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Informal Learning Makes Great Performances Routine

Until May 6, 1954, no human being (as far as we know) had ever run a mile in less than 4 minutes. Experts believed it was impossible. But in Oxford, England, Roger Bannister broke the barrier that day by running a mile in 3 minutes and 59.4 seconds.

Then something fascinating happened: only 46 days later, a runner named John Landy broke Bannister’s record with a time of 3 minutes and 58 seconds. A year later, three more runners broke the 4-minute barrier during a single race.

How was this possible? How could a once-miraculous athletic achievement become almost routine in such a short period?

The answer is observational learning.

The Power of Observational Learning

Also known as “modeling,” observational learning is the process of learning by witnessing a real-life example—actually seeing and hearing what ‘good’ looks like. Instead of only imagining that the 4-minute mile is possible to achieve, other runners could now watch the film of Bannister’s performance and connect more deeply with their own potential to perform the feat.

Companies have long used observational learning to develop higher-performing employees: for example, pairing new hires with veteran employees for on-the-job training (“shadowing”). This approach has the added advantage of combining observational learning with hands-on learning. It allows new reps to ask questions and make requests of veterans who can show them how to handle particularly tricky topics or complex sales messaging.

The big drawback, of course, is that face-to-face shadowing is not cost-effective. Every minute an experienced sales rep spends speaking with a new hire instead of selling equates to revenue lost.

Mimic Face-to-Face Observation with Video

Adopting a sales learning and readiness system overcomes the problem of cost-effectiveness. Reps are able to watch and hear top salespeople delivering persuasive sales messaging and product demonstrations—on their own time—and then play back the videos as often as they need to absorb the information fully . They absorb not only the words and concepts, but also the tone of voice, body language, hand gestures, etc.

In addition, reps can immediately practice approaches modeled after these best-in-breed examples. People learn best by watching and by trying to replicate what they’ve just seen. It’s why Tom Brady uses video to capture the best moments of his own performances: so he can observe what his body looked like from afar during peak performance and try to keep that mental picture in his mind as much as possible when working on his game.

The Role of ‘Muscle Memory’

Because sales conversations and demos comprise not only concepts and words, but also vocal intonation, gestures and body language, success can also hinge on developing “muscle memory.”

If you’ve ever played a musical instrument or a sport like golf, you know that muscle memory comes from repeatedly practicing a sequence of actions. In time, that sequence of actions no longer requires any conscious thought and effort. Instead, you can execute one good swing after another, or breeze through a piano piece without any major hiccups.

The key to applying this to sales readiness is to follow a few basic rules. These include:

  • Get plenty of practice. The more you do something, the faster your brain instructs your muscles (including the ones that produce speech) to do it well. Today’s sales training platforms capture and analyze real-life sales conversations as they happen, and give other reps the opportunity to practice the best messaging on camera before going on calls. Solutions use randomized screen prompts to “interject” with actual prospect questions and objections to simulate customer conversations remotely. That way reps can observe themselves immediately afterwards to self-correct, as well as share with their manager for feedback and coaching.
  • Break the task into bite-sized segments. If reps need to learn new sales messaging, break it into segments. Present opportunities in the flow of their daily work for them to absorb short videos featuring other reps simulating and describing key conversation points. Give reps system-generated recommendations of top salespeople providing commentary and walkthroughs of how different conversations often play out.
  • Practice the right way of doing things. “Muscle memory” doesn’t distinguish between good habits and bad habits. Without a mindful approach, you risk incorporating bad habits and techniques into your sales process—behaviors that will be difficult to unlearn. Create opportunities to strengthen the bond between reps and their managers to ensure reps develop good habits. Increase team cohesiveness by empowering organizations with sales learning and readiness technology that incorporates video-based collaboration tools to elevate and refine best practices in an automated fashion.

With today’s sales learning and readiness technology, reps can harness the power of agile content to observe and imitate new tasks and behaviors far faster than traditional mediums allowed. They can short-circuit the learning curve and achieve peak performance in a fraction of the time.