Mobile, E-Learning And Collaborative Learning Are Fueling Performance.
By Jerry Roche
With the availability of cellphones, tablets and new 4G technology, corporate sales training has become “mobile” in the truest sense of the word. And training has kept pace with technology, thanks to forwardlooking chief learning officers and software vendors.
“In today’s super-competitive environment, organizations need their sales teams to be consistently operating at peak levels,” observes Russ Howard, director of Product Marketing at Skillsoft. “Effective selling strategies must be honed and practiced regularly to stay ahead of the competition. Salespeople in particular are under constant pressure to deliver and are always looking for tools and information that will give them a competitive advantage. They also feel strapped for time, so they want knowledge they can apply on the job immediately.”
Technology has forged what Rich Nazzaro of CloudComputing International (CCI) calls a “seismic shift” in sales training that encompasses social media, mobile devices and online communities.
“With these new ways of learning and communicating, companies are leaving behind the standard corporate learning model: instructor-led classrooms using static webinars and mechanistic e-learning modules. They’re joining a digital learning revolution that can create new efficiencies for development programs and drive learning sustainability to unprecedented levels.”
The Big Picture
However, just because the technology is available doesn’t mean that the traditional sales training noted by Nazzaro is being left in the dust. Take, for instance, individual coaching.
“Sales coaching is not about you looking like the world’s most successful manager and leader,” says Rosalie Pope of the Richardson Group. “It’s about you sharing and transferring your knowledge and experience to people who don’t have it, collaborating with them in a nonjudgmental way — in a safe space — about what they want to work on. It’s an easy process, especially if you lay out what you’re doing up front. Making the process transparent shows that there’s no hidden agenda, no secret.”
There’s also a time and place for traditional sales training, most specifically classroom instruction that is based on a presenter (usually the sales leader or a qualified guest) and PowerPoints. Even role-playing still has a place. But getting the entire sales staff in one place at one time is proving more and more difficult as the world becomes more and more competitive.
It’s a fact of life that many supervisors and managers are good coaches, but they might not be not trainers. So social networks, e-learning and collaborative learning (inside or outside of classrooms) can provide a firm base. Then, the sales manager can put the generic material in context.
Enter video and mobile training…
Making It Easy
For the first time, training on a corporate scale can be tailored to meet the needs of the individual learner. “Using a variety of digital tools and strategies, content can now be customized and delivered in a way that aligns with the unique learning style, skills gaps and schedules of each team member,” notes CCI’s Nazzaro.
“The big question is, how do you most efficiently migrate your best practices from your top sales people down to the rookies?” asks Ryan Eudy of ej4. “We don’t see sales people taking longer courses, because they don’t have the time.
“Classroom training is great, but much of the fundamental knowledge can be relayed through online learning. Custom e-learning can be derived from that base. The theory is to give people fundamental tactics that they can learn one week at a time in bite-sized increments, then follow it up with a certain amount of curriculum depending on ramp-up time.”
Chip Ramsey of Intellum says that access is all-important. “It all comes down to how sales people access the knowledge they need to sell their product or service,” he says. “From our perspective, it’s not the sales tool itself, it’s the training. When you have people who are tech-savvy and bright, who are moving at a fast pace, having bite-sized training increments is important.”
What learning professionals and, subsequently, vendors have learned is that today’s generation of sales people demand short, tactical and quickly applied lessons, because they are easily distracted by other demands of their job. So lessons have to be engaging. They have to be fun. They have to provide a means for learning quickly, either by accessing the lessons on their own or during a sales meeting.
Mobile is important — and not only because instructional design today is made with mobile training in mind.
“There’s been a huge increase in mobile learning, especially among sales people,” Eudy says. “That type of mobile learning doesn’t have to be just showing customers actual products with their benefits; it can also provide a consistent message across the organization and thereby unify sales forces.”
More advanced sales people employ programs and apps that are responsive to screen size and are HTML5-based but scrollable (as opposed to flipping through slides).
Intellum’s Ramsey, like most of his competitors, promotes training vignettes that do not exceed about 10 minutes.
“We’re seeing mobile in two ways,” he says. “One style is the more formal, justin- time archived approach, where sales people go through training whenever and wherever they want, whether it’s sitting in a train or in car. The informal type of training is like a social network, a private social tool where everybody’s posting.
“Another tool is like a private YouTube, and many companies have a whole group that’s devoted to producing videos to help the culture and conversation within the organization. All are consumerlike experiences employed in a private, secure manner, geared toward corporate communication. Mobile is a huge part of that.”
“Things are still changing quickly,” says CCI’s Nazzaro. “What’s next in the evolution of learning is personalized, predictive and connected.”
By personal, he means customized to the individual sales person. By predictive, he means using history to predict how any person will consume new information and what new information he or she will need. And by connected, he means that sales people will be connected with each other, with sales managers, and with other resources by way of their learning system.
Nazzaro says that digital learning platforms can now be embedded into everyday functions. When users encounter a challenge or a gap, they can access the learning platform in real time for specific coaching and direction. They not only gain confidence with a new skill, but they also get real work done in the real world.
“For generations, corporate learning systems have been content-based,” Nazzaro notes. “The focus of the training has been to push out packets of information to be consumed by users in a one-size-fits-all process. But to be effective today, we must tailor the delivery and focus of content to match the needs of the user, [then] develop algorithms that will recommend specific learning experiences based on the real task-execution conditions of each individual.”
The final step is embedding those learning experiences inside systems that can be (and are) accessed by users on a regular basis.
Meanwhile, Intellum’s Ramsey sees more user-generated content making an impact on sales training in the near future.
“I’m hoping that user-generated videos and user-curated facts and knowledge from anywhere on the Web will become more important,” Ramsey says.
None of the changes coming in the near future are likely to be entirely smooth — but so far, corporate training and learning officers have been up to the challenge. It was just 40 years ago that employees converted from electric typewriters to the first generation of desktop computers, and from file cabinets to servers and complex database systems. Even though technology innovation is proceeding at a breakneck pace, corporate sales staffs — much to their credit — have proven highly adaptable to whatever is provided for them.