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March 23, 2016
Sales  |  6 min read

Sales Learning is the New Path to Increased Sales Productivity

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David Fitzgerald

In today’s market, winning is often measured by how quickly you can meet customer demands, and that means demonstrating more agility than your competitors. By making your sales reps smarter and faster—so after each meeting or call with a buyer, they’re deemed more credible, more knowledgeable, and more trustworthy—you can win more deals.

Sales agility is the key to sustainable advantage

A major competitive weapon is a sales rep’s ability to be conversant and often times proficient in the things that are important to their customer. That means giving sales easy, on-demand access to relevant content that will satisfy buyer needs, while at the same time helping decision makers move forward in their buying journey.

According to Aberdeen Group’s 2015 study, business agility is the number two pressure driving companies learning and development strategies—and linking learning to the business is the number one action they are taking.

Learning is a process

Remember the old days of in-classroom sales training? Product Managers standing up for a full week of death by PowerPoint. Sales people drinking from a firehose. And teams surviving the ceremonial “fire walk” with the scars to prove it.

The reality is that we forget 80 percent of what we learn in the first thirty days after these training events. What’s more, our customers are demanding information that we didn’t get from the PowerPoint presentations.

The good news is that most organizations have moved away from 100 percent in-person sales training to a blend of classroom, digital, and social learning. They understand that learning is a lifelong, continuous transfer process and not an event.

The most successful sales organizations say that long-term sales learning is more important than on-boarding training (Aberdeen Group, Sales Performance Research, 2015). It should come as no surprise that these same companies outperform their peers in all kinds of sales KPIs, from team attainment of annual sales quota to first-year reps achieving sales quota.

The 2015 Sales Enablement Optimization Study by CSO Insights found that “sales training is the most important enablement service.” And while “sales training” continues to be the industry standard term, we know the purpose of training is really learning.

Millennials are the new sellers

Millennials have now surpassed Generation X to become the largest generation in the American workforce, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. Adults between the ages of 18-34 now make up one in three American workers, Pew reports. In 2015, they outnumbered working adults in Generation X (who were 18-33 in the year 1998) after overtaking Baby Boomers.

Your sales organization probably already includes these tech-savvy 20 and 30-something employees. They are the “new” sellers. They pride themselves on being continuous learners and their educational experiences have always included technology.

We live in an anytime, anywhere, any-device world. Just in time knowledge transfer is expected. Sales executives are now creating learning that is video and mobile-based, the key to coaching this new group of sales people.

Aberdeen reports that of the best-in-class sales organizations, “42 percent indicate strong or extremely strong proficiency in providing mobile access to mission-critical sales data and content.” These same organizations “are twice as likely as under-performers to have adopted video solutions to support sales.”

The Millennial Compass Report shows that Millennials “are focused on achieving through personal networks and technology; having good work-life balance; and getting high levels of support from their managers.” They think of their boss as a mentor, peer, or coach and respect those with experience or knowledge. By understanding what this generation values, you can develop an effective learning strategy for your entire sales team.

Learn at the point of need

Traditional e-learning approaches focus on static content managed from a centralized repository, typically delivered through online courses. But we need new learning approaches to support true knowledge sharing. We know that knowledge turns into competency when sales applies it at the time they need it.

Here’s what’s key to learning at the point of need:

  • Connecting employees with peers via social learning. Social means embracing collaboration, sharing, and not being afraid to make mistakes—it is a community of learners.
  • Capturing and sharing tribal knowledge through user-created content. Uncovering this hidden knowledge within your organization can set you apart from the competition.
  • Instilling behavioral change with new techniques and experiential learning. We live in a culture of hyper attention—so you will need to incorporate gamification, micro-learning, and simulation role-playing into your content strategy.

Aberdeen Group suggests that “best-in-class organizations recognize the importance of providing learning through … just in time, social and informal learning...Learning opportunities need to be accessible, targeted, and continuous.”

In short, sales-people must have access to the experts and content required to do their job when they need it.

Build an effective sales content strategy

An effective sales content strategy takes advantage of your experts, achieves buy-in from stakeholders, and demonstrates an early win for management. 

Remember the three keys to increasing sales productivity through just in time, social, and informal learning:

  1. See your sales organization as a source of competitive advantage—value agility.
  2. Transform your thinking from event-based training to continuous learning.
  3. Know how your millennial sellers learn and your buyers make decisions. 

This article was written by David Fitzgerald from Business2Community and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.


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