Who is Responsible for Continuous Learning in Sales?

Who is Responsible for Continuous Learning in Sales?
November 2, 2015

Continuous learning – or training that takes place beyond initial onboarding or annual sessions – is an important part of a sales rep’s development and preparation. In practice, though, it’s a struggle for many organizations. During a Sales Readiness panel hosted the week of Dreamforce, sales experts were asked to give their thoughts on the topic. Specifically, how much of the responsibility for continuous learning should be on the organization versus the rep?

Each of the panelists attacked the issue from a different angle.

For example, Walter Rogers, CEO of CloudCoaching International, focused on how important it is for the organization to adapt learning offerings to the preferred learning styles of reps. He encourages “small, bite-sized learning that individuals can consume at their own individual pace and tempo, so they can be better prepared for their own careers on an ongoing basis,” adding, “AND you have to give them time to do it.” 

Also putting the onus on the organization, Sharon Little of SiriusDecisions describes continuous learning as a cultural thing: “In those organizations where senior level execs and heads of sales really embrace learning and enablement, you see it driven [from the top] down much more.” She also explains why the idea of continuous learning, for many companies, is almost a “luxurious problem to solve.” Many organizations struggle to seamlessly and successfully ramp up their new hires when they first start, let alone make sure they continue to learn throughout their tenure at that company. It comes as no surprise then, that continuous learning often takes a back seat to the onboarding challenge.

Even so, when a company does attempt to integrate continuous learning into the sales process, Sharon sees it as a disjointed, one-off experience. She explains, “I think too often that learning is situational or reactionary. We’re launching a new product. We’re acquiring a new company. That’s the trigger for some additional continuous learning. And there isn’t anyone programmatically thinking about the experience that the seller is having. How are they being trained? What are the tools for them?” Essentially, Sharon explains, that by creating processes and infrastructure for it—whether through technology or otherwise—then you can be successful with continuous learning.

It was also acknowledged, however, that sales reps need to take some responsibility for self-educating as they prepare for their deals. Brainshark CEO Joe Gustafson pointed out that “salespeople are professionals and they have to be treated as such.” He made the parallel between professional athletes and sales reps: just as athletes need to practice in the off season and fight for their position, sales reps should be polishing their skills to make sure they are ready to effectively close business. Joe admits that “we, as companies, have to enable and permission [continuous learning], and it should be part of the process. But this is a contract. And the contract should be ‘I’m going to do whatever it takes, on my own, to be dressed and ready to play on game day… And if you don’t want to be on the team, then you’re not on the team.’”

Building off of that “no excuses” mentality, Walter chimed in about the evolving nature of technology which has made it so easy to engage in continuous learning that there’s really no reason not to be participating. He said, “It used to be hard to have an environment of continuous learning because technology wasn’t really there to support it in an easy way. With the progression of sales enablement technology, there’s not much of an excuse… How can we deliver learning in the moment, when it’s needed? THAT’S continuous learning.”

Each of the panelists brought to light issues that made it very clear: both organizations and reps can and should be doing their parts to promote a culture of continuous learning. Organizations need to enable it, and reps to need to adopt it.

To hear more from these sales experts on the issue of sales readiness, watch them tackle other important questions in these exclusive videos from the panel:

To learn how Brainshark helps companies keep sales reps prepared with effective, timely continuous learning, click here.