In recent months, companies around the world have reinvented how they operate — and sales training is no exception.
Elements of digital training have always been core to empowering your sales team. But the transition to working from home has surfaced old questions: how can you keep remote teams engaged? And which skills should we be teaching? We spoke with the experts at ValueSelling, Corporate Visions, and Sandler Training to help answer these questions and more, including:
- What is virtual sales training?
- How is virtual training different from in-person scenarios?
- Which skills should virtual training focus on teaching?
- Best practices for virtual sales training
What Is Virtual Sales Training?
Virtual sales training is any type of formal training that takes place where the learner is not in the same room at the same time as the facilitator. These engagements can be synchronous via video conferencing, on-demand via self-guided digital modules, or a blend of both.
Whichever method you choose, the goal remains the same: ensuring that your sellers have the skills necessary to successfully engage customers and drive revenue. The key, as President and CEO of ValueSelling Associates Julie Thomas said, is to focus on “engaging the learner, regardless of your medium of delivery.”
How Is Virtual Training Different from In-Person Scenarios?
In a virtual setting, your content will largely stay the same. The biggest change, according to Tim Riesterer, Chief Strategy Officer at Corporate Visions, is how time is used. “In classroom settings, sellers often work or role-play in groups,” Tim explained. “This workflow maximizes efficiency based on time constraints in the classroom, but doesn’t provide much space for in-depth, one-to-one practice and coaching.”
In a virtual setting, the opposite is true. Though some group activities will certainly still exist, a seller working through self-guided modules is no longer constrained by the pace of the instructor or their peers. Now, each seller can be expected to complete an entire assignment by themselves and receive detailed, documented, and tailored feedback. “With more complete assignments, more complete practice, and more complete coaching, virtual can overcome typical classroom constraints,” Tim explained.
Additionally, Mike Montague, Global Head of Content at Sandler Training, encourages sales trainers to be mindful of web-conferencing fatigue. “Schedule frequent breaks and bite-sized sessions to ensure audiences stay engaged, listening, and learning — rather than zoning off,” he explained.
Which Skills Should Virtual Training Focus on Teaching?
As a sales trainer, it’s your job to ensure your team is prepared to overcome any challenges they may encounter in the field. In our new virtual reality, this ranges from keeping busier-than-ever buyers engaged to overcoming distractions like pets and kids and mitigating the stress of economic uncertainty.
With this in mind, now is the time to train salespeople on how to present more effectively, communicate more efficiently, and build relationships remotely.
Deck-building and presenting
Back-to-back video calls can be exhausting for sellers and buyers alike. That’s why Tim recommends reevaluating your approach to presenting. “In the physical world, your presence is the star of the show, but in a virtual engagement, your image is reduced to the size of a postage stamp. Now your presentation is the star of the show.”
That shift means that a salesperson’s slide deck must be more engaging than ever. Teach your teams to build presentations that grab their buyer’s attention and don’t let go. Make sure there’s three to five times more animation and motion to overcome the “stimulation threshold.” Help your sellers develop new interaction and presenting skills that make virtual meetings a more engaging experience.
Prior to our new WFH reality, there was more leeway with meeting agenda and follow ups. Now, additional distractions mean that sellers must effectively communicate key objectives and takeaways for every call in order to cut through the noise.
Said Mike Myers, Managing Director of Technology Practice at Sandler Training, “Information is coming at buyers from every direction nowadays. Effective, organized communication is a lifeline for a buyer who is trying to keep up.” Ensure your sellers are helping and not hindering their customers by dedicating time to the art of agenda-making and note-taking. Focus on teaching your sellers how information is received and digested, both visually and audibly, so their communications stand out.
Normally, a salesperson enhances customer relationships that may have started virtually by meeting in person at events. Now, that’s no longer an option.
Julie suggests that you teach your sales team how to build relationships through meaningful digital engagements. “In a physical world, you can pick up on all types of non-verbal cues. In a virtual world, you often can’t see the minor shifts in a person’s face and attitude on camera,” Julie said. Instead, you must teach your sellers how to seek out feedback, create space for listening, and walk in their customer’s shoes.
Mastery of these skills will lead to better, more empathetic engagements — just the type of interaction that is sure to leave a lasting impression on customers long after we’ve all returned to the office.
Best Practices for Virtual Sales Training
Now that you know what to teach, here’s how to effectively empower your reps with virtual sales training:
Start with the right setup
Whether you’re working from your kitchen table or a home office, your workstation is key to getting in the right mindset to teach. Said Mike Myers, “Anything that keeps you active, like a standing desk or table riser, can really boost your energy. You’ll pass this momentum on to your reps as you teach.”
Additionally, Mike recommends using two monitors if possible. Dual screens allow you to dedicate one monitor to the presenter view and the other to the participant view. “You’ll never forget to turn on screen sharing again,” Mike explains. Two monitors also allow you to keep a grid display of reps videos up, so you can gauge reactions and attention. By building an environment that puts you “in the room” with reps, you can better monitor the end-user experience and optimize it as you go.
Approach virtual training as an opportunity
For sales trainers used to their rhythms, facilitating virtual training may seem like a setback at first. But as the old adage goes, when one door closes, another one opens.
Mike Montague encourages instructors to look at virtual training as an opportunity to reinvent your practice. “Experienced trainers can develop bad habits over time. Taking those online can make them worse.”
Now is the time to step back and evaluate your training program. Look for bloated courses, low-rated sessions, and rarely viewed content; these are all opportunities to improve. Additionally, recordings of virtual sessions can uncover spaces for personal growth — maybe you are more monotone than you thought or struggle to keep the room engaged. Said Mike, “Leverage the strengths of this new medium to mitigate weaknesses across your program and create something better.”
Make time to be human
Reps, like buyers, are looking for a human experience. And while sales training serves a formal purpose, it doesn’t have to be strictly business.
Julie suggests that training facilitators build time into the schedule to accommodate the “water cooler” talk reps would normally have had in the office. “Five minutes of chit chat — highlights of the week, weekend plans — set the tone for the day,” Julie said. “It tells reps that this isn’t going to be an arduous task, but a chance to connect with their peers and friends.”
This is a best practice Julie believes salespeople can take into sales engagements. “By building relationships with your reps in virtual training, you’re showing them how to build trust with their buyers when you’re not in the same physical space.”
Consider your content mix
All-day training sessions are no longer a possibility in our new virtual reality — unless you want reps to fall asleep at their desks. Instead, content must be varied and most importantly, bite-sized.
“A mix of content types and learning styles ignites our natural curiosity,” explained Julie. “You learn best by experimentation, talking with others, and via quiet moments of deep thought,” That’s because adults don’t learn when the facilitator talks — they learn when they do something. It’s an active process.
Thus, a 60-minute course should be trimmed to 25. Schedules should switch between group sessions over video calls, independent learning, and smaller team activities with lots of breaks in between. This way, reps will be learning, rather than dozing off, during training sessions.
Identify key takeaways early and often
Virtual learning environments are rife with distractions — from kids to roommates and everything in between. What’s worse, according to Tim, is that people will remember only “10%” of your story — and that 10% is random. Rather than leaving that six minutes of an hour-long presentation that reps retain up to chance, Tim advises sales trainers to remind reps of the main message as often as possible.
“It’s important to have one main message and no more than three supporting points in each training session. This keeps reps focused and ensures they walk away with critical knowledge. Keep coming back and restating the main message and supporting points throughout.” This ensures that reps will retain — and use — critical knowledge once training is over.
Don’t just educate — entertain
Think back to college for a moment: which classes did you learn the most in and which were duds? Chances are that the most effective teachers were the ones that kept you engaged, not the ones that droned on for 60 minutes straight.
Steer clear of zoned-out reps by finding ways to surprise trainees and capture their attention. Tim encourages instructors to use the tools at their disposal: “Breakout rooms on a web conferencing call, animation in your slide deck, annotation and whiteboarding on screen, polling and chat — these tools all bring moments of interaction and delight to a group learning experience.” And it’s those engaging experiences that help reps absorb and retain information after the session ends.
Superior Training, No Matter the Medium
With these best practices, you’re ready to deliver virtual training that is sure to keep reps engaged and empower them to elevate every customer conversation.
Take a deeper dive on reimagining your sales training by joining Sandler Training, Corporate Visions, and ValueSelling in a new webinar hosted by Forrester’s Mary Shea.