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4 Learning Methods to Better Engage Sales Reps

Nov 07th, 2018

How many sales reps paid full attention to their most recent training course from start to finish? How many zoned out by the half-hour mark?

As sales enablement leaders face the challenge of keeping reps engaged with learning content, many are asking these same questions. And while it’s tempting to blame ineffective sales training on the rise of smartphones, social media and other disruptive technology, neuroscience tells us that the human brain is partially at fault.

When the brain absorbs a large amount of information too quickly, cognitive backlog kicks in – sometimes after just 10 minutes of presentation, according to leading biologist John Medina.

“You start getting distracted because your brain actually can’t process things that quickly,” says Heather Cole, Service Director, Sales Enablement Strategies at SiriusDecisions. “You need to stop and let your brain process the information it has gotten, or you will start doing other things because it’s no longer resonating with you.”

It’s not that salespeople don’t want training and development. In fact, many of them do. But cognitive backlog, combined with the continuous pressure of meeting quota, often gets in the way of their best intentions – and sales enablement’s best efforts.

So how can sales enablement leaders better reach and teach their sales teams? It starts by utilizing the right learning methods to keep modern salespeople engaged. Here are 4 critical elements of a sales training strategy that Cole discussed with Jim Ninivaggi, Chief Readiness Officer at Brainshark, during a recent webinar.

Learning Method #1: Tell

Through online training presentations and other micro-learning content, Cole says sales reps can gain a thorough understanding of how to perform their roles effectively. Sales enablement can verify that reps are able to recall relevant information through knowledge-check assessments, like quizzes and tests.

For instance, with micro-learning content, you could effectively provide a detailed guide to executing a prospecting call. You can explain and justify why your company’s approach works better than others through stories, statistics and other evidence.

Most importantly, by introducing new information in small “chunks” through micro-learning, sales enablement leaders can deliver knowledge on-demand, within a sales rep’s daily workflow.

Key Consideration: While “telling” is key to ensuring reps have the knowledge they need, Cole says some companies lean too heavily on this learning method. The potential drawback is that this type of learning doesn’t allow reps to actually observe successful examples of selling, practice key skills and apply them within the context of their jobs; in large doses, it can also trigger cognitive backlog.

By combining “Tell” with the next method on our list, however, enablement leaders can take a more well-rounded approach to sales learning.

Learning Method #2: Show

Showing sales reps what “good” looks like – through peer learning videos of high-performers, effective demonstrations or ride-alongs, for example – is not only a crucial part of the learning process; it’s also a preferred learning method for sellers. Learning by observation was one of 4 learning methods preferred by all reps, according to SiriusDecisions.

High-performing reps counted sales success stories and video examples of talk tracks among their 5 most impactful learning resources.

“[Reps] know all this stuff, but [they] actually want to see it in action,” says Cole. “That ‘show’ piece is absolutely critical, and if you don’t have it in your learning strategy now, it’s something we highly recommend you implement, because that’s what helps put the pieces together.”

Visual and peer-to-peer learning are clearly effective tools for sales enablement and, as Cole notes during the webinar, technology makes the execution “so much easier than it used to be.”

Key Consideration: Almost 40% of reps have no video-based examples of successful selling available to them, SiriusDecisions found. Without these valuable learning resources, sales enablement will find it difficult to help their reps improvise during live selling situations and apply best practices to their selling routines.

That’s why using sales readiness technology to streamline the peer learning process is critical, Ninivaggi says.

“How do you get them to share best practices, success stories and knowledge with their peers?” he asks. “You’ve got to make it super-easy. You’ve got to make it so it’s a no-brainer. You turn on your phone, you answer a couple of questions, and you can convert that into learning content.”

Learning Method #3: Practice

In addition to visual learning, Cole says reps considers “learning by doing” to be another impactful way to gain relevant knowledge and skills.

Sales enablement should cater to that preference by providing sellers with practice opportunities in a safe, controlled environment, so reps are able to master key selling skills before engaging a buyer. It’s why Brainshark released a video coaching Practice Field that allows reps to preview and delete video recordings as needed, and share practice takes with peers for additional feedback.

Key Consideration: Cole and Ninivaggi say that sales reps don’t always relish idea doing role plays – or recording themselves practicing a pitch, if the company uses a video coaching tool. However, by not making regular practice a rallying cry in the sales organization, enablement leaders run the risk of unleashing underprepared sales reps into the field – a recipe for lost deals and frustrated buyers.

“Do you want them to be comfortable, or do you want them to be ready?” Ninivaggi says. “I’d rather by reps get uncomfortable before calling on a buyer so that they’re absolutely comfortable in front of a buyer.

Learning Method #4: Reinforce and Apply

It’s one thing to watch a video recording of yourself delivering a practice pitch. It’s another to receive constructive and timely feedback on your performance in real time.

The benefits of providing timely feedback and coaching are clear: high-performing sales organizations are 28% more likely to conduct field observations of reps than lower performing organizations, Cole says. Research also shows that 87% of knowledge is forgotten within the first 30 days after learning, which makes reinforcement a must.

Sales organizations can accomplish this through manager-led coaching programs and in-field observation, with the goal of ensuring that reps can apply relevant knowledge and skills when they are actually in front of buyers.

Key Consideration: While the benefits of constructive feedback have been discussed ad nauseam, many managers don’t provide effective coaching – whether due to time constraints or a lack of skills. That’s why it’s critical to make coaching easier for managers.

Brainshark’s new Machine Analysis engine for sales coaching, for instance, allows managers to streamline the coaching process by using AI to analyze reps’ speaking rate, emotions and coverage of key topics when they submit a video recording.

Sales coaching needs can also be addressed by employing an embedded sales coach, who is responsible for ensuring the readiness of our reps through role plays, in-field observation and video coaching assessments.

“The embedded coach is a very good way to solve other problems in the organization, such as promoting high-performing reps into manager roles with very little preparation. That still goes on constantly,” Cole says. “[We need to be] teaching (reps) how to coach before we ask them to coach, giving them a broader perspective of the organization, and having them embrace the role of what a good manager should be.”

Want More Insights from SiriusDecisions?

Listen to our on-demand webinar, “Sales Enablement by the Numbers,” for a data-driven discussion that covers:

  • Which job aides and learning formats were preferred by millennial reps
  • Which training content types were considered least effective
  • How enablement leaders can ensure sales manager readiness
  • And much more!