There is growing recognition that the post-pandemic world has permanently changed the way we live and conduct business. For sales organizations that adapted to the demands of physical distancing and work-from-home by merely executing existing processes through remote conferencing tools, there is a need to recognize that remote work is the new normal for many companies within which they must transform themselves to function effectively in a totally new paradigm. Not only do sales operations have to be restructured, but so do other processes such as onboarding, training, and coaching of sales teams. Here are some pointers that organizations need to consider while transitioning to onboarding, training, and coaching their sales teams remotely.
Onboarding new recruits remotely
The most likely people to be impacted by the current shift to remote work are the new sales hires. In almost every sales organization, the onboarding of sales reps involves at least some in-person activities, such as classroom training and boot camps, to acclimate them to the organization's culture and processes. However, all of these processes must now take place in a virtual environment.
Sales onboarding is crucial not only to get the new sales reps up to speed quickly and effectively but also to ensure employee retention. In the current circumstances, in particular, it is much more likely for recruits to feel isolated and lost without an effective virtual onboarding program. However, creating a virtual onboarding program cannot merely be a matter of digitizing existing material. While those materials can form the foundation for the virtual program, they must be evaluated for their suitability and effectiveness in the new medium. Some considerations in this regard include:
Tailoring onboarding to new sales processes:
Existing onboarding material are probably geared toward traditional sales processes that were followed before the pandemic-induced crisis. If the organization is itself transitioning to remote work, then the onboarding content would need to be reworked to reflect the newer processes and strategies for virtual selling. For example, sales reps would need to be trained in the changed context of interacting with customers on video calls, where the terms of interaction and effective engagement are different from in-person meetings. New reps would also need to be trained on the technology platforms being used to engage virtually with customers and other sales team members and employees across the organization.
Updating training methodologies:
In-person onboarding programs traditionally tended to be massive information dumps that resulted in poor retention. For onboarding to be effective in this new world, an iterative, incremental process of knowledge discovery is more appropriate. In such an approach, information is given to sales reps in a graded process carefully planned in keeping with the priorities of the sales process. This approach is more suitable for virtual onboarding, where all of the content need not be packed into a few days or a single week, as happens with in-person onboarding programs, but delivered in brief sessions that can be consumed on-demand, over extended periods.
Evaluating learning outcomes:
At a time when frontline managers may not be able to interact personally with the sales reps, they tend to evaluate learning outcomes based on the level of consumption of content modules by the sales reps. But effective evaluation cannot be done simply by focusing on consumption metrics, such as the number of training videos viewed. Instead, organizations need to know how well the reps have absorbed the content and to what extent they can put it into action. Quizzes, rich content, role-plays, and recorded demos are some of the tools available to managers for measuring the level of competency of the reps. Such evaluations can then be used to optimize the learning process further.
Acclimating new reps to the organizational culture:
Without active effort, it is highly unlikely that a new sales rep will automatically become integrated with the sales team and the broader organization in a remote work climate. Pairing up a new rep with a mentor or a more experienced peer can go a long way in acclimating new sales reps to the organizational culture. Additionally, virtual team meetings and social events will help them feel included and valued as team members.
Delivering optimal training
Even before the pandemic, virtual training methods have been steadily gaining ground as the preferred mode for imparting sales training. For instance, in a 2019 CSOInsights study, it was found that the percentage of respondents who planned to invest more in e-learning (59.8%), online simulations (51.3%), and online instructor-led training (45.8%) far outnumbered the percentage of respondents who planned to invest more in onsite classroom-based or instructor-led training (39.8%).1 The current pandemic has only accelerated this transition to online training. To fully leverage the benefits of virtual training, organizations must ensure that:
- Training is provided in a variety of formats. This caters to different types of learners irrespective of whether they work better with visual, auditory, or written information.
- It incorporates scenarios and examples grounded in the new reality and customized to address specific situations. This makes it easier for reps to quickly and easily apply learnings from training programs to actual conversations with prospects and customers.
- The training program incorporates effective reinforcement of learned material, as the rate of forgetting of learned content is very high. Indeed, as studies have shown, on average, 84% of sales training content is forgotten by learners within 90 days of training.2 Hence, continuous learning with periodic reinforcement is a must.
- Training is structured in bite-sized, modular pieces of content that can be easily consumed on the go. Moreover, the program should also be structured in such a manner that training content suited to different sales situations can be easily accessed for just-in-time learning.
- Training is backed by a comprehensive evaluation that is able to consistently track learners' performance and generate metrics that allow close examination of their progress. Based on their progress, training modules can be personalized for each learner.
- The program incorporates gamification elements to improve the engagement of sales reps in the learning process.
- It leverages the power of video, which encourages greater engagement and retention and adds the human touch that employees will be missing on virtual training programs.
- The program simulates “water cooler moments” for peer-sharing of best practices between top performers and others in the sales teams.
Ensuring high-performance coaching
While training sets the baseline for sales processes, developing effective sales conversations depends strongly on the quality of sales coaching. In simple terms, while training provides the foundational knowledge and skills, coaching focuses on practical application and performance improvement. Here are some pointers for sales organizations to build an effective framework for a virtual coaching program:
Develop structured coaching processes:
Left to their own, sales managers tend to sacrifice coaching in favor of various other time-critical tasks. The result is that coaching often comes at a time when it is least likely to result in sustained change, such as after a loss. To avoid such problems and ensure that sufficient coaching is provided at timely intervals, there is a need to decide upon a cadence for coaching. Further, the process structure should also consider the nature of inputs that coaches and managers provide and the outcomes they seek.
Customize coaching to an individual sales rep:
While the coaching process requires structure, coaching inputs should not become too standardized. Each sales rep is unique and is likely to differ from others in terms of the focus area for which feedback is needed and the tone and content of feedback to which he or she is most responsive. One common trap that sales managers may fall into is tending to advocate methods that worked for them during their tenures as sales reps. To avoid such pitfalls, managers should have clear visibility of each rep's specific challenges and an understanding of how to tackle them. With a modern sales enablement and training platform that supports the personalization of content, it’s easier for trainers to track individual seller needs and focus coaching resources accordingly.
Train managers in coaching knowledge and skills:
One of the main reasons that coaching is often ineffective is because companies have not invested in training managers to be effective coaches and sales leaders. This means that sales managers are often forced to fall back on their own experience as sales reps for information on how to handle different sales challenges. Coaching managers is one of the key responsibilities of sales enablement. It must involve the collation of critical coaching-related content and the monitoring of coaches to ensure that the content is accessible and effective.
Focus on the middle:
Often sales managers tend to restrict the bulk of their coaching activity to either the best or the worst performers. However, the impact of their coaching is not likely to be very significant at both ends of the spectrum. Instead, coaching should be focused primarily toward the middle of the range, where sales reps are likely to gain the most from sustained feedback.
Provide a comprehensive coaching infrastructure:
An effective sales enablement and training solution can provide the infrastructure for creating and exchanging coaching content in various formats, such as demo calls and role-plays. It can also provide more hands-on opportunities for coaches to monitor reps' pitch activities through shared or recorded sales calls. An effective solution would also include measurements of both managers' and reps' activities so that the data obtained can be used to optimize the coaching process.
The key to pivoting the sales training process to the new normal is a comprehensive sales enablement program that directs and supports the transition to virtual onboarding, training, and coaching of sales teams. Integrated sales enablement and training platforms have the power to support such virtual onboarding and training programs. They enable content creation in all modern interactive formats and support role plays, live demos, and video-based coaching. Further, modern AI-powered sales enablement solutions allow organizations to personalize the training process at scale and provide tracking & reporting features that make it easier for managers to determine their training programs' effectiveness.
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