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September 17, 2015

The Big Idea: Train sales people the way they like to learn

Just-in-time learning earns respect as a best practice in corporate training


The traditional approach to sales training is terribly broken. The standard approach – the sales meeting, with days full of presentations in excruciating detail, with tons more detail to discover in the printouts – makes the assumption that sales people learn like an ox pulling a wagon: Just keep piling it on. The more the better.

sales trainingUnfortunately, sales people are more like race horses than oxen: they’re built for the sprint. And they prepare for that next race so as to perform at their best based on the conditions they’ll be facing. Sales people are habitual learners, cherry-picking information on an as-needed basis so it will be top-of-mind for their next sales call. The problem is giving them access to what they’ll need when the right moment arises.

The waterfall approach to training: Inefficiency as art form


For companies however, the most manageable solution is often to deliver training on new products and programs in bulk, via a single “waterfall” event – typically an annual meeting. The sales force is uprooted from its regular customer responsibilities and brought to a central location, at beaucoup bucks. “And because we’ve got you here” the company’s mindset is to fill every moment of the meeting with information, in order to gain maximum benefit from the substantial cost of the meeting.

In short, deliver a massive brain dump. Research has demonstrated time and again that only a small sliver of this bulk content will be remembered downstream. Yet in a perverse way, the nature of the meeting itself – its large cost and brief moment of opportunity – tends to drive more and more content being loaded onto the schedule, from every corner of the company.

And spending hour after hour in a conference room trying to absorb dense presentations – often of dubious quality – is like a baby putting his foot down, letting you know that the way you like to operate isn’t how we do things around here.

For lack of a better method…


Now of course, headquarters doesn’t approach training this way in order to torture its sales force. They have every reason to make sales training its most efficient. In fact, they often see the situation as “Annual sales meetings are probably the worst way to train a sales force – except for every other alternative that we’ve come up with.”

The annual sales meeting at least focuses the distraction that training imposes on both sides of the house – on both the sales people from the field and the internal staff that develop the new material and strategies – into a finite block of time. “It’s as efficient as we can possibly make it.”

Now however, the maturing of mobile technology has opened up new avenues for both creating and accessing training materials, and as a result a new model is emerging. That new model is continuous training driven by the need of the subject learner, or just-in-time training.

Just-in-time training is learning built to order


For sales people in particular, just-in-time training makes sense. Sales people are notorious for preparing right before a pitch; this however is not due to laziness, but rather to the fact that their job involves a performance in front of the customer or prospect. Their review of the facts shortly before the call is a form of rehearsal – anticipating customer needs, questions and objections, and formulating the best responses.

The ideal training solution then is one that gives them ready access to information and training content when they need it. In turn, the training materials and content itself should be optimized to communicate richly, providing the most value in the least time.

Just-In-Time Sales TrainingMore and more, video fits the bill as the training content of choice for sales people, providing not just factual information, but also coaching on the performance itself. And YouTube has driven a paradigm shift in video creation, turning what was once one of the most costly and cumbersome methods of generating training content into fast and easy user-generated training.

A million miles from the conference room


Continuous sales training – anytime, anywhere and driven by the needs of the next sales call – is the diametric opposite of training-by-waterfall. It is training built-to-order. And it promises to forever change the way training is done, not just for the sales force, but across the enterprise.

For those in sales who are driven to win the next race – or for any worker looking to maximize their performance as the task at hand changes – it’s the best way to train.


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