As organizations rebound from a year of massive and unexpected flux, it is becoming clear that the world of sales has changed irrevocably and, arguably, grown tougher. Even as surveys report a massive increase in the proportion of remote or digital sales activities, more than 4 in 10 sales reps find selling virtually much harder than traditional sales processes.1
A major cause for this shortfall, the survey points out, is a lack of training on virtual sales, with a significant 62% not receiving training in remote selling.2 It’s not just training content that needs updating in the new normal but also training processes and technologies.
Sales training’s impact on organizations
There’s no question that sales training makes sales teams better at selling. After all, studies show that buyers have a strong preference for sellers who demonstrate a sound knowledge of the solution and business landscape, as well as the buyer’s specific needs.3 Building such knowledge requires effective sales training.
However, research shows that the benefits extend much further. According to one comparison of high-growth and negative-growth companies, sales training is also a key differentiator for employee satisfaction, motivation, and retention, as well as enterprise agility and company culture.4 When sales reps gain greater knowledge and fluency of sales processes, skills, and strategies, and experience more success at their jobs, they become more motivated, satisfied, adaptive, and committed to the company’s goals alongside their own.
What effective sales training looks like in 2021
The new normal represents both a crisis and an opportunity for organizations to update their sales training strategies. After all, with the growth of remote work, the opportunities for classroom-based training are in decline. However, organizations cannot respond to this shift by simply digitizing traditional training programs. Even before the pandemic, traditional training methods were recognized as sub-optimal, with less than half of sales reps rating the training they received as always or mostly effective.5
Here are four shifts companies must make to ensure sales training is effective in 2021 and beyond:
- From classroom to self-paced learning:
- From sporadic to continuous training:
- From one-size-fits-all to personalized training:
- From passive to experiential learning:
Traditional programs need to assemble together groups of sales reps in order to provide training at scale. Digital training content, however, can be delivered asynchronously according to the convenience of each rep. While there remains a place for instructor-led synchronous training for complex topics that require immediate feedback for learning to progress or where watching peers in action can contribute to improved learning, in most cases, it is more convenient and effective to help reps learn on their own schedules.
In-person training pulls reps away from their daily sales activities and requires significant planning and investment to pull off. Not surprisingly, studies have found that most organizations only provide sales training annually or quarterly.6 Such sporadic training is ineffective because reps forget most of the content within a few weeks or months.7 Instead, reps need training that is continuous and frequently reinforced so that the knowledge and skills are at their fingertips. So, while macrolearning does have its place in providing foundational introductions to new domains of knowledge and skill, the process of continuous learning and reinforcement requires microlearning, which is structured to deliver bite-sized, modular pieces of content that the learner can easily consume. While the cadence of such continuous training varies according to topic complexity and sales reps’ capabilities, as broad guidance, cognitive psychology researchers recommend that you review at least four or five times what you have first learned: right after the lesson, in the evening, one week later, and one month later. These repeated reviews help learners achieve a higher rate of retention. 8
Traditional training is standardized in an attempt to deliver value to the group as a whole. However, not all sales reps require the same knowledge. Training needs should be customized to different sales roles, industries, and verticals. Further, knowledge gaps also differ among top performers, middling reps, and laggards and this needs to be addressed. Finally, reps also differ in their learning styles, requiring different content types to learn more effectively. Personalizing training according to such criteria is especially relevant because, as a recent study shows, achieving and maintaining sufficient engagement is one of the biggest challenges companies face in their training or readiness activities.9
Research shows that experiential learning or learning by doing vastly outstrips passive learning methods, such as reading, audio-visual presentations, and demonstrations, in terms of aiding knowledge retention.10 The ability for customer-facing reps to put into practice and perfect what they have learned before speaking to prospects is a critical component and a cornerstone of an effective training program. Modern AI-enabled sales readiness tools allow sales reps to practice and record their sales pitches for a variety of real-world sales scenarios, have their pitches analyzed at a granular level to discover what went right or wrong, and receive feedback and coaching on which specific skills to improve and how. Such roleplays and practice pitches can be focused toward specific pitching skills such as introduction, objection handling, call to action, and so on. Using machine learning techniques, such platforms can analyze at scale the quality of practice pitches on a range of key factors and, thereby, identify which sales reps are ready to pitch to prospects and which reps need more training. While traditional LMS platforms often lack the capabilities to support such experiential learning techniques, companies can close this gap by integrating their LMS platform with a sales readiness tool.
The future of sales training is now
To achieve higher sales effectiveness in the current environment, organizations need to aim at providing training that is personalized, self-paced, continuous, and experiential. The shift to modern, AI-enabled virtual sales training has rapidly accelerated as a response to the pandemic. With the right framework and technologies, organizations can empower their sales reps for the brave new world of digital and remote sales.