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March 22, 2016

Rep: “Do You Want Me to Spend Time Selling or Learning?” Manager: “Yes.”

Any sales leader worth their private office knows that keeping their reps’ time focused on selling is a valid rationale for just about any technology initiative. Automated the forecasting exercise from the CRM to eliminate those awkward Monday morning meetings? Check. Implemented eSignature solutions to stop standing around fax machines and printers? Done. Mobilized everything to support anywhere, anytime, any device selling? Confirmed. We know from our research that even the top-performing, Best-in-Class sales organizations report that their reps spend 20% of their time simply looking for stuff, rather than developing and closing business.

So, when it comes to sales training, enterprises naturally get skittish about pulling their people from the field, and expending resources to support their quota-carriers, when reps and channel partners ideally should instead be adding value to their employers by closing business — and not sitting in a classroom. The only serious time that most companies are willing to invest in non-selling sales rep time takes place at the very beginning of their tenure, which we explored in the first blog of this series, So, Your New Star Sales Rep is Ready to Kill Their Number.  Now What?.  After all, with average total compensation for B2B sales reps now exceeding $100,000 per year, and the pain of an uncovered territory intuitively representing a far greater opportunity cost, doesn’t it make sense to severely limit sales practitioner activities to only those pursuits directly related to revenue generation?

Actually, no. My new research into sales training and sales performance management indicates that 48% of Best-in-Class companies believe that a strong or extreme emphasis on long-term sales training reinforcement is a top corporate priority, while only 35% of Industry Average and 21% of Laggard firms concur. Maybe, in the last century, this wasn’t true. Selling goods and services in the B2B space was obviously a simpler value proposition in the pre-Internet age, when sellers held the vast majority of the power over buyers, due to the fact that they controlled the flow of most product and pricing information. Sales leaders looking to maximize their teams’ productivity could rely upon traditional, instructor-led, classroom-based training sessions — and perhaps the annual sales meeting — to blitz their reps and channel partners with an overwhelming amount of content, and then simply send them off to their territories and let Darwin take over.

But today, everything has changed in the era of the empowered buyer. We are not only selling against our competitors, but against the seemingly unlimited amount of user-generated content that enables our prospects and customers to know as much about our products, services, and prices as we do. By the time a typical B2B sales conversation takes place, the buyer is far more educated in their journey of discovery than they were even 10 years ago, and this compels sellers to find a different way to add value. Today’s top quota-busters understand that personalization and authenticity can often matter more to their buyer than the technical speeds and feeds of the product at hand. Hence, the conversations and interactions between a rep and her customer matter more than ever before, and this is where the need for long-term sales training reinforcement comes into play.

Train, Rinse, Repeat

In Once is Not Enough: Why Sales Training Reinforcement is a Must-Have, Aberdeen’s research digs into the concept of sales learning reinforcement, and compares the performance of behavior of one cohort of survey respondents — those with strong or extremely strong emphases on this best practice — with non-adopters. It teaches us that such “post-training reinforcers” result in 34% more first-year reps achieving quota, 15% greater overall team attainment of quota, and even an 8% higher customer retention rate, compared with companies with zero or less focus on reinforcing training over the long-term. The value of such sales training is pretty obvious: with hyper-competitive markets and super-informed buyers, sales professionals need to continuously improve their knowledge and skills in order to maintain every edge in pursuit of hitting her number. When we look at the annualized, year-over-year change in these and other crucial sales effectiveness metrics, take a look at how the data plays out:

Figure 1: What’s in YOUR Sales Education Curriculum?

With little doubt about the value of reinforcement now established, let’s take a look at specific technology solutions that these high-performing adopters utilize to meet and beat quota:

  • Post-training reinforcers are 122% more likely to deploy mobile-enabled training content than all other firms. An obvious scenario benefiting from remote-friendly sales effectiveness technologies is the traditional road warrior: the field-based rep or channel partner who spends valuable time in front of their buyers, whether they are physically located in airports, factories, or farmhouses. But in the age of the Millennial sales professional, even an inside sales or call center environment sees plenty of quota-carriers using their own devices to multi-task while working, and it is quite common for such tethered sales employees to perform better when fully mobilized. And, let’s face it: the short attention spans of our younger brethren create a perfect storm of opportunity to hit them with little bursts of education.
  • Virtual or on-demand learning is deployed 105% more often by reinforcement-centric sales operations teams, as well, to make such learning snippets more digestible. While my research actually continues to support the value of traditional, classroom-based onboarding training, it should be obvious to any observer that contemporary technologies are all geared toward the user experience, and most of us expect to consume content on our own personal schedule: the information we want, when we see it, and how we acquire it. There’s a reason why Best-in-Class companies are 17% more likely to deploy on-demand sales training to their teams: they better comprehend their internal audience, and set a great example for how their reps and channel partners should be paying attention to the needs of their own buying consumers.
  • Another Best-in-Class trend is around deploying a “dynamic library of sales training content such as best practices, product-specific guidelines, and negotiation hints,” with a 47% higher premium paid to this best practice than among under-performers. Post-training reinforcers are more than twice as likely as other firms (63% vs. 31%) to agree. They understand more intuitively that knowledge no longer flows to individual contributors only from their bosses above, but from the “hive” of collaborative learning that, increasingly, has been a natural state of social media-driven context for today’s sellers. They also realize that a savvy buying audience requires an ever-changing toolkit of content to be deployed in support of winning them over.
  • Finally, let’s look at the relatively new sector of video capture, storage, and accessibility of training content, which can support all of these other technology enablers as a preferred form factor of sales training conveyance. Post-training reinforcers are 65% more likely to use this technology, which once again perfectly captures the essence of how to most effectively communicate with Millennial-aged sellers who have grown up in the YouTube era. As we learn from Best-in-Class Sales Enablement Via Video-Based Learning, there are significant and measurable business benefits associated with the deployment of video solutions to create learning, reinforcing, and especially sales coaching moments that prove effective for reps, channel partners, managers, and especially customers. There’s a reason why every social media platform and content outlet is migrating toward video as a preferred medications method; as storage and bandwidth barriers continue to fall, B2B sales enterprises are learning valuable training lessons from these consumer-oriented communications geniuses.

We should also note that Best-in-Class companies average an 18% higher adoption rate of these four technology enablers, compared with under-performers. Everything about Aberdeen’s Sales Effectiveness research is based on comparing performance and behavior; stay tuned for how this continues to play out in the final blog of this series, Video-Based Sales Coaching: No More “Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda.”Peter Ostrow is the VP/Group Director, Customer Management and Principal Analyst, Sales Effectiveness at the Aberdeen Group, a leading provider of fact-based research focused on the global technology-driven value chain. 

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