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March 30, 2016

4 Ways to Improve Sales Through Cognitive Learning

Hal Becker says, if you want to keep your sales skills sharp, you need to hone the sales ax—the sales ax being your brain, of course. The word “cognition” is defined as any conscious mental activity, such as thinking, understanding, learning, and remembering. Study.com further describes cognition as “the process of acquiring and understanding knowledge through our thoughts, experiences, and senses. Whenever you see or hear something new, you go through a series of cognitive processes, which are the processes that result in learning.” Cognitive learning is important because it boosts cognitive fitness—the brain’s overall alertness—working toward “a state of optimized ability to reason, remember, learn, plan, and adapt. The more cognitively fit you are, the better you will be able to make decisions, solve problems, and deal with stress and change.” (HBR, Cognitive Fitness) In fact, the more cognitively fit you are—the better you’ll be at nearly everything. Sales included.

According to HBR’s Cognitive Fitness, “The future belongs to companies with leaders who develop cognitive fitness for themselves and their organizations. CEOs need to be cognitive coaches to those whose work and decisions collectively create and propel the company’s strategy.” Clearly, sales reps that retain information better, reason better, and solve problems better—thanks to continued cognitive learning—will be all-around better advisors to their customers. They’ll be able to plan presentations more effectively and be quicker on their feet when the customer goes off script. They’ll be able to see patterns in buyer behavior they might not have noticed otherwise. Encouraging reps to continue learning long after onboarding is the greatest way to improve sales. Here are a few ways to incorporate more cognitive learning into your sales team’s daily routine.

  1. Let Reps Learn By Doing – Help your sales team with their cognitive exercise by providing ongoing training, information, and challenges. Offer learning-by-doing opportunities “that enable deliberate practice by working through a systematic set of experiences, either simulated (online or in a workshop) or on the job. When reps work through a series of scenarios that guide them to learn key knowledge in a realistic selling context, they are more likely to… put it to use in the field.” (Cloning Your Top Sales Performers)
  2. Provide Feedback and Coaching – One of the best ways to support continual cognitive learning is to supply reps with appropriate feedback and coaching “at the teachable moment.” The most critical teachable moments occur immediately before and after customer interactions. Reps can benefit enormously from a quick pep talk before a presentation—and even more from timely feedback afterward. “Leading companies are refining the coaching skills and process for their district managers, using fine grained coaching guides to provide reps with the targeted feedback they need to speed up their journey to top performer level.” (Cloning Your Top Sales Performers)
  3. Encourage Mirroring – Another crucial form of cognitive learning is called vicarious learning. Vicarious learning is simply learning from other people. Reps can develop behaviors and skills just by watching—and mirroring—a mentor at work. “This is why new hires are often paired with experienced employees for their first few weeks or months—they can learn how to react to a variety of situations through vicarious learning much more effectively than they could by reading an employee handbook.” (Social Cognitive Theory and Workplace Learning) Modern sales organizations often collect video examples of what good looks like from top performers and share them across the team. Look for opportunities for reps to learn through imitation in your organization.
  4. Foster Community Learning – Sales teams shouldn’t operate on an every-man-for-himself model. The very word “team” implies as much. Reps learn a great deal from hearing about one another’s experiences in the field—both good and bad. And community learning allows them to do just that: “Teams work through scenarios together so they are learning from each other in a structured environment to share best practices. Reps can reflect on their experiences by discussing them within a community of learners, which is critical to truly learning from those experiences.” (Cloning Your Top Sales Performers) Peer-generated video can help to capture those field experiences while they’re still top of mind.

Allego was developed in line with much of this thinking. Our platform is designed to move away from training by fire hose and provide a platform that allows reps to learn on the job, to obtain ongoing coaching, and to learn from the top reps in the company. With the fast pace of innovation today, organizations need to adopt a plan to develop cognitive fitness to enable sales teams to keep up with the changes in their own products and services, as well as the business challenges of their clients. Leveraging mobile and video, Allego can help your sales team stay cognitively fit.

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