One of the major challenges for sales trainers is to continuously keep their salesforce up to date with relevant product knowledge and skills while maintaining their motivation & confidence. Effective sales training is an important ask for most organizations since the field force is always on the go and needs to be up to date with the latest service/product knowledge & enabled to engage with customers across different mediums. This is of utmost importance since it directly affects the revenue, profit, and growth of the organization.
So how can sales leaders make their sales enablement & sales training initiatives more engaging & effective in 2021?
The sales force is always under an organization's microscope as it leads the chase to achieve the business targets and goals. The sales personnel are expected to be updated with the knowledge of product and services, map their customer journeys, and demonstrate high capabilities in social selling, value proposition, and negotiating. This requires them to be adept at complex business and behavioural skills, making effective training crucial.
CSO Insights sales studies for the last couple of years highlight:
· A well designed and effective sales process/methodology training increases the chances of achieving targets by about 17.7%
· Establishing a formal on-the-job training framework with formal sales coaching improves win rates by 28%.
· Effective onboarding programs can push the quota achievement percentage up to 70% - much beyond the average of 57.7%
For achieving these results, you may think of conducting more traditional sales training programs as the solution.
However, sales training programs hardly lead to long-term retention and results as there is no continuous reinforcement post the program. The hectic nature of sales reps’ jobs along with decreasing engagement levels come in the way. Sales reps are rarely found on their desks, they are mostly found in client meetings, or traveling. They are constantly multi-tasking and are expected to grasp details quickly and respond faster. Front line sales teams want their learning on-the-go, in small chunks that are quickly consumable and easily applicable. For this reason, virtual or self-paced sales training delivered on microlearning mobile apps can bring about convenience, easy access, and regular reinforcement of the learnings & key skills captured.
Psychology, big data, and gamification can further enhance sales enablement experience, increase retention, improve sales force effectiveness as well as correlate learning analytics with business results.
Let’s delve deeper into each of the disciplines and then integrate them towards the end to see how they can enhance sales enablement next year!
Using gamification to reinforce sales training concepts
Gamification is the use of game elements or game design techniques in non-game scenarios or contexts. It can be used to enhance learning using various elements of immediate feedback, levels of accomplishment, progress bars, interactions, et al.
Sales representatives have a very demanding role and hence, they often struggle to engage with the provided sales training programs. Gamification introduces a fun factor that enhances sales reps’ focus and motivation to keep going further and achieving the set goals or objectives. Sales training can be made fun by incorporating a storyline where the sales representatives find themselves immersed in a virtual scenario that imitates real-world dynamics and enables them to practice selling skills without the risk of losing actual customers. To ensure consistent sales messaging is used throughout the front line, we can give greater weightage to creating and grading game-based quizzes & assessments. Sales reps thrive on achieving targets and hence, rewarding them with gaming elements such as badges, virtual currency, points, or certifications on completion of the sales training can act as an incentive for completing the desired actions and promote a sense of achievement.
Gamification is not only broad but also already being used by many sales organizations. We also wrote about the three different types of gamifications that organizations can use in our earlier blogs.
While countless organisations continue to add gamification to their training delivery, it is most often than not limited to only the peripheral (Points, Badges, and Leader boards) or intermediate levels (time, social sharing). However, to be able to build differentiation using gamification, organizations can use game-based assessments to boost knowledge retention and application of skills for everyone from the recruits to the sales managers and also incentivize them to consistently learn through rewards for successful completion, repetitive testing & mastery of the given skill set. A gamified microlearning content with game-based assessments enables the field force to measure their learning progress in real-time and provide data-driven feedback for course correction. These formative game-based assessments (assessments that are conducted during the learning process) can isolate skill gaps and correlate them with business performance to give managers a specific actionable task that is linked to the business performance. For instance, a game-based assessment in a Microskill® on life insurance plans can provide the branch manager with insight such as: Improving performance on “Selling Life Insurance” questions can improve New Business Premium by 30% in the next 90 days. Therefore, a gaming and learning loop can build learning habits for the front line that results in 10x more data, thereby enabling branch & line managers to make more informed decisions on enhancing the front line’s productivity.
Using psychology to reinforce selling behaviours through sales training
Each learner has a different learning style and motivation. We need to be cognizant of these factors while designing sales training content for skill development or knowledge enhancement. Psychology principles help us to relate the sales rep’s role with the learning objectives of the microlearning content. The psychological principle of the forgetting curve by Hermann Ebbinghaus is especially useful when it comes to sales enablement in 2021.
Sales reps tend to forget newly learned skills by 50% within just a few days post a conventional sales training program!
Spaced repetition as proposed by Cecil Alec Mace refers to spreading learning out over time i.e. the learning content should be reviewed in increasing intervals of days which moves gradually from one day, four days, eight days, and so forth. Periodic exposure to information can help the sales reps to retain a significantly increased amount of information. A microlearning sales training experience enables the sales rep to view the same material repeatedly and reduces the time taken to pull the information from his long-term memory. Psychology can also predict the time when sales training should be sent to maximize engagement. Analysing common psychological behaviours also helps in demonstrating real-life scenarios encountered by sales reps so that the learning experience feels more meaningful and learners can be nudged into applying their learning more effectively.
Without a proper understanding of the buyer personas, sales reps will not be able to engage in meaningful interactions with the customers. They must understand different personalities and the optimum way to deal with them to close leads effectively. By breaking down the traditional sales training content into microlearning experiences, we reduce the cognitive load and perceived investment of time for the sales reps. Furthermore, the point of the application becomes clearer for the salesforce as sales training becomes sharper, nuanced & specific to their challenge. According to Tim Ferris applying the Pareto principle of 80/20 can significantly improve the learning outcomes for employees. For instance, if a person wants to learn Japanese, he should focus on the 20% of words and phrases that show up 80% of the time. Post which he should apply the learnings to actual conversations with Japanese speakers as frequently as possible. Similarly, sales reps should also be provided with bite-sized, personalised learning content on skills they are expected to apply in their real-life selling situations so that they can apply them in real-time, shorten the feedback loop and deliver higher business outcomes.
Using data analytics to enhance sales training effectiveness
Extracting relevant data from the organization’s Learning Management System (LMS), HRIS, CRM platform, collaboration tools, and other tools can assist in gaining insights on sales performance and skill/knowledge gaps. These insights can then be used for improving the sales training initiatives & personalizing the experience further. By analysing the learning data, we can identify the skills and competencies that the sales reps are developing or struggling to develop. Sales trainers can also refer to the enablement data to constantly improve and update sales training content. Data can also be used to make the learning journey of sales reps adaptive based on their learning curve or ramp-up time and performance on the job. For sales leaders, these data points can help in forecasting important business decisions about team restructuring, upskilling, salesforce planning, et al.
A multi-disciplinary approach to learning
Using a multi-disciplinary approach for sales training can enable sales leaders to enhance their salesforce capabilities such as communication skills and selling skills, assess their sales-readiness, and ensure consistency in the communication of messages from the salesforce. Integrating these three disciplines can re-create sales enablement and enhance engagement rates by up to 80%, reduce content creation by 70%, and better link enablement outcomes with lead and lag indicators based on the sales reps’ KPIs.
Gamification, microlearning & behavioural psychology can also address various motivational needs of the sales reps and better incorporate the understanding of buyer personas into role plays to reinforce sales conversation skills. By improving engagement & building a habit for learning, sales leaders can leverage the data collected from the sales training initiative to improve performance further and set the stage for adaptive & personalized learning down the line.