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Sales training in the post-COVID era: Just in time learning do's & don'ts

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced B2B sales organizations to reinvent themselves at an unprecedented pace. While sales reps find themselves in the relatively unchartered territory of remote selling, organizations have to contend with providing sales training and coaching to the sales teams remotely. Virtual sales training methods have been steadily gaining ground as the preferred mode for imparting sales training even before the current crisis. The coronavirus pandemic has made this transition more urgent.

One of the effective methods of virtual sales training is just-in-time learning. Just-in-time learning drives engagement by being highly contextual and relevant to the different stages of the sales process. It increases retention and effectiveness of learning by providing reps with access to sales training content just when they need it, thereby enabling them to practice their skills and reinforce what they’ve learned in time frames connected to the actual selling process. Just-in-time learning reimagines sales training, which was traditionally seen as a once-and-done exercise, to be a continuous process; embedded in the workflow, and structured to deliver bite-sized pieces of content that the learner can easily consume while on the go. It is focused on solving a rep’s immediate problem. How does one go about building just-in-time content? What are the do’s and don’ts in implementing just-in-time learning? Let’s take a look.

Just-in-time learning: Do’s

  • Identify what is needed just-in-time

Not all learning can be just-in-time, and determining which sales training resources should be made available just-in-time to your sales team is the difficult but necessary first step. Start by observing your reps on the job; identify common pain points and competency or skill gaps in the sales process. Determine, for instance, what resources the reps would need while prospecting or when doing a product demo. What are the key client challenges that they need to know which your product addresses? Where are the knowledge gaps, and what makeshift solutions are employees using to fix these gaps? Answers to such questions will give greater clarity when developing just-in-time content. Suggestions from users are crucial as they are the ones who will ultimately be using the learning solutions. Feel free to ask your star sales reps to pitch in, and you will know what your just-in-time content must cover. Organizations with a just-in-time learning strategy in place before the pandemic would have a quicker transitioning time in meeting the present challenge.

  • Categorize the content

Just-in-time learning must be quick and easy to access. Clunky learning management systems (LMS's) with unorganized content are inefficient and ineffective; your reps will struggle to find what they need in the limited time they have available. Hasty content management decisions and a poorly executed content strategy can backfire badly: many sales reps will tend to fall back on making real-world mistakes to learn on the job. Maintaining rigor in categorizing the content will help learners find what they need. Today’s modern sales enablement platforms let admins tag all the content with keywords, allowing learners to search and find the relevant content quickly. As an organization, you're likely to be training reps on a wide variety of topics covering both product knowledge and sales skills. Organizing these different categories of training will help reps find information faster and more effectively. One useful idea is to build a microlearning online resource library that is neatly organized by category, task, or department. The final piece of this puzzle is to ensure that your just-in-time content is available across all platforms, particularly mobile devices so that reps can access the content from anywhere.

  • Provide bite-sized learning modules

Sales reps have limited time and attention span for sales training while on the job. This means that the traditional forty-five minute to an hour-long eLearning module is an outdated way to deliver sales training. Instead, it is important to provide sales reps with bite-sized chunks of easily digestible content, which they can access when they need it (just-in-time!). Information is delivered as short, interactive, modular pieces of content focused on specific learning outcomes and integrated into the overall sales process to suit different sales situations. Each piece of content should have only one or two objectives to cover; multiple objectives will lead to an overload of information and won’t serve the purpose. Typically, these modules cover product FAQs, objection handling, pricing schemes, battle cards, and so on.

  • Build just-in-time learning for the real world

People learn best when they can relate topics to real-world examples. Showing someone how information is actually applied can give them a framework for using it themselves. Make sure that your just-in-time learning focuses on practice opportunities and tangible applications. Content involving detailed case studies or video tutorials can be concisely repurposed into shorter formats highlighting the problem, the solution, and the key metrics to monitor. Create content that can help reps apply the solution in their everyday sales calls. For example, you could record your best sales reps' negotiation tactics or your star talent acquisition manager's candidate scoping calls. Just-in-time learning works best when learners can immediately put to use what they have learned and see the results of the knowledge that they have acquired.

  • Remember that learning is also a social process

One of the limitations of just-in-time learning is that the modules are asynchronous, which means that there are no facilitators from whom learners can seek real-time responses. However, learner support can come from access to learning peers, subject matter experts, and coaches. The social aspects of just-in-time learning can provide FAQs for a given course and facilitate discussion boards and live chat. Topics could cover strategy recalibration to find prospects, engage, and make a sale in the post-pandemic world. Additionally, you can incorporate social learning activities into group projects and online discussions to make sales training more interactive. For example, if your rep is selling in new geography with a new culture, it might make sense to connect them to another rep who has experience in this regard. 

Just-in-time learning: Don’ts

  • Applying just-in-time learning to complex topics

Complex topics require time to comprehend, which is better done through curriculum learning that does the heavy lifting in providing the initial introduction to the mastery of a subject. Curriculum learning helps reps develop a broad understanding of a topic and fixes concepts in short-term memory. This, of course, requires learner processing time, which just-in-time learning doesn’t account for; you can’t teach an abstract concept such as the sales funnel in a three-minute video, although the video may make great sense to a rep after the concepts have been understood. 

  • Applying just-in-time learning to skill-based training

Again, skill-building is a complex process that requires time and effort. While just-in-time learning may help in the practice and application of a skill, it can’t be used to initially train people on skills. For example, a buyer persona may be an easy infographic that can be absorbed in a few minutes, but building a buyer persona is a skill that takes time to acquire.

  • Using just-in-time training to teach entirely new topics

By the same token, just-in-time learning is only a complementary tool; you can't begin entirely new topics using just-in-time modules. Just-in-time learning is for reinforcing something that your reps have already learned, a tool that allows for the customization and repurposing of concepts, skills, and techniques. Just-in-time modules can’t be used to introduce learners to topics like sales methodologies, but it can reinforce what they may have learned about the methodologies, for example, as a three-minute quiz.

How modern sales enablement and sales training platforms support just-in-time learning

The capabilities of modern sales enablement and sales training platforms offer unprecedented scope for just-in-time learning. These integrated platforms can track every step of the sales cycle and what the sales rep needs to do at each stage, offering up easily searchable, tagged, customized content and messaging, role-play videos, battle cards, FAQs, product pricing details, and so on, besides offering reinforcement learning. Next-generation ML/AI-powered sales enablement and sales training solutions with just-in-time learning modules support guided-selling by providing recommended assets for different sales situations, the 'next-best-asset,' contextual insights, tools, and up-to-date information that reps need to engage with prospects and position themselves as subject matter experts and a go-to-resource. Most importantly, all this can be made available to reps on mobile devices. Having such a sales training tool that can anticipate a learner’s potential gaps in knowledge and make the right information readily available to them is the goal of just-in-time learning.

Conclusion

As we slowly come to terms with the reality of living in a COVID-19 world, there is growing recognition that remote working is the new normal within which sales organizations must transform themselves to function effectively. It is also an opportunity for organizations to reimagine ideal forms of workplace learning. In this paradigm of digital selling, just-in-time learning is a tool in the training armor that organizations can utilize for supporting their sales teams. Just-in-time learning can superbly cater to the training needs of the modern workforce in terms of convenience, engagement, accessibility, and effectiveness of learning. However, it is a precision tool that requires careful consideration in its application to yield the best results. When implementing just-in-time learning, organizations need to follow certain best practices that include understanding what content the sales teams would need just-in-time, categorizing the content for ready access, serving the content in bite-sized modules for easy comprehension, supporting the initiative with social learning, and investing in a modern integrated AI-powered sales enablement and sales training solution.

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