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January 14, 2020

4 Steps to Measure the ROI of Informal Learning

As a manager, you may be missing out on one of the most valuable training tools: the interactions your salespeople are having.

You can’t be with your sales team every hour of the day, but you know they interact all the time. The phone calls, text messages, IMs, and emails they send each other when they’re stuck and need help. They talk between appointments and sales calls, on the road and in person.

You might think they’re talking about last night’s game or an upcoming vacation, but mostly they talk about work. They’re looking for advice on tough accounts, solutions to tricky situations, or the latest update on your products or services. They want to know what the other person is doing to close more deals or generate more activity inside their existing accounts.

There’s gold in those conversations.

You know these chats are happening, but sadly you can’t eavesdrop on every one. Reps often incorporate the information into their daily behavior, but rarely document or share these informal talks. In fact, months later they may not remember a conversation that shifted their sales ability into the next gear.

You might wonder why two particular salespeople are crushing their numbers, but have no way to implement their behaviors across your organizations. Those insights evaporate before they can be shared.

As a manager, you have to find a way to capture that “lightning in a bottle.” You risk losing a key component of sales readiness when you’re not able to capture those flashes of greatness.

The Importance of Informal Learning for Agile Sales Readiness

Informal learning is why your salespeople love getting together. While scheduled meetings and classroom training are common ways to get your reps up to speed, conversations with other salespeople in which they share insights between sessions are where critical knowledge transfer happens.

Salespeople look for gold in other’s strategies, behaviors, conversations, and analyses. The open bar at your events isn’t really about free drinks. It’s about salespeople spending time together so they can learn. This is informal learning.

Management knows this is one benefit of bringing teams together. But unfortunately, these conversations are rarely recorded. None of this “data” is cataloged so it can be shared and implemented.

Imagine the ROI if you could capture this knowledge. You could begin to implement it in your training. You might change processes or even create tools that improve your ability to grow your business.

These insights could then contribute to your team’s overall sales readiness, ensuring that reps had the knowledge and skills needed throughout a buyer’s journey.

Agile sales readiness hinges on informal learning, the kind of learning that happens when peers share insights and when managers and their teams debrief or check in.

Many times a salesperson is stuck and will reach to management for an answer and advice. Usually, the advice rarely comes from direct answers but from the conversation. The salesperson will often have a flash of insight merely by talking out the problem with their manager. Do you know when that happens? Do you capture it, and assimilate into the system?

The Challenge of Measuring the ROI of Informal Learning

As a manager or educator, you understand the value of informal learning. You’ve probably experienced it in everyday life. There’s a good chance you’ve taken a lesson for a hobby or sport. Let’s take golf for example. You take several formal lessons. You learn the right techniques. You learn how to handle the clubs accurately. The training immediately improves your game, but it only goes so far.

Where you begin honing your skills is by playing with others and walking the greens. You start picking up tips from observation. You notice how others choose their clubs. You might get a tip or two from a buddy. None of this is cataloged, but the impact on your performance is immense.

Your sales reps also gain knowledge through informal channels. But tracking and measuring the impact of these conversations is difficult. How do you measure something that occurs organically? There are no metrics or documentation to share. It’s like footsteps on the beach washed away by the tide.

But informal learning can—and should—be measured. According to The Brandon Hall Group’s research brief, Measuring the ROI of Informal Learning (PDF), “Organizations are finally realizing that people learn more of what they need to be effective at their job through informal channels, on-the-job experiences and coaching than they do through more formal means.”

4 Steps to Measuring ROI

Calculating the ROI of informal learning requires four key steps:

  1. Record Baseline Data
    Begin by tracking data related to the training process. How many people participated in training. Did they like it? How did they rank on assessments after training?
  2. Measure Performance
    Next, analyze participants’ performance after training. Are they more efficient with their workload and tasks? Do they absorb new material and integrate it into their daily work more quickly? What’s the overall impact on business metrics?
  3. Gather Informal Learning Insights
    Finally, gather observations about how informal learning happens at your company. Which team members are sought-after sources of information? What type of knowledge is most frequently shared between employees? What are the most common questions they ask each other? Which tools and devices do they use for learning improvement: video, mobile devices, social networks, or others?
  4. Assign Value
    To determine ROI derived from informal learning, assign a cost and benefit value to each component. Organizations use different metrics. For example, you can give a point value to people who participate the most or those to whom others turn for information. You can also assign points for frequently shared content or tools. Tie these numbers to KPIs and formal learning costs to begin to estimate the value of informal learning at your company.

Linking Learning with Company Goals

Tracking and analyzing informal learning at your company using these four steps will yield actionable insights about your team’s sales readiness—and what you can do to improve it.

Do you have a measurement system in place for formal learning? Do the structure and goals of formal learning match up with company objectives? Once those objectives are identified, it will become easier to track behaviors and interactions that move people closer to company goals.

Creating a system for capturing data is really the linchpin needed to accelerate learning in an organization. It is also crucial to capturing a true informal learning ROI.

Ask yourself, what is your organization doing to capture “lightning in a bottle” that will accelerate you far beyond your competitors?

Learn More

Download a copy of our ebook Your Ultimate ROI: How to Master Growth with Sales Readiness Success to find out how you can prove the impact of your investment in sales training.

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