Among his many renowned sayings, Ben Franklin once noted, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” As we apply this deep-rooted notion of learning in corporate environments, it’s hard to find a role more heavily dependent on continuously acquiring and applying knowledge than that of the sales representative.
Today’s buyers now have instant access to an internet’s worth of knowledge, information and customer opinion. This means that sales teams must keep pace with every market shift in near real time and also have a greater level of comprehension to truly play the role of consultative seller.
This evolution of the sales environment, particularly in B2B, demands a modern approach to learning. And yet, the archaic formula of the instructor-led training session still dominates the $90.6 billion spent annually on corporate training. While formal training establishes a necessary foundation, modern learning practices ensure that real learning can occur in the application of that knowledge in the field and with just-in-time insights. Widely accepted research on sources of learning for successful managers has stated that 70 percent of a person’s learning at work is experienced-based, 20 percent comes from interacting with fellow employees and 10 percent is the result of formal training. So, why, then, has enterprise training relied so heavily on the 10 percent?
Fortunately, more sales organizations are gaining an understanding of the benefits of modern learning practices and starting to view training through a wide-angle lens. These modern sales organizations value informal interactions that take place regularly and organically as opportunities to help reps acquire information and skills. They are identifying and proactively creating moments for the informal, on-the-job exchanges that take place with managers to complement formal, more structured training tactics.
A fundamental issue that this “in-the-moment” approach can help overcome is the simple lack of bandwidth that sales managers have available for formalized training and coaching. A recent survey of sales reps and their managers revealed that the majority of sales leaders (55 percent) don’t feel they have the time to deliver high-quality sales instruction to their reps. The survey also found that time constraints were by far the greatest hindrance to their coaching. Informal learning can help overcome scheduling challenges and long-distance hurdles, allowing managers to deliver bite-sized instruction to reps at the greatest time of need, often as reps are about to meet with customers.
In addition, it’s not just the kind of learning, but the source of the knowledge and how it’s delivered that can have maximum impact. We are in the midst of a generational shift within sales teams as a new wave of professionals rise up in the ranks. These digital natives live by mobile and social channels and prefer to absorb information this way, as opposed to the traditional mentor-mentee sit-down style of knowledge acquisition. This generation must respond to the frenetic pace of market change by checking ego at the door and leveraging the experience of their peers to help them adapt quickly and effectively.
Any sales professional today can attest to the value of learning tips and tricks from their peers, whether it’s how to handle a buyer’s unusual objection or what angle resonates best with a certain type of prospect. This is especially true with a new generation of buyers — extremely well-informed but also bringing to the table varied and distinct product and business knowledge and preferences from their more seasoned counterparts.
To meet this challenge, smart sales reps are learning to practice their delivery, review strategies implemented by their peers in the field, and access quick refreshers when and where they need them most. There is often a treasure trove of information and insight held by that one rep who, for example, has experience and expertise with a certain type of product, or with another who has been on discovery calls with prospects of a similar size or industry. It is also crucial for sales leaders to facilitate and strongly encourage true collaboration rather than build a “team of rivals” approach with reps working in isolation. Modern learning embraces the value of peer-to-peer coaching. It does so in real time and through the channels of choice for this generation of seller.
The primary constant in business today is that organizations will continue to move at break-neck speed and sales teams must find new ways to keep pace or be left behind. As Franklin said long ago, “Involve me and I learn.” Modern learning is helping dynamic sales organizations to seize this moment and fully involve all colleagues by embedding informal learning and peer-to-peer knowledge-sharing practices into their sales team culture. This course of action will allow sales reps to dramatically improve their ability to adapt to market shifts, hone the craft of selling in real time, and ultimately increase their selling effectiveness by becoming a greater asset to their customers.