It’s the 11th month of 2020 and we’re all looking forward to putting this year way behind in the rear-view mirror. But you know better than I that 1st January of any new year is just another day and most things evolve continuously with little regard for whether a year has ended or started.

One such aspect is sales enablement – all things related to sales for that matter. How we sell, where we sell & to whom we sell is constantly evolving. The past year has given us plenty of evidence of how, corporations & sales trainers have evolved their sales training curriculums to drive an engaging remote learning experience for front line sales.  

Remote learning for salesforce via Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or any other virtual collaboration platform became mainstream as we naturally gravitated to these platforms, initially just to keep the sales enablement & learning curriculum “above water”. As with anything online, the same rote experience, coupled with bandwidth glitches and evolving “digital etiquettes” (especially in some countries) detracted the salesforce from an engaging learning experience.

Congratulations! We were successfully able to transfer the classroom learning experience to the digital world!

Sarcasm aside, disengagement in the digital world has meant sales representatives can switch off from a virtual training session more easily. Disengagement during remote learning is growing exponentially from sales reps switching off their video mode to working on multiple applications while passively hearing the trainer, to switching off from work altogether, and much more.

While there will be a shift back to normalcy where classroom or physical training programs would slowly resume, there is no refuting that remote learning would continue to play a much larger role in the overall learning experience for many reasons. Sales enablement today is focused on integrating new learning methods that are easily accessible, and effective in helping the sales reps to learn and retain information for a longer period.

This makes maximizing digital engagement and reinventing the remote learning experience a key agenda item for sales leaders in 2021. As learning sciences evolve and newer roles/degrees like Learning Engineer gain prominence, newer technologies & techniques should all focus on generating more authentic engagement. By engagement, I’m not referring to completion rates, the number of views, feedback scores, or other such vanity metrics.

It’s time to redefine how we measure sales training engagement or sales enablement effectiveness for that matter!

The Kirkpatrick model for learning itself could be a great starting point. Level 1 or Reaction has often meant capturing “how learners feel” at the end of a learning session. To take an example from Internet companies, leaders obsess not just on the growth of users but the % of repeat users and how often they come back to their website or mobile app. To take this argument further, learning any skill is about practice, habit, or discipline; all of which point towards repeatability. A sales rep who has been trained on selling over the call is much more likely to be skillful at remote selling than a salesperson who has worked primarily in a face to face selling scenario. Whether or not you’re a believer in Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule, there’s no denying what we do repeatedly ultimately becomes what we’re skillful at. To that effect, a highly engaging learning experience should reflect as high repeatability rates or repetition for a sales rep. Repetition in the context of learning can be defined as how often a seller has repeatedly completed a course or re-attempted an assessment post-completion.

For sales and L&D leaders, this could be a useful metric to gauge learning engagement & effectiveness in 2021. Repetition could come across as a more authentic measure of learning engagement & effectiveness for sales leaders who often question the ROI or improvement in sales reps skills through training. With repetition as an indicator of learning effectiveness, sales leaders can gauge the readiness of their sales teams before sending them to the field.  

Sales organizations have historically struggled with poor adoption and course completion rates, therefore their repetition rates would likely be even lower. That notwithstanding, it is completely possible to achieve higher repetition rates so long as the underlying learning experience is interactive and novel. The sample analysis taken below from a learning initiative by a leading last-mile delivery organization substantiates this and sheds light on how Repetition Rates could be captured in the future.

How can we build an engaging sales enablement experience that results in high repetition rates?

The famous forgetting curve states that we retain only 21% of the total information learned from a learning event after 1 month. Subsequent studies on spaced repetition have showcased evidence on how repeated learning in a staggered manner improved long term retention. Without reinforcement of sales training, the sales reps are likely to forget over 80% of the content within a month. During an important sales call of high importance, they are more likely to revert to their old selling skills instead of applying what they learned in the classroom. Unfortunately, for most sales organizations, spaced learning had often meant refresher classroom sessions, follow-up webinars, et al. The challenge with these approaches, besides scalability & cost is that they are forced repetitions on behalf of the organization on the field-force.

Instead, a self-sustaining virtual or digital learning experience that is highly engaging would naturally lead to more repetition, which in turn would translate into higher retention and application of learning.

To make this happen, sales organizations need to consider two things:

1.       For starters, new age learning principles like lean learning or microlearning along with complementary fields like gamification, data science, or behavioral psychology could be clubbed to develop a digital but highly engaging sales enablement experience.

2.       Second, to find the right balance between the above disciplines, it is important to develop a learning loop where high engagement translates into more repetition, which in turn means more data on the sales rep for analyzing learning effectiveness. Below is one such example based on the interplay between microlearning and hyper-casual gaming.

Such kind of an engaging loop between learning & gaming could ensure sales reps pick up new skills habitually & in a bite-sized manner, both of which fuel high repetition rates. For example, through a game-based assessment, a sales rep could repeatedly attempt a given set of questions due to any or all of the following reasons:

1.       Lost the game due to too many incorrect answers

2.       Assessment timed out

3.       Completed the assessment but didn’t achieve the highest score

Repeated learning, based on the above example, would be the result of a highly engaging experience that is fundamentally built on self-driven learning rather than push-based learning.

The implications of this can be several, depending on the stakeholder:

1.       For the sales rep, repetition data, and the resulting outcome from each repetition can better personalize the learning experience. As it results in more data per learner, repetition can make sales training personalization more accurate, thereby leading to greater engagement, more repetition, and ultimately better retention and application of the given skill.

2.       For the sales trainer, data on repetition gives a deeper perspective on content that a sales representative is either able to comprehend or not. Not to mention, repeatability could be more actionable than feedback scores when trainers evaluate which course or course material was more popular than others. A sales rep who gives a 5/5 feedback rating on a program but has 0 repeatability post-completion would not be viewed as favorably as a representative who gives a 4/5 feedback score but shows higher repeatability post-completion. Consequently, the ability to rebalance a training program between classroom, digital, or virtual training can become more data-driven and optimized based on repeatability rates. Furthermore, content can be created on the specific skill gaps for each rep on account of repetition.

3.       For the L&D leader, repeatability could translate into quantifying how quickly can a sales rep master or ramp up on a new skill. With each successive attempt, repeatability rates can answer if the sales rep can improve what he or she understood prior and is it resulting in higher retention & application on the job.

4.       Sales leaders, whose goal is to measure the impact on revenue or cost can get one level closer to bridging the effectiveness of learning with business results. Besides simply correlating high course completion rates and high performers, business leaders will be able to measure performance improvement based on repeated attempts. In other words, is a sales representative with more attempts / higher repeatability in learning gradually showing a similar uptrend in his or her sales conversions?

Paradoxically the use of repeatability rates would force organizations to relook at their learning platforms & content and determine what factors could drive higher engagement. This would fuel more innovation from organizations as well as sales enablement vendors as they focus on creating a learning loop that self sustains on the back of a great learning experience and generates more insights on how the salesforce learns. As mentioned earlier, loop-based on principles of microlearning and gamification (or game-based learning) can result in high repeatability rates. Sales representatives have a very demanding role and hence, they often struggle to engage with the provided sales training programs. Gamification, microlearning & behavioural psychology can address various motivational needs of the sales reps and better incorporate the understanding of buyer personas into role plays to reinforce sales conversation skills. Whereas microlearning can chunk out bite-sized learning, make content leaner, and better-fit learning within a sales reps busy work schedule, gamification can enable the same content to be experienced in a fun, addictive manner that results in habit formation.

At a time when sales organisations are digitally transforming their business & cutting any unnecessary costs, reporting repeatability rates as a measure of learning engagement would build greater authenticity in how organizations develop a digital learning culture.

So, let the start of 2021 not be about resolutions but evolution! Let salesforce enablement & effectiveness evolve from completing a course to repeating a learning experience to master a new skill.