Pax8 is a leading provider of cloud technology, strategically focused on IT professionals that support small-to-mid-sized businesses (SMBs). Pax8’s listing on the Inc. 5000 for four consecutive years as one of America’s fastest-growing private companies has required building a well-trained sales force at record speed.

The Challenge

“We could never have successfully accommodated such rapid growth without a blended learning approach, which I’d describe as giving learners multiple opportunities to observe relevant information and practice desired behaviors,” observed Lynn Leadley, senior vice president of Pax8 University.

Blended learning involves a multimodal approach and, at minimum, typically supplements traditional classroom training with self-paced learning. Pax8 incorporates six training elements: live, in-person or virtual instructor-led training (VILT), role-play, teach-backs, incentivized eLearning coursework, shadowing and coaching. The specific mix will vary according to whether the topic involves soft or hard skills — the latter requiring more concrete and technical trainings.

For application training, the team might combine live, hands-on instruction with a self-paced course featuring software simulation, then follow that up with shadowing so learners can observe how others navigate the system, perhaps even recording the session for later review. For soft skills, such as cold-calling prospects, sales trainers augment classroom instruction with role play. The adrenaline-pumping exercise of practicing something new in front of peers involves risk, as well as receiving honest feedback. It also promotes long-term memory retention, or stickiness, and tends to correct one’s delivery in a way that passive learning cannot.

Three-year sales growth exceeding 3,200% necessitated learning and development (L&D) innovation to decrease the time it took new hires to attain their full quota, which Pax8 calls “ramp time.” Channel account managers (Pax8’s primary sales reps) were taking seven months to ramp, and the L&D team challenged themselves to reduce that by a month through blended learning.

The Response

Despite ever-present pressure to get new sales reps on the phone and selling as quickly as possible, Pax8 boldly expanded new-hire sales training from two weeks to four, allowing time for additional modalities and practice. Trainers added teamed learner teach-backs to VILT, increasing engagement and collaboration. Having recently invested in a learning management system (LMS), Pax8 launched in-house development of tailored eLearning. Such self-paced instruction now broke up classroom training and locked in new knowledge, with progress through learning plans recorded in the LMS.

The team capitalized on the natural competitiveness common in sales by adding contests to the training, plus gamification and a rewards shop. Learners earn points by completing courses and exchange them for Pax8-branded merchandise like a gym bag or a Yeti tumbler. Trainers chunked instruction with corresponding in-class role-play, finding that elemental focus and repetition increased learning stickiness. Trainers assigned new hires to listen to a model pitch in the LMS, then recorded themselves for scoring by a reviewer. Sales managers collaborated with trainers, learning to see shadowing not as an interruption, but as a time investment critical to the new rep’s success. As a cohort’s formal training ended, the monitoring and coaching phase kicked into high gear.

Sales trainers and managers at Pax8 could listen in on live sales calls and coach via chat in real-time, scoring them based on rubrics or assessment maps created for each type of call their reps conduct. These rubrics made expectations crystal-clear and mitigated scoring subjectivity and inconsistency. The company procured software ideally suited to this purpose.

Besides call scoring, a sales manager could remark on granular aspects of the call and note opportunities for improvement, with everything recorded in the software by competency. Reps now enjoyed instantaneous access to these comments and could review past calls over the month or quarter and receive encouraging evidence of progress. This tool has allowed highly personalized feedback and eliminated time wasted on refreshing an entire team on a call element with which only one or two were struggling. Managers have regularly seen competency scores rise because of this coaching.

In one example, the exercise highlighted a need for deeper questioning during the call. While intimidated at first, the rep took progressive steps to competency, aided by software and managerial coaching. Another manager highlighted a sales rep who continually refined his pitch using this coaching framework and has met his quota ever since.

In addition to recorded and live call scoring, sales readiness assessment includes new-hire confidence surveys. These solicit reps’ sense of job preparedness, exposing any need for reinforcement. The LMS scores and records completed courses, charting overall progress toward program completion. Sales performance reports provide an ultimate assessment of skills attainment.

For example, after product-specific training, L&D can monitor the rep’s sales success with that product over the following six months. Sales-stage-based reporting pinpoints deficiencies, prompting spot trainings, coaching or additional role-play as appropriate. Sales reps also rate their learning experience and their trainers, helping ensure continuous iterative improvement in the program.

The Results

The repetition and increased engagement that come with blended learning yield greater retention of the information conveyed, as evidenced by measurable results. Pax8 went from a basic, live classroom training program with limited role-play two years ago to the robust blended learning approach described, with excellent outcomes. Sales new-hire ramp time decreased in the assessment period not by one month, but two, for a 29% reduction.

A year ago, the company documented a strong correlation between eLearning training completion and sales performance. Sales reps who had completed the highest percentage of their assigned courses were not only meeting but exceeding quota, while those who had the lowest training completion rate also lagged in quota attainment. Sales managers also provided qualitative evidence of improvement — reporting reps had refined their talk tracks and were now asking better discovery questions.

“Now, when new hires begin their sales careers with Pax8, they are much better prepared and begin producing revenue sooner,” said Jared Pangretic, senior vice president of sales at Pax8. “Pax8 University’s innovations have been critical to this improvement and a big win for the company overall.”

L&D’s success with this new approach was not limited to the sales department. New-hire ramp time in technical support decreased from six weeks to only four using blended learning techniques, demonstrating their combined efficacy across learning domains.

For organizations wishing to take advantage of blended learning in their training, Lynn Leadley suggests they start with an objective assessment of how they are doing things now. From there, they should gradually add complementary elements one at a time instead of attempting to implement too much change at once. Sometimes there may be a need for enabling technologies requiring time, budget and planning (such as an LMS, a telephony system allowing monitoring and real-time feedback or a separate coaching platform). Simpler modalities, such as role play and shadowing, might be added easily at no expense.

It’s one thing to hear about blended learning and to acknowledge its potential — and quite another to take action. Pax8’s experience offers evidence of blended learning’s effectiveness and, hopefully, the encouragement readers need to take the first step.