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What Star Sales Reps and NBA Players Have in Common: Observational Learning

Boston Celtics power forward Jayson Tatum and his generation of NBA players are better athletes at younger ages than any previous lineup. Their secret is access to more information than anyone has had before. How do they do it? They’ve spent their entire lives watching basketball on YouTube.

21-year-old Tatum, according to the Wall Street Journal, was seven when YouTube was invented, and soon he began searching for Kobe Bryant videos. He spent hours breaking down Bryant’s moves to understand exactly what made his incredible shots possible.

Watch our webinar on demand: See it, Do it: How to Drive Sales Results with Observational Learning

Tatum’s performance is an example of observational learning in action. Observing others is one of the most powerful and effective ways to learn. Watching—then doing—makes picking up a new skill faster and easier.

Observational learning is also the most natural way to master a new skill. It engages powerful mechanisms in the brain that enable us to translate what we see into how we behave. Today, organizations can harness this powerful phenomenon to drive greater retention and better learning outcomes.

Watch, Learn, Do

Observational learning already happens every day in our professional and personal lives. Many of us have turned to YouTube to find out how to do something, from changing a tire to fixing something around the house to cooking dinner.

Of YouTube’s 2 billion active monthly users, Google found 86% said they regularly turn to YouTube to learn something new. Over half of YouTube users use the site to work out how to do things they’ve not done before.

Sales reps in all industries also learn through observation. It’s a natural fit and one that sales trainers, managers and coaches need to leverage. This is because the pace and complexity of modern selling requires a new approach that is more engaging than the classic mentoring relationship.

Observational learning enables reps to learn from the best, just as Jason Tatum did. In a recent webinar, Josh Ritchie, Allego Enterprise Account Executive, and Dan King, Allego Mid-Market Associate Account Executive, joined Jake Miller, Allego Senior Product Marketing Manager, to share their experiences with observational learning. Ritchie and King use observational learning every day to improve their techniques and get better results.

Observational Learning for Sales

Ritchie works with Allego’s largest key accounts. He’s been with the company since the commercial launch of its sales readiness platform. Prior to joining Allego, Ritchie worked in AI and natural language processing. He also studied professional sales in college at the University of Connecticut.

“I’ve worked in a variety of workplace cultures, both lone wolf and super collaborative like we have here at Allego. At some places the field team rarely sees each other. Some work back to back and collaborate all the time,” said Ritchie. “Observational learning is what’s worked for me as a learner in all cultures.”

“Reps don’t call it observational learning. We call it ‘talking shop.’ It happens everywhere to some degree,” he added. “A majority of reps are already doing this, but we didn’t do it in a scalable way.”

He recalled past sales kickoff meetings where information wasn’t captured for future sharing. “We had huge meetings and we learned a ton from our fellow reps. But newer reps missed the meeting. They would have 10 to 15 questions that would have been answered at kickoff,” he said.

Ritchie stressed the benefits of using video for observational learning. “How can we capture those really great moments when you’re learning from subject matter experts and make sure it doesn’t get lost?”

He gave the example of learning from a colleague with experience in life sciences. “He had a specific way that he likes to position the demonstration for a certain type of persona. I said ‘Hey, I’m gonna pull out my phone. Do you mind?’ I just hit record. Five minutes later, I had a great piece of collateral that other people could consume.”

Getting Up to Speed Quickly

Dan King joined Allego’s account development team in 2018 from the financial services industry where he worked in client services. He was recently promoted to account executive after winning Account Development Rep of the year in 2019. He used observational learning to rise through the ranks.

“Coming from client services, I didn’t know how selling worked. I didn’t learn from sitting down in a classroom. It was from sitting next to people and observing them. I also watched videos over and over, and I picked up so much valuable information that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise,” he said. “My first cold call was seven days into the job. Because I had watched hours of video of people performing those tasks, I could see tenured reps and model my behavior on them.”

Using Video to Capture In-Field Experience

Ritchie and King shared two powerful examples of how observational learning can help both seasoned veterans and new hires. The challenge for trainers is to harness what reps naturally do: capture their expertise, share it in a way that’s discoverable, and incorporate that into training or onboarding courses

“You can’t replace classroom training, but how do you control observational learning?,” asked webinar host Jake Miller.

One answer is using video. “Reps want to learn from other reps ‘in the wild,’” said Miller, “Videos from reps in the arena help drive engagement among other reps.”

He gave the example of a sales rep coming out of a call who encountered a new competitor. Instead of trying to type up an email with how he positioned against this, she can simply create a quick video  coming out of that call to capture that knowledge.

“When you record yourself on a video you can capture all of that kind of rich information that’s lost through text communication. It’s a really easy way for the sellers to capture their knowledge,” said Miller.

Video also allows sales enablement leaders to share best practices, without duplicating efforts. “A lot of sharing happens in one-on-ones and coffee break outs, but this isn’t scalable. You find yourself answering the same questions over and over,” said Ritchie. “Reps need a place to exchange their own ideas. Then they’re going to buy in a lot more when you use those ideas as part of your formal curriculum.”

King added, “It clicked for me when I arrived at Allego that the difference here is that a lot of that content is influenced by myself, my peers, and people that I work with closely. It’s super relevant to me, and it comes from a source that I couldn’t trust more.”

3 Key Takeaways for Sales Trainers

Miller wrapped up the webinar with three key takeaways for trainers.

  1. Use People’s Natural Learning Style – Observational learning happens In the flow of life and video-learning is already happening in people’s personal lives. Trainers need to match that in the flow of work. Using video and user-generated content are ways managers can match a mode of learning that all employees are already using.
  1. Capture and Leverage Peer Learning – Video is a powerful way to capture insights and share them with the right people. It allows sales enablement pros to take a key piece of learning and make sure that it finds its way to someone else in a similar situation, exactly when it’s needed. It also preserves that insight for future reps, even when an expert leaves the company.
  1. See a Direct Impact on Sales – Watching a top person in action has the power to increase sales. One Allego client was shifting its selling model and needed to retrain their entire salesforce, which was located around the country. It used video to share the new positioning. After launch, the company was able to see a correlation between peer content views and sales performance—the reps who viewed more videos had higher sales numbers.

Watch the Webinar On Demand

Now available on demand, See it, Do it: How to Drive Sales Results with Observational Learning, describes how observational learning can help you excel.

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