overviews to a true performance support partner. VLEs provide the setting and tools to take learners on a journey from onboarding to just-in-time learning, all in the same high-impact environment that allows them to take control of their own learning at their moment of need.

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