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Why Forced Learning is Ineffective for Sales

Posted in: Sales and Marketing Management, Sales Training, Coaching, and Onboarding

If you’re a sales professional or support a sales team, you live with a common challenge every day: The pace of change is relentless. New and changing products, updated processes, management directives, competitive intel, pricing changes – the list goes on.

For those of us in the supporting cast, this means there is a constant stream of opportunities to share knowledge and improve the skills of our front-line teams. Anyone in sales enablement or sales readiness knows there will never be a shortage of learning to develop and deliver. The challenge is that we too often choose the wrong methods to effectively enable our teams to leverage new skills or knowledge. We’re all guilty of forcing mandatory, one-size-fits-all training because it’s “more efficient” (pronounced “easy”). Let’s take a look at some common scenarios.

  • The product team releases a new feature that your enterprise team has been clamouring for months to sell. With all the excitement, you require the entire sales team to get certified before they can sell and demo this new feature.
  • A senior leader thumps his chest after losing to a competitor and mandates that every sales rep is equipped and certified to beat this specific competitor.

Both of these examples kick off a series of activities including live demos from the product team, resource creation from marketing, and even a full certification program from the enablement team. After countless hours, and hundreds of thousands of dollars, the sales team completes training. Sure, this sounds like a solid plan – and it usually is. However, we often lose sight of the reality that the territories, segments, and individuals vary greatly across our teams. This means that most mandatory training is a waste of time for a large portion of those being trained.

Why is this the case? As seen in both examples, the information focuses on a very specific group of reps. While it might be interesting for the entire team to hear, very few will actually use the new knowledge frequently enough to retain it – requiring re-training at a later date. Or, reps who are already competent with the knowledge and skills will find training a waste of time.

Don’t get me wrong – there is new information that everyone on your team needs and should be required to learn. But there are some fundamental challenges that need to be taken into account any time you consider mandatory training. Consider these three questions before diving into the deep end of launching mandatory training with your entire team:

  1. Is the content relevant to everyone?
  2. Is the content new to everyone?
  3. Is the content easy for everyone to consume?

If you answer no to any of these, think long and hard about the validity of mandatory training and consider other targeted or individualised approaches to disseminate learning. Before we go any further, it’s important to reiterate that no learning program should take a single approach. Every business is different – and a healthy mix of the modalities and styles that best meet the needs of your business will lead to the most success. With that being said, let’s dig into each style of learning a bit more.

A Targeted Approach to Learning

The simplest way to ensure your training is relevant to your reps is to take a targeted approach that increases the likelihood of need. Getting down to team or “segment groupings” within your company allows you to make some assumptions based on the needs of that smaller group. Most importantly, you can leverage the wisdom of your managers to find out exactly what is plaguing their team – and solve for that targeted group of employees. And, as a bonus, you’ll quickly find that this training approach is easy to rinse and repeat for teams that are running into similar challenges. You’ll also receive sales management buy-in, which is key to the success of any training program. Your managers become an extension of the enablement team and are key stakeholders in the creation and delivery of learning.

To illustrate this, let’s take a look at our competitive enablement example. This particular sales leader is furious about the lost deal and thinks training everyone is the right approach. However, a more targeted approach would better solve the problem. By leveraging available loss data from your CRM and your manager network, you’ll gain a solid understanding of the teams most impacted by the competitor. Once the need is prioritised and content developed, deliver training and certification to the groups with the most need. Once training is complete, be sure to make the learning available for all of your reps so they can revisit or engage when needed.

Three tips for promoting targeted learning in your org:

  1. Leverage management to discover the challenges of segments and individual teams in order to develop training that meets their needs.
  2. Avoid adding training time to rep calendars by utilising existing events like team meetings. Then, enable managers to execute the training using manager guides.
  3. Make training predictable with a standardised structure so reps can focus on the content as opposed to the format.

A Personal Approach to Learning

Personalised learning means different things to different people – and is often considered the holy grail of enablement. Imagine if you could look at past performance, skill competency, behaviour, and practice scenarios – then assign and manage personalised training to each person on your team right when they need it. This sounds magical, and we aren’t quite there yet – but we’re getting closer.

In the meantime, let’s focus on individualised learning. The triggers are similar, but we rely on the personal engagement of individual learners and managers. Then we let the data influence the decision – as opposed to selecting content in a vacuum. With those ideas in hand, there are two key factors to making individualised learning work for your organisation:

  • An engaged team of reps who are ready to take responsibility and own their development – with the support of the organisation around them.
  • A library of on-demand content organised to match the skills and knowledge reps need to be successful. This includes online learning and live/regular coaching opportunities in small group and one-on-one scenarios.

Think of this as the “teach them to fish” approach. Each individual and their manager has a good understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. Based on this knowledge – and their needs – reps self-select learning opportunities to build on their skills.

Consider personal learning in relation to the example of the new enterprise feature. It’s easy to share resources and launch an awareness campaign to ensure the entire team recognises the availability of the new feature. But the reps impacted most by this launch could self-select a deeper level of enablement to hone the knowledge and skills needed to effectively sell the new feature. While this strategy reduces the enablement completion rate, it ensures enablement is providing the highest value.

One key idea to make this tactic work is a consistent approach to the content that’s provided through an on-demand learning library. Reps need confidence that the enablement that helps them succeed is available when and where they need it, or else they won’t return and will fall back into a routine of asking their peers or manager for help.

Three tips for promoting individualised learning in your org:

  1. Have reps create and write down regular (monthly and/or quarterly) learning goals that coincide with their regular performance goals.
  2. Encourage and model daily learning where reps start every single day by taking a step toward the learning goals.
  3. Make learning goals a part of every manager 1:1, alongside forecast and pipeline discussions, to encourage rep development and engagement.

Start Small

This may all seem overwhelming, but start small to give your team the best chance for success. Replace one mandatory all-team training with a targeted plan for the team most affected by the change. Then, leverage that same content for individuals at their point of need. Sales enablement solutions designed to deliver sales training and content can also be hugely helpful in promoting individualised learning. These platforms have the ability to educate reps in the right place, at the right time, and in the context of deals they’re working. With this kind of bite-size training, reps find it even easier to have quality sales conversations and close more deals while staying up-to-date on best practices.

As you continue to build this muscle, you’ll find that your reps are more engaged and your training is more effective than ever.