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August 26, 2019

What Lies Beneath… A Closer Look at the ROI of Informal Learning


If the entirety of the learning which training organizations support is an iceberg drifting in the ocean, the tip of that iceberg (10%) consists of formal learning: classroom trainings, in-person sales meetings, and instructional online videos and quizzes. This is where reps spend the least amount of time learning. Instead, they spend the majority of their learning time (90%) swimming the depths on their own seeking informal learning from peers, their managers, subject matter experts, and even external information sources. This modality of learning goes mostly unseen and unsupported, despite the fact that it accounts for the overwhelming majority of reps’ learning experiences.

And there’s another split, 90%-10%, which represents the typical allocation of training spend. Of all the money invested in helping sales reps learn and develop, 90% of the budget goes to the formal learning (10%) at the very tip of the iceberg.

All things considered, it’s no surprise that businesses continue to struggle with missed quotas and high turnover—between 40% and 50% every year.

And buyers feel the pain as much as sales leaders. Statistics show that buyers continue to be dissatisfied with sales reps’ ability to engage appropriately by providing the right information or piece of collateral. Only 21% of buyers claim their sales representatives could even effectively articulate the core value of their business or solution.

Addressing these splits is how sales leaders and trainers can make significant gains in sales performance.

But What Does ‘Good’ Look Like?

To understand how this works in practice, here’s a look at the key elements supporting formal and informal learning and the business value they drive.

With formal learning programs, enterprises typically focus on three requirements:

  • Relevancy. Utilizing relevant content is table stakes for impactful sales enablement. The challenge for most organizations is providing trainers with the means and time to produce content. Decision makers need to weigh the value of a highly polished asset that takes time and money versus what can be delivered faster at lower cost.
  • Reinforcement. Corporate trainers know employees typically forget 80% of what they learn within 30 days if not properly reinforced. Many try to address this with a follow-up quiz. Experience shows a better path is to gamify this component. Make it painless and something reps can enjoy, so they secure their knowledge and maintain confidence more efficiently.
  • Sales messaging certification. Here some enterprises will go the quiz route or even ask managers to ride along with a sales rep for in-person customer visits. The problem here is that organizations are essentially then using customers as training wheels for their sales team. A better approach is to establish a process where reps can demonstrate mastery using video or in-person sessions. Video makes it easier to identify problem areas and provide immediate coaching to rectify.

For informal learning, three areas exist where management and corporate trainers can raise the performance bar for greater ROI in training.

  • Coaching. When it comes to learning and development, it’s more effective to help managers coach without making them fly all over the country. Promote broader coaching and rep competency assessment by using video for maximum efficiency and savings. Organizations can drive four times as many monthly coaching interactions between managers and reps when enabling managers to coach and collaborate with their reps this way.
  • Collaboration. Peer-to-peer collaboration is already going on in the field every day. The next step is to facilitate these conversations, provide feedback, and make sure the entire team is exposed to the best new ideas and practices. Organizations can drive greater collaboration by empowering top salespeople and subject matter experts with the means to capture their best ideas and approaches right when inspiration strikes using their mobile device video camera, and then submit that video into a content management system that recommends the right peer video for the selling situation at hand. Correlating sales performance improvements to individual collaborations becomes easier this way too because trainers and managers can just pull reports on content sharing and viewing statistics to understand which salespeople’s tactics are most often modeled by other reps.
  • Just-in-Time Learning. No rep can escape the inevitability of being stumped by a customer question or situation that requires some homework. Just-in-time learning puts the answers at their fingertips, and there’s no better place than their own mobile device where they can access everything they need at any time. Access to key knowledge at the moment of need—especially the hard-won wisdom of peers and trusted internal experts—empowers middle- and bottom-performing reps with the ‘secret sauce’ to win more deals. Organizations supporting just-in-time learning see direct improvements to year-over-year revenue performance by improving sales interactions among the middle of the pack.

The iceberg under the surface may be massive, but training organizations can shape it by harnessing employees’ intrinsic motivation to learn from their peers. Trainers simply need to embrace how people prefer to learn and evaluate solutions which cater to that. Where there is fear of change, there are solutions; a topic we’ll discuss further in another post.

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